I wrote about George Michael earlier this year and due to receiving so many requests from his amazingly loyal fanbase, I am doing so again – this time focusing on his dance records.
There is a tendency among snobby music critics to belittle Wham! but, if one compares them to some of the acts excreted by the likes of the X Factor, their sheer brilliance in creating bona fide pop classics becomes a lot clearer. Their music has, without question, also aged very well. It is not uncommon to hear the likes of “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” at even the most edgy of dance music nights and people can pretend to like it in irony but we all know they’re lying.
George Michael’s career began with winning people in clubs over with his infectious hooks and those Wham! records “Club Tropicana”, “I’m Your Man”, “Freedom” et al are now essentially dance standards. It is often overlooked just how responsible he was for his own success – he was his own songwriter, arranger, producer, choreographer and even strategist – and how versatile his abilities were as a vocalist.
On going solo with the Faith album, however, we begin to see how creative he could be in his songwriting process creating hit dance records but whilst merging other genres. An excellent example of this is the title track to that record, which involves Bo Diddley esque rock n’ roll more than anything else but is one that received more radio and dancefloor spins than anything synth based in 1987.
The controversial “I Want Your Sex” and had earlier proven he was capable of building on his Wham! success with something completely different and “Monkey” was to become his first number 1 on the US Hot Dance Club Play chart. The actually now underplayed soul drenched No. 1 smash hit duet with Aretha Franklin, “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)”, however, may, in fact, be his finest upbeat work of the ’80s. Whilst that decade is undoubtedly the one many consider to feature a lot of George Michael’s finest work, it was probably the ’90s when he came into his own creatively and artistically, not just with Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 and the hauntingly beautiful “Praying For Time” but even more so with his ability to experiment whilst creating hugely commercially successful dance hit singles.
’92’s “Too Funky”, recorded for the Red Hot + Dance album to raise funds and awareness for the fight against HIV/AIDS (a project with which began the demise of his relationship with Sony due to what he perceived as a lack of support from them for it), began a streak of gloriously different dance records to chart in the Top 10 on both sides of the pond. “Fastlove”, perhaps the most recognisable of these, is remarkable not only because, unusually for a pop dance record, it doesn’t have a chorus but also because of Michael’s masterful arrangement and singing of the backing vocals, which essentially form the song’s hook. It would be very difficult to find a dance song these days with such a seductive slow groove and bassline, as Michael’s innovative writing style has often been replaced on dancefloors today with mass produced faux South American drivel. Whilst “Fastlove” is certainly a testament to his nuanced approach to writing dance music, “Outside” shows his humour and strength of character with his most unashamedly camp production. A witty response to his arrest in a Beverly Hills public rest room for lewd conduct, it is also thoroughly raucous and infectious, with an immediately catchy string arrangement dominating the song’s introduction. Michael initially touches on new territory vocally here with his extremely low delivery of “I’m think I’m done with the sofa, I think I’m done with the hall, I think I’m done with the kitchen table, baby” but he later recalls Wham! with a trademark delivery of “The game that you gave away wasn’t worth playing”. All in all, it’s a fantastic dance tune and an extremely funny, self-deprecating response to a scandal that you most likely would not see from a superstar of his status today.
2004’s highly anticipated Patience album could so easily have been a flop but instead was released to acclaim, whilst the lead single, “Amazing”, gave him, aged 41, his third Hot Dance Club Songs chart number one record. The song demonstrated he had matured as a producer with the acoustic guitar and handclaps animating the song without the need for a big Wham! style hook. The follow up, “Flawless (Go To The City)” also topped the dance charts and represents his finest proper electro work, with his sublime vocals transforming the already brilliant sampling of Gary’s Gang’s “Keep On Dancin” by The Ones on their original “Flawless” record.
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