Below is the write-up about George Michael’s song “Monkey” from the book “The Billboard Book of Number One Hits: The Inside Story Behind Every Number One Single on Billboard’s Hot 100 from 1955 to Present” by Fred Bronson.
Writer: George Michael
Producers: George Michael, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis
August 27, 1988
“MONKEY” was the fourth consecutive number one single from George Michael’s Faith. It entered the Hot 100 on July 9,1988, and was number one seven weeks later. Including his hits as half of Wham!, it was the eighth chart-topper of his career.
The earlier number one hits were all self-produced, but for the single of “Monkey” George turned to Minneapolis-based producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who had already produced number one hits for Janet Jackson and the Human League. Jam explains why they were called in. “On Janet Jackson’s Control album, we did the first four remixes: ‘What Have You Done for Me Lately,’ ‘Nasty,’ ‘When I Think of You’ and the live version of ‘Control.’ In London, there was a release called More Control, which was the remixes we had done for the Control album. And there was a version of ‘Nasty’ on there that George Michael liked a lot. He liked it because he’s into chords. But whenever you put chords on something, it’s hard to make it funky. And he observed on the version of ‘Nasty’ that we had put chords on it (and) somehow kept the funk in. He said that ‘Monkey’ was a song he’d always envisioned as a little more melodic and had chords, but when he recorded it there was a deadline, and he didn’t put the time into it that he wanted. So he said to us, ‘If you were going to produce “Monkey,” how would you do it?'”
But Jam and Lewis didn’t remix the album track. “We totally recut the song from scratch,” according to Jam. “We did the skeleton of the track in Minneapolis. Then we went to Los Angeles and George re-sang the vocals. We would have done it in Minneapolis, but he had been on vacation in the islands, and he didn’t want to go from 90 degrees to 10 below zero. It took us about a week to do the vocals. He was in rehearsals for his tour, so between rehearsals he would run to the studio, do his thing for a couple of hours, go back to rehearsals, and so forth.
”After we got the vocals we needed, we actually sampled some of the vocals from the old version and. combined them with the new version, which he sang a lot more funky.” Returning home, Jam and Lewis discovered they didn’t like the sound of the drum machine they had used on the track: they wanted “Monkey” to have more of a live sound. Jam, a former drummer, played drum pads for the track, and Vaughn Halyard, a Synclavier programmer, corrected some of the drum machine parts. “So the song has a very live feel to it. We knew he was going to do a live video for the song, so it worked out great. It was a lot of fun because George Michael is very talented – not only as a vocalist, but his conceptual ideas are great. He knows how he wants something to sound.”
Although George had worked with producer Narada Michael Walden [“I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)”], most of the time he produced his own records. “It’s really hard to produce yourself,” Jam contends. “I admire people who do it. We tend to like first takes and mistakes. I think it’s cool to have a little bit of a mistake here or there, or a little bit of vulnerability in the vocals. A lot of times, we’ll go for the feel of the vocal (rather) than the note, and I think that’s what happened with his vocal. There are some – as he would call them – dodgy notes on there, but it doesn’t matter. It fits what the track is doing, and I think it sounds great.”
According to a CBS press “Monkey” was the first single in the company’s history to be released in six different configurations: two each in two vinyl, cassette and compact disc.
The follow-up to “Monkey” was “Kissing a Fool,” the sixth single from Faith. It peaked at number fice in November of 1988, making it the lowest-ranked track from the album (“I Want Your Sex,” the initial release, peaked at number two).
THE TOP FIVE
Week of August 27, 1988
- Monkey – George Michael
- I Don’t Wanna Go On With You Like That – Elton John
- I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love – Chicago
- Sweet Child o’ Mine – Guns n’ Roses
- Simply Irresistible – Robert Palmer
- George Michael Interview with Capital FM Radio with Dr. Fox (Dec 1998)
- George Michael: Artist or Airhead? (Musician, 1988)
- An Audience with George Michael: Interview with Chris Evans (1996)
- George Michael on ‘Listen Without Prejudice’ (1990)
- List of Duets and Backup Vocals