Category Archives: George Michael

‘Faith’ In Its 30th Year: George Michael Goes Solo!

 

George Michael’s solo debut album Faith won’t officially turn 30 for another couple of months. Just couldn’t wait to discuss this particular album. It came along during that 1986-1988 time period that my friend Henrique and I often discussed. It was a period where rock and pop artists could again integrate elements of funk and soul into their music. Where guitar based rock across entire albums was no longer the standard. Danceable,funky music was making a huge comeback in 1987 in particular. And George Michael began his solo career right in that creative frame of mind.

For his part, George Michael basically made a move that would follow onto what Justin Timberlake would do 15 years later: leave a group that was popular with the teen set and emerge with a rather adult solo album. And even Don, the owner of the local record store in Bangor Maine called Dr. Records praised Faith as the very finest album George Michael made. I also have personal memories connected to it-especially seeing its video clips as part of the Friday Night Videos TV magazine program. What I wanted to present here today is a review I wrote on Amazon.com for the album six years ago.


Interesting how you can like a piece of music on one level but have it grow on you in totally different ways. Of course one of the things that has made this album special to me is how it’s stood the passage of time. Didn’t seem that way living through it but the late 1980’s were actually a pretty divided time in terms of pop music. There was a lot of discontentment at how things were going,in terms of popularity versus creativity,that would only really come to the surface years later.

In terms of where George Michael stood at this point,Wham! had gone out on one final tour following their last release Music From the Edge of Heaven and it was time for George to go out on his own. It had been coming for some time. In fact many contend that Wham! owes every single bit of it’s musical potency to his talent. Where George’s talents played an enormous part in it,there was an actual band involved and Andrew Ridgley who was perceived more as pure eye candy.

It was mostly teen idol folly to a degree. But the talent was there in George. So where exactly was he going to take it the first time out? The title song itself and it’s video,sporting George playing a mean rockabilly in leather and jeans is a great,soulful rocker. An obvious hit. Same goes for the slower “Father Figure” with it’s mixture of Eastern melodies,gospel choirs and twisted sexual fantasy.

What makes this album most notable to me is even on those,but more for the rest of the album it totally rejects the fluffier pop melodies on Wham!’s previous two albums in favor of extending more on the sound of the debut album Fantastic. In short this finds it’s success on all accounts by being a very muscular contemporary soul/funk album. The surprisingly un-commercial 9+ minute hit “I Want Your Sex” is a great example.

Starting as stripped down Minneapolis type funk it goes into this live band funk part,complete with a hot horn section. “One More Try” is a spare ballad in the spirit of “A Different Corner” from that final Wham! album. “Hard Day” gets into some heavy old school hip-hop/80’s funk grooves. “Hand To Mouth” tells a compelling street corner story with a breezier funky soul dance type rhythm. “Look At Your Hands” comes to terms with a vibrant rock and soul type number.

On “Monkey”,George deals with his lovers drug problems (so it would seem) over some heavy 80’s Cameo type funk. “Kissing A Fool” is a very 50’s style soul ballad,in the spirit of Ray Charles using something jazz oriented instrumentation. A modern day standard,if you will. There’s a heavy hip-hop/scratch influenced Shep Pettibone remix of “Hard Day” here too as well as “A Last Request” which,listed as “I Want Your Sex Part 3” is an electronic percussive Brit-Funk type number.

One of my favorites here really. So it was a massive hit and likely outsold Wham!’s three records combined. Was it a hit parade? Not really. This is actually a very cohesive album and,although not obviously conceptual follows a loose theme of adult realizations of poverty,romance and sexuality. In a lot of ways it lays a lot of hardness down too,anticipating much of what would happen in the next decade.

Even though a variety of styles are presented this is also in essence a funk/soul album. That has always been George Michael’s true colors when you get right down to it. And on every song here it gives it every single chance he can. Much to the delight of people like me who listen to it. One of a number of excellent AND popular musical moments of 1987!


Faith is an album that painted George Michael as an artist who was not only extremely diverse in his grooves. But also did musical diversity well. And always kept his distinctive flavor intact. His recording career would actually be fairly sporadic after this, as he became involved in elongated record company disputes. And its no lie that George Michael did some amazing albums during the 90’s as well. It hasn’t been a year since his passing yet. And as with Prince, its taking its time feeling real. Yet Faith, with all its energy and high funkativity, is an album that never seems to stop feeling real.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Too Funky” by George Michael

George Michael celebrated his first posthumous birthday yesterday. His death came very sadly and suddenly on Christmas day last year. Since that time,I have learned (along with my boyfriend) just to how important George Michael and Wham were to the post disco UK dance/funk/soul scene of the 1980’s. Wham were one of the “big four” bands on the UK’s major music program Top Of The Pops.  As for Michael’s solo career, it operated from 1987 through 1991 before his record company conflict began. Yet that five years had Michael as part of a huge growth period for cutting edge,funky dance music.

His final single before these record company conflicts was originally recorded for his sophomore solo album Listen Without Prejudice Vol.1. It eventually ended up being released for the AIDS charity CD entitled Red Hot+Blue in 1992. All the proceeds from that and Michael’s accompanying single went to HIV/AIDS related causes. It was also Michael’s first extensive use of sampling-from sound clips from The Graduate and The Tony Hancock Show to a sample from Jocelyn Brown’s “Somebody Else’s Guy”. The name of the George Michael song that did all these things was “Too Funky”.

