The article “George Michael reveals his musical gifts” was written by Barbara Jaeger for The Record, a Hackensack, New Jersey newspaper on August 12, 1988.
Some boys may just wanna have fun. George Michael wants to be taken seriously.
By his early 20s, Michael, one-half of the British pop duo Wham!, found himself saddled with the image of pretty-boy pop star cute and cuddly, but a lightweight talent.
Michael knew that if he was ever going to be judged as an artist rather than a bronzed and blond looker, he’d have to make some changes.
He traded in his white shorts for blue jeans and black leather. His clean-shaven look was abandoned for a Don Johnson stubble. But the major change occurred when he told partner Andrew Ridgeley he was leaving Wham!
Now, more than two years after the breakup, Michael has shattered his poster-boy image.
“Faith,” Michael’s first solo album, is a brilliant debut that has made believers of many who previously scoffed at the 24-year-old’s skills as a songwriter, singer, and musician.
The album’s musical styles range from the rockabilly beat of the title track to the soul stylings of “Father Figure.” In his lyrics, Michael explores such topics as monogamy (“I Want Your Sex”), drug addiction (“Monkey”), and battered wives (“Look at Your Hands”).
These songs are light-years removed from the catchy, but shallow “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” a staple of the Wham! repertoire.
A few days before Michael kicked off the eagerly awaited American leg of his first solo tour which brings him to Madison Square Garden Sunday night for three sold-out shows and to Brendan Byrne Arena for a concert Sunday, Aug. 21 he took some time to answer a few questions.
Michael recently underwent surgery to remove a cyst from his vocal chords, and on his doctor’s advice to save his voice from additional strain, we used a rather novel interviewing approach: correspondence via Fax machine.
“To quote my doctors, I have had a ‘complete and speedy recovery,'” said Michael “I have certainly appreciated all the cards and best wishes that have poured in from the States, and I’m quite eager to resume my tour here in America.”
The last time Michael toured North America was as a member of Wham! in the summer of 1985. By the beginning of the following year, Wham! was no more.
“I think one of the reasons for the long break between Wham! and the release of ‘Faith’ was simply that I had to reassess what I wanted for the future,” said Michael. “As a musician, one of the things that was confusing about Wham! was that it happened to me when I was so young. I came out of school at 17 and by 18, I was a pop star. I didn’t have time to decide what kind of pop star I wanted to be.”
The indecisiveness was a bit uncharacteristic for Michael, who by age 7 knew that he wanted to be in the music business.
Born in England as Georgios Panayiotou, Michael set his sights on a singing career when his childhood dreams of becoming a pilot were dashed by his nearsightedness and partial colorblindness. A gift of a tape recorder from his parents sparked his interest in musk, and, early on, his favorite albums were Peter Gabriel’s first solo LP, Elton John’s “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy,” and David Bowie’s “Aladdin Sane.”
In Ridgeley, whom Michael met when he was 11, he found a friend who shared his passion for pop music. By their early teens, they had formed Executive, their first band. When Executive broke up, Ridgeley and Michael dubbed themselves Wham! after the song “Wham! Rap,” which they had recorded on a demo tape.
That demo, which led to a recording contract with an independent label, also included “Careless Whisper,” a ballad written by 17-year-old Michael that would, a few years later, go on to become a No. 1 single.
Early on, Wham! was influenced by rap music, but by the time the duo had bought their way out of the deal with the independent label and signed with Columbia Records, they returned to their first love: pop music.
By this time, Michael, who had been doing a good bit of the arranging and producing, as well as playing the majority of instruments, took over the songwriting chores for Wham!
“Make It Big,” the pair’s second album, proved prophetic. The album broke Wham! through to worldwide success. Dressed in skimpy shorts What better way to show off their bronzed bods? Michael and Ridgeley pranced on stages from California to China, where Wham! became the first Western pop band to perform.
But while Wham! achieved incredible commercial success, its total lack of artistic credibility gnawed at Michael’s soul.
“The main problem that we had in being accepted was that Wham! was a kind of Eighties group with a Sixties mentality,” said Michael.
“Whereas in the Sixties, pop music was seen as a kind of vital art form, it’s been pretty much discarded in favor of other things now.
“For instance, rock-and-roll is a sound track to people’s lives. Soul music is a sound track to people’s lives. Pop music doesn’t seem to be accepted as a way of expressing yourself as an individual anymore. But I still see it in those kind of Sixties terms.”
Michael took his first tentative step away from Wham! when he appeared on the Motown 25th anniversary special For those who might have wondered what this lightweight teenage heartthrob was doing at the Apollo Theater in the company of such heavyweights as Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson, the question was quickly answered.
Michael’s rendition of the Wonder ballad “Love’s in Need of Love Today” was powerful and moving and helped change more than a few opinions of him. Solidifying his growing reputation as a popster with soul was Michael’s duet with Aretha Franklin. “I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me)” rose to No. 1 and helped the pair earn a Grammy for Best Rhythm & Blues Performance by a Duo or Group.
“One of the most remarkable things about my career in America was that from day one, black audiences accepted me without question as a singer, performer, and songwriter,” he said. “They didn’t really allow the stigma that was attached to wearing the shorts and the girls screaming to get in the way of what they were actually listening to.”
“Faith,” in addition to claiming the No. 1 spot on the pop album charts, rose to the top of the black charts and remained there for a month, making Michael the first white artist to achieve such a feat.
It’s a tribute to Michael’s talent that he has been able to change the perceptions so many people have of him in such a relatively short time. But while there are a few critics who look at Michael’s scruffy, but well-groomed, appearance and see yet another carefully calculated approach to stardom, Michael says that what you see and what you hear are the real George Michael.
“There was the whole celebrity side of things,” said Michael, referring to his Wham! tenure. “It didn’t stop me from writing the kinds of music I wanted to write. . . . But still, I was finding it hard to get a grip on myself. … So I think that is the reason I had to breathe, because carrying on the way I was going was not making me particularly very happy.”
Michael said that the songs on “Faith” reveal more of his personality both the tough and the tender than anything he’s done previously.
“The personal songs are definitely more heartfelt, although the aggressive side of the album is there, too. I think they are the two elements of my personality that may have been brought out a little more in the last couple of years.”
“Faith,” which could top the 10-million sales mark before the year is out, puts Michael in the song-writing league of such pop superstars as Elton John and Paul McCartney. The versatility of styles ballads, pop-rock, pop-gospel spotlight Michael’s remarkable skills as a songwriter, arranger, and producer. And the range of emotions he calls upon to deliver the songs is equally impressive.
But beyond the obvious merits of “Faith,” the album reveals an artist just beginning to explore his potential And that bodes well for Michael’s future and the future of pop music.
A few tickets remain for Michael’s performance at 8 p.m. Aug. 21 at the Brendan Byrne Arena. Priced at $18.50, they may be purchased at the Arena box office, the Capitol Theater box office in Passaic, and TkketMaster outlets. Tickets may also be purchased by calling TicketMaster Charge, 507-8900 or 1-(212) 307-7171.
- George Michael Interview with Capital FM Radio with Dr. Fox (Dec 1998)
- BBC Hardtalk Interview with George Michael (2003)
- George Michael: The Reluctant Pop Star (Calendar Magazine, Sept 1990)
- ‘George Michael, Seriously’ from Rolling Stone Magazine (1988)
- George Michael: Artist or Airhead? (Musician, 1988)