George Michael was a master of covers. As Sam Smith said about George, “He was his own genre. If he sang it, it’s a George song.”
I know it might sound a bit big, but they’re really just songs that I thought I’d like to have a go at, that I’ve always wanted to sing. I’m not trying to say that these songs are THE songs from the last century, ‘cos where are The Beatles? Where’s Elvis? That wasn’t the point of it. I suppose in a sense what I was trying to say was that the whole of the last century wasn’t just about rock ‘n’roll, even though mostly that’s what it’s going to be remembered for. There were all sorts of fantastic things written before then and since then. They’re really just my personal choices and I wanted something that would suit a very gentle delivery – and to maybe use some strings and woodwind. As a singer I thought it would be really good to do things with completely live sections for the first time – to really stretch myself. And I think the vocals sound really different – they sound much more relaxed ‘cos the whole environment is really real. All the players are real – there’s no programmers, there’s no doing it loads and loads of times, it’s all real.
One of the songs George included in the album is “Roxanne,” originally sung by Police in their 1978 debut album and written by Sting. When asked why he chose Roxanne, George said:
Well, to be honest, it’s not one of my favourite Sting songs. But in terms of the writers or people that have impressed me during my career, the two British writers that I most respect and wanted to acknowledge are Sting and Bono. I really think they’re two of the best writers during the time that my career has spanned. So really it was a matter of, what Sting song can I do? And, to be honest, I really like to cover songs that, not that I think that could not necessarily be better, but that I don’t think were perfect in the first place. I’ve never really liked Roxanne that much, but it’s a great song. I don’t like the original record that much.
George changed the arrangement and gave the song “Roxanne” a jazzy feel, and he explained:
I was sitting at my computer one night, and I don’t usually get inspired at the computer, but I was sitting there and it just came to me. I was trying to think, what can I do which is more recent than the 70’s and 80’s, something really well known but I also need to change it completely.
The song “Roxanne” was about a man who falls in love with a prostitute. Faithful to Sting’s original inspiration of the song, George released a video that features the Amsterdam’s red light district showing real-life prostitutes at work. BBC News said that “the video is unlikely to be seen on daytime TV.” But a spokesman for George said that the singer wants a video to reflect the song and to create something “very real”. The video shows footage of the women applying makeup, walking in underwear or skimpy outfits. Directed by Joanna Bailey, it focuses on a prostitute called Franciska who has now given up work and trying to be a model.
Watch the original video for George Michael’s Roxanne:
Here’s George Michael performing Roxanne live
- George Michael’s Interview with DJ Neil Fox in Capital FM Radio (1999)
- Amazon Rainforest Foundation Benefit (1993)
- Songs from the Last Century (1999)
- Twenty Five (2006)
- Stand By Me: AIDS Day Benefit Live at Wembley (1987)