Two years after his death, it is important to remember that George Michael was not just a talented musician and global superstar. He was a kind, compassionate and generous man whose philanthropy has become
During his lifetime, Michael has supported a number of charitable endeavors including donating proceeds and royalties from some of his songs to charity. He released a number of charity records, one of which was the single ‘Too Funky” in 1992.
History of ‘Too Funky’
“Too Funky” was initially earmarked for a follow-up to the album Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1. The Vol. 2 was originally intended to be a dance-focused album.
But Michael shelved the planned Vol. 2 after the commercial disappointment of the Vol. 1 album. He then engaged in a bitter legal battle with his record company, accusing them of not properly promoting the Vol. 1 album and asking them to release him from his contract. “Too Funky” became Michael’s final single for his recording contract with Sony Music before he started legal action to extricate himself from his contract.
With Vol. 2 shelved, Michael instead donated ‘Too Funky” and a couple of other songs to the charity album Red Hot + Dance intended to support activities to raise AIDS awareness. Released on July 7, 1992, the charity album was produced by the Red Hot Organization, an organization dedicated to raising money and awareness to fight the onslaught of HIV/AIDS.
Michael was instrumental in bringing the Red Hot + Dance project to fruition and the album was notable for featuring three new songs by him. The other two songs he gave to the album were “Do You Really Want to Know” and “Happy.” Other artists that contributed tracks to the charity album included Madonna (‘Supernatural’, Original Arms House Mix), Seal (‘Crazy,’ If I Was Trev Mix), Lisa Stansfield (‘Change,’ Metamorphosis Mix), among others.
As Michael’s then US publicist Michael Pagnotta recounted the story behind the song:
The track was controversial before it had even been recorded or a second of video footage had been shot. It was originally intended as the follow-up to Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, but given the sour state of relations between George and his record label, Sony, at that time, there would never be a Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 2. So “Too Funky” was instead earmarked for a Red, Hot + Dance charity release to benefit AIDS awareness. It was also a way for George to get some new music out without having to rely on the Sony promotional machine with which he was at war.
The song was later included in Michael’s greatest hits album Ladies & Gentlemen: The Best of George Michael and in the 2017 reissue of Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1.
‘Too Funky’ was released as a single on July 12, 1992, in various lengths:
- Extended version – 5:37
- Single version – 3:45
- Digital Mix – 6:25
The UK CD single included the extended version, single version and the B side song “Crazyman Dance.” The US CD single had all the three versions of Too Funky, plus Too Jazzy (Happy Mix) and Crazyman Dance.
Michael donated the royalties of the single, benefiting various AIDS activism and awareness groups throughout the country. All of Michael’s and Columbia’s proceeds from sales of the single and album will be donated to AIDS charities. As stated on the sleeves of the single:
From the forthcoming AIDS Benefit Album “RED HOT & DANCE”, available this June. All proceeds from this single will be donated to AIDS organisations in the country where this recording was purchased.
SAFER SEX SAVES LIVES. Advocate for government committed to finding a cure for HIV, the virus that compromises the immune systems and can lead to a variety of symptoms we call AIDS. Treat people with AIDS with the dignity and the care they deserve. STOP AIDS NOW.
1992 — Epic/Sony Music
Knowing that this was a charity record, even the talents used in the video contributed their time for free. Emma Sjöberg Wiklund, the model who wears the motorcycle outfit and robot costume in the ‘Too Funky’ video, said in a Vogue interview:
The “Too Funky” video was made to raise money for AIDS research. Somehow I think George Michael was then in a conflict with Sony, so he was not able to do any albums before his contract was over . . . but he could do this song, “Too Funky,” that was put onto the Red Hot + Dance album. I know that George wanted to work with Thierry Mugler because his shows were a bit like cabarets—it was more like going to a theater show; it was extraordinary. Mugler always had big surprises . . . there was always some kind of music combined with these incredible outfits. The video was a charity job; we all did it for free.
‘Too Funky’ reached the number 4 in the UK charts in 1992. In the US, the song peaked at number 10 and certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.
