During the first half of the 80s, he was busy bumping hips with Wham! mate Andrew Ridgeley. But he spent the second half of the decade basking in the solo spotlight and earning a seat among the best and most admired (lusted after) 80s singers.
George Michael had swagger, he had style. He had a crooning voice full of passion. And he had a totally tight ass.
80s music gave us plenty of voices, but none were as smooth, sexy, or vulnerable as George Michael’s. Whether he was be-bopping a Wham! ditty or warbling a heart-wrenching solo love song, his vocal prowess stopped you in your tracks. He made you dance, smile, cry, and laugh at love. To put it simply: he made you feel.
80s Singers: Style or Substance?
In the 80s, singers often danced around their own voices. In fact, you didn’t have to have great vocal abilities (a sad fact that’s even truer today) to be a hit singer in the 80s. Marketing experts mastered the art of convincing listeners that the way singers looked was even more important than the way they sounded, and video… well it went and killed the old radio star.
But George Michael had the whole package. He could hit the high notes and he looked pretty tasty while he was doing it. He showed the world of 80s music that listeners still appreciated real talent, as long as it was packaged in a pair of tight jeans topped up with a sexy leather jacket.
In a decade that preferred style over substance, George Michael gave people both. He had it all.
George Michael’s 80s Music
George Michael first came to the public’s attention as one half of the British pop duo, Wham!. These two 80s singers formed their little band in 1981 and promptly put out the album Fantastic, which included several hit 80s songs, including “Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do).”
In 1984, with their release of the album Make it Big, Wham! became a worldwide 80s music sensation and the boys suddenly found themselves plastered on the walls of suburban teenage girls’ bedrooms here and across the pond. Hit songs from Make it Big included “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” “Freedom,” “Everything She Wants,” and “Careless Whisper,” a single that marked George Michael’s first solo effort.
After becoming the first Western pop music act to tour China in 1985, Wham! released their final album, Music From the Edge of Heaven, which featured a second solo single by George Michael, “A Different Corner.” The die was cast and Michael’s solo career took off. Wham! officially split in 1986, saying goodbye to their fans by releasing a compilation album titled The Final.
Tired of playing to screaming female teens who were more interested in collecting pin-ups and having sexual fantasies about him, George Michael shifted his focus to a more sophisticated sound and officially kicked off his solo career in 1987 by recording a duet with music icon Aretha Franklin. “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” became a number one hit on both the UK Singles Chart and the Billboard Hot 100. Together, Michael and Franklin won a Grammy in 1988 for Best R&B Performance (Duo or Group with Vocal), beating out several other 80s singers.
It was the fall of 1987 when George Michael released his first solo full-length album, Faith. He wrote and produced all of the tracks except for one (which he co-wrote) and played numerous instruments on the recording. But before the album came out, the first single hit the airwaves.
You Want My What?
“I Want Your Sex” came out in the summer of 1987, and I remember it clearly. Everybody loved the song because it was so dirty. The rockers loved it, the hip hop crowd loved it. Hey, everybody wants the same thing, and George Michael just decided to go and sing about it.
As a reward for his honesty, George Michael got banned. Some radio stations wouldn’t play “I Want Your Sex,” although there was plenty of other 80s music that was just as racy, even if it was more subtle about it. Other stations opted for a toned-down version that replaced “sex” with “love” (as if they’re the same thing!). MTV only played the video late at night, proving that they weren’t as cutting edge as they had been just a few, short years earlier (hell, they played “Like a Virgin” all day, every day, practically 24 hours a day! MTV never turned their backs on 80s singers Madonna or Cyndi Lauper, did they? Wait… did they?). Casey Kasem suddenly started acting like an old geyser; he refused to say the song’s title and instead introduced it as “the new single by George Michael.”
People can be so totally lame.
George Michael decided to step forth and defend his poetry. He recorded a brief introduction for the video in which he said: “This song is not about casual sex.” Well, listeners didn’t care what kind of sex it was about. They wanted the song just as much as they wanted the sex. And they got it. “I Want Your Sex” hit number two on the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in August, 1987. And it stayed in the top ten for six weeks. That sure showed all the prudes out there what’s what.
You Gotta Have It
The second single, “Faith,” went on to become even more popular than the sex song, if you can believe that. This was probably mostly due to Mr. Michael shaking his booty up close to the camera in a pair of nice, tight Levi’s. Now it wasn’t just the teen chicks who wanted to touch his body (I know, not everybody). The MILFs and the grannies, they all wanted a piece of his action too. The single hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100, cementing Michael as one of the most popular 80s singers of the decade.
The album itself spent a grand total of 51 (non-consecutive) weeks on the Billboard 200 Top 10, including 12 weeks at number 1. Three more number one hits followed: “Father Figure,” “One More Try,” and “Monkey.” Eventually, the whole album went diamond by selling over 10 million copies in the US.
Hit the Road
I was lucky enough to see George Michael shake his groove thing during his 1988 Faith tour. Let me tell you something: the man can sing. I like to joke about what a hottie he is, but his music ability is totally something to be reckoned with. He’s right up there with Freddy Mercury. Sure it’s pop music, but it’s sweet and soulful and heck, it’s downright sexy. I still have my ticket stub and my concert booklet, and I remember dancing in the grass with my friends as this man’s amazing voice boomed around us. Good times. Good times, indeed.