The creator of the soundtrack of our 1980s
Wherever you went in the Eighties George Michael was there. Not literally of course but in sound and often thanks to the video jukeboxes of the day in vision too. His Imperial period beginning with Wham! (which was really just him anyway) and carrying on through solo hits is a superb run of songs that defined a decade. Yet after this his career seemed to become less interesting than his off stage life and though he continued to have success it's not clear whether he enjoyed it. Time and again his `private` life became public in a way that suggested a compulsion to saboutage the talent he'd been given.
Wham! arrived fully formed as pop stars in 1982 with just the right balance of memorable tunes and attitude. In theory there were two of them plus backing singers but in reality George Michael wrote the songs and sang them. Initally the image was denim clad and down to earth. Like any great artist Michael borrowed astutely incoroprating rap into songs that sounded far more radical than they were. Lyrically he espoused quiting your job if you're not happy, not getting tied down in a relationship and the urban glamour of `Bad Boys`. Some critics of the time were unmoved spotting a conservative musical and lyrical agenda which they were proved right about. by `Club Tropicana` the balance has shifted towards cocktails and swimming pools.
Yet George Michael knew how write tunes that lodged in the brain and when Wham! came back with `Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go` they'd been made over into airbirshed coiffured stars wearing white clothes. Musically Michael successfully mined Sixties Motown style melodies and thus began that Imperial period. He even stated at the time that he had planned four number ones and the plan worked! `Wake Me Up` was such a clever concuction it had us all dancing and then he unleased `Careless Whisper` under his own name. A slower song it seemed as if he;d leapt forward twenty years to become a middle age crooner but his vocal nails the song's sentiments as he decalres he'll nevee dance again "the way I danced with you". It was always the song that would come on at the end of the evening where you'd wonder what to do with the person you were dancing with!
Then he follows this up with `Freedom`, again channelling Motown, but returning to the more cautiuonary lyrics of earlier Wham! as he refuses to play the game of having an open relationship. Later events would make this song seem somewhat ironic for him to be singing! Then there was `Last Christmas`, now a perennuial favourite with it's sad undertones and twinkly bells. Don't laugh at the jumpers in the video; everyone wore them then!
`I'm Your Man` and `Edge of Heaven` completed the Wham! account and then like any good pop star George Michael moved on disbanding the conceipt of the group at a final concert in 1986 and returnign as fully fledged solo artist the folloiwng year. The gorgeous `A Different Corner` about the vaguries of fate and the rock and roll update of `Faith` ensured he remained at the forefront of pop as the decade drew to a close and there were two more gems to follow in 1990. `Freedom 90` revisited the themes of his earlier song of the same name yet placing it in the context of his career. "I don't belong to you and you doon't belong to me" he sang to the public. `Praying For Time` is another beautfully constructed ballad about the worlds woes that suggsted there was much more genius to come.
Yet after this matters seemed to go awry. He still had hits but they were no longer as distinctive and he settled into a career of increasing gaps between albums and disappointing releases when they came. His biggest headlines concerned his lifestyle and successive problems some of his own making. Like that other Eighties musical icon Prince who we also lost this year he didn't seem able to willing to match his first decade. However he does leave a rich catalogue of songs and fond memories of a time and place.