Critics raved about the single, calling “Too Funky” a “club monster” and bearing “all the marks of a well-deserved multiformat smash.”
According to Billboard’s June 13, 1992 issue,
After several weeks of heavy hush-hush tape action, Columbia has finally issued mixes of George Michael’s fab “Too Funky.” A cut from the upcoming “Red Hot + Dance” AIDS benefit album, it’s thick with a subtle, house -flavored bass line and urbanized synths. The singer has crafted several sturdy remixes, aimed at enticing pop, techno, and R &B spinners.
Michael works up an impressive sweat amid a swirling array of funk-driven guitars and keyboards. Slinky urban /dance jam is one of several new songs by the singer on the new “Red Hot + Dance” benefit album. All artist and label profits will be donated to AIDS organizations. This bears all the marks of a well-deserved multiformat smash.
Rolling Stone magazine calls ‘Too Funky” as the “standout jam” in the Red Hot + Dance album:
For the 1992 HIV/AIDS awareness compilation Red Hot + Dance, George Michael helped to assemble a formidable cast of performers and remixers including Crystal Waters, EMF and PM Dawn. But the standout jam was his own club monster “Too Funky,” originally composed for the abandoned follow-up to Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1. Samples of Anne Bancroft’s famous come-ons from The Graduate hint at the song’s carnal objective, a simmering kind of lust that’s made explicitly clear by Michael’s practically panting delivery of “I’d like to see you naked maybe/I’d like to think that sometime, maybe tonight.” With burbling synths borrowed from Jocelyn Brown’s post-disco track “Somebody Else’s Guy,” a throbbing bass groove and endlessly looping house piano licks, “Too Funky” sets the mood just right for surrendering to the body’s mysterious urges. Add in the fashion-heavy Thierry Mugler–directed video, and the delicate act of seduction starts to resemble something more like high art.
AllMusic Review said this about the compilation album:
The first sequel to the popular Red Hot + Blue album, a connecting theme this time is ditched for a survey of dance music and its top remixers circa 1992. Brought into being with a generous push from George Michael, it’s no surprise that the album starts off with three tracks from the man himself, one of which (“Too Funky”) had the good sense to get into the charts. All three are from the last time in the ’90s that Michael was funky and had a sense of fun. Elsewhere there are remixes of popular hits (Madonna, Seal, PM Dawn, EMF, Crystal Waters) that don’t deviate from, or surpass, the original mixes. Nellee Hooper’s remix of the Young Disciples’ “Apparently Nothin'” strips the original down to beat and sparse keys; Todd Terry has the unenviable task of remixing Sly Stone’s “Thank You (Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Again)” without any access to studio tapes — the results are inevitably underwhelming. Also missing are the resonations with the AIDS crisis that the original Gershwin tribute had — only the George Michael song “Do You Really Want to Know” and the ending theme by Tomandandy even mention it.
‘Too Funky’ Video
“Too Funky” went on to become Europe’s most played record of 1992, helped partly by the video directed by George and styled by designer Thierry Mugler. The video was set to be another supermodel spectacular following the huge success of its predecessor Freedom 90, though only Linda Evangelista returned from the original lineup of supermodels. Evangelista was joined by top models including Nadja Auermann, Tyra Banks, Estelle Lefébure, and a “cast of thousands”.
Michael Pagnotta, George’s US publicist at that time, described the Too Funky shooting
As I arrived at the studio, I found the cavernous space decked out like a runway show from hell. Thierry Mugler, a designer known for brilliantly outlandish fashion shows, was directing. It was buzzy and crazy, like Mugler’s shows back in the day always were. Looking back on it now, I can almost imagine Saturday Night Live’s Stefon describing the set in a hoarse whisper between his fingers to a skeptical Seth Meyers…
Paris’s hottest new nightclub is ‘Too Funky.’ This place has everything: wigs, leather, fake photographers, breastplates with motorcycle handles, the voice of Anne Bancroft, indifferent supermodels, a fembot, passive-aggression… Julie Newmar…”
The video was marred by the conflict between Michael and Mugler. Vogue.com described it as:
“Too Funky,” with its Anne Bancroft voice-over, is lighter fare lyrically. Visually, it approaches the Baroque, especially in contrast to the squatter-like set of “Freedom! ’90.” …. Michael hired Thierry Mugler—the French dancer turned designer known for his dramatic silhouettes and audacious showmanship who now goes by Manfred—to shoot the video. Lefébure, who says she’d be happy to repeat the experience, describes the creative team of Mugler and Michael as “two masters with strong personalities and visions.” Inevitably, they came to loggerheads. The atmosphere, says performer Julie Newmar, quickly became one of “hysteria, lots of smoking and raw nerves.” By the end of the shoot, Michael was longing for his freedom from Mugler, and Mugler was learning that sometimes clothes can _unmake the man.
The video was supposed to be Mugler’s directorial debut. However, there was a conflicting vision between Michael and Mugler. The video came dangerously close to not being completed. Mugler and Michael had a falling out during the shoot, which is why Mugler wasn’t credited as the director of the music video. In fact, the credits at the end of the video showed a big question mark as the name of the director:
George Michael in his final interview, the Red Line interview released in November 2017, described the difficult shoot:
After Elton’s record and Queen’s record became one more record so I was allowed to contribute to a record which was made to raise funds for HIV and AIDS. Madonna was on it; a few other big artists were on it. Didn’t have a big promotional budget but it gave me an excuse to make some music once again you know with Anselmo half in mind and that was “Too Funky”.
I tried to get over the girls back to do it again but they didn’t all
come back. I’ve got to be honest with you: you know much I’m glad that they’re all in this film and thanks very much for that they didn’t want to come back by then so I’ve given them the big push. But the only one who came back, bless her heart, was Linda.
Too Funky was a very hard shoot. I arrived at the hotel where myself and the director Thierry Mugler, the designer, was staying. And Terry was crying, saying that I was about to ruin his artistic vision just with my very presence. [LAUGHTER] And the truth is I’ll then get on with it. We were actually signed up as co-directors. I let him go on with it he didn’t want me to be on the camera. We did some filming, three days of filming, which was genius, genius but we still only had about a minute’s footage and I had put half a million pounds into this project myself and there was no video. We had one day left; so with that one day I took my contractual option and kicked him off for the camera and filmed all the runway stuff because Too Funky is mostly runway and that’s what keeps the rhythm of the song go.
Spectacular! I mean his artistic; his art direction was gorgeous. That’s what I wanted. I didn’t really want to have to co-direct. I wanted his artistic vision as a designer and it was spectacular and I thank him for that. But there was this big commotion because I threw him off because I had to present this video to a charity and it had to be finished. So I just worked 24 hours sending those girls out and down the catwalk and making I think another great video. You know, it’s not Freedom and I’m not David Fincher, but it’s still a great video.
Hairstylist Danilo Dixon described the conflict and how the cast tried to focus on getting the video done despite the directors’ butting heads:
We all donated our time. It took place in Paris and Thierry Mugler and George Michael were the directors, they collaborated. George brought the song and Thierry brought the visuals, that’s really how the collaboration came down. As far as the work, we busted our asses and it went on for three days. We were all so passionate about it. There was an interesting element going on there, too. Because the directors were butting heads, we the collective said: “You know what? This is all about AIDS. It’s not about anything but that, we need to move ahead.” So we really tightened as a group even more then. It was a blast, and it was very hard work, and I never tire of looking at it, it’s so well done.
Here are the different versions of the video:
The Making of Too Funky
Thierry Mugler’s Cut of Too Funky
Information about ‘Too Funky’:
- Too Funky (3:45)
- PRODUCER: George Michael
- WRITER: G. Michael
- PUBLISHERS: Morrison- Leahy /Chappell & Co., ASCAP
- Columbia 4622 (c /o Sony) (cassette single)
- George Michael: Artist or Airhead? (Musician, 1988)
- George Michael: The Reluctant Pop Star (Calendar Magazine, Sept 1990)
- BBC Hardtalk Interview with George Michael (2003)
- George Michael: The Long Goodbye (US Weekly, 1991)
- List of Duets and Backup Vocals