A fast electronic piano drum rundown introduces the song. Its a thick,slow drum machine rhythm with some shuffling, Brazilian style conga/percussion accents. The melodic body of the song is a round,five note synth brass part-along with pulsing electronic strings and like minded bass line. The piano/bass/drum interaction make up the refrains. With each choral variation, the synth brass returns and varies in tone. After a bridge that condenses the song down to the drums and bass line,the chorus fades the song out to a close with the piano part and the final sound sample of the song.

“Too Funky” is a song that basically pulls together all of the funkiest elements of 80’s dance music innovations. It has the the percussive shuffle of DC go go, the dramatic synthesized horns of the Minneapolis sound and the repetitive bass and piano of house music. What makes it “too funky” is not merely the sexually free (yet somehow post AIDS) lyrical content. But also the somewhat slower tempo and that percussive jump on the rhythms. George Michael wouldn’t put any new music out for four years after this. But it sure capped off the beginning of his solo career with a strong groove.

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George Michael 1963-2016: Tribute To Soulfully Rich Artist

Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou,known by his stage name of George Michael,was as much one of the last people I’d expect to pass away suddenly as Prince was nine months ago. Especially on Christmas day. Yet it has happened. There had been news reports of drug use,a brief prison sentence seven years ago along with a recent bout with pneumonia. But much as with Prince,nothing that equaled out to life threatening. Heard the news just before Christmas dinner from my boyfriend,who discovered the news through the Facebook news feed and was hoping it was yet more “fake news”.

George Michael was pretty well respected as an 80’s icon,with a very successful career behind him and someone who many people had on their “most welcomed comeback” lists for musical artists. When I first heard his music,I actually thought his name was Wham! because in 1984,I thought all groups were somehow named after the lead singer. As I grew older and my musical understanding grew,so did the admiration for George Michael’s music. Wham! started out as a live sounding post disco group with songs such as “Bad Boys” and “Club Tropicana”. After 1984,this all changed.

After four years as the leader of Wham!,George Michael went solo with his 1987 debut Faith.  Even when his music wasn’t particularly successful in the US after the end of the 80’s,his music still continued to be successful the world over. And he did that with a compositional and vocal sense the emphasized a strong sense of soul-always keeping some funky,jazzy or gospel oriented aspect in the mix. Some of Michael’s more recent material I wasn’t too familiar with. But as a tribute,wanted to into some of my favorite songs of Wham! and his solo career,and what made them so wonderful!


“Club Tropicana”

Overviewed this 1983 Wham! song already on this blog. Yet its live band post disco/Chic style funkiness stands as a strong basis for George Michael’s writing and vocals.

“Nothing Looks The Same In The Light”

This song musically segues directly out of “Club Tropicna” on the bands debut album Fantastic. With its jazzy chord changes and burbling synth bass,this song has a slinky slow,funky and melodic groove about it. Its a song my friend Thomas Carley and myself share as a mutual favorite from Wham!

“Everything She Wants”

Been hearing this particular 1984 song most of my life. In terms of it’s layered synthesizers (including bass and horn parts) along with a percussive electronic drum part,this is one of my favorite electro funk/pop hits Wham! made,especially with its intricate song construction and amazing vocal turns by George Michael.

“Careless Whisper”

Musically speaking,this is a very close cousin of “Nothing Looks The Same In The Light” from Wham’s debut,only less electronic. Especially with the melodic sax line on the intro. Its a strongly melodic jazzy mid tempo soul. Even to this day no matter how often I hear it on the radio,the composition and music become stronger and stronger with each listen.

“Last Christmas”

Instrumentally,this is a simple little electronic number. Melodically on the other hand,its one of the most beautiful (and soulful) Christmas songs from the 1980’s.

“I Want Your Sex”

Henrique and I talked about this last night. It is certainly one major funk thump to start George Michael’s solo career on,especially presented in in two parts with the horn driven live band funk sound on the final part of this 9+ minute opus.

“Monkey”

Dealing with the topic of addiction,this is one of the heaviest,bassiest late 80’s funk stomps George Michael ever made.

“Fast Love”

This hit from his 1995 comeback album Older is one of my very favorite of George Michael’s solo career-with its mixture of mid 90’s funk and disco revival and slow,humping shuffle.

“It Doesn’t Really Matter”

Even though some people I’ve know bemoaned the fact the instrumentation on this song is a bit artificial,everything from the electronic drums and keyboards accents on some very jazzy elements-even lyrically alluding to Burt Bacharach mid song. In terms of composition,this is among George Michael’s jazziest tunes.

“Freeek!”

On this song from George Michael’s…as its turned out final album Patience in 2004,the fact that the music video for the song got banned took attention away from the songs thumping,throbbing mix of EDM instrumental styles and a hard core funk stomp.This is probably my (and my boyfriend’s) favorite of his later years.


George Michael’s legacy as a musician comes from a number of sources. He actually sued CBS records because he felt the label were marketing him for his image rather than his talent. Some might see that as a form of egoism. Others (and I include myself in this) see this as a multi talented singer/songwriter/producer and (in many cases) multi instrumentalist with a wonderful grasp of rhythm and melodic electronic programming as well. He was an artist whose passing was one of the more shocking ones for me in 2016. And representative of the type of musical presence I (and many people) will truly miss.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Club Tropicana” by Wham!

Over the years my understanding of Wham! and the role they played in the UK post disco scene of the early 80’s had become so much more pronounced. Today they are primarily known for their mid decade hits such as “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” and even the now iconic holiday favorite “Last Christmas”. George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley also made for the prototypical boy band in terms of their image. Still they came to prominence in a period where such labels didn’t create such a negative stigma for anyone. As a result, both of these men had plenty of chance to hone and polish their craft even before they came into the public eye in such a huge way.

When I was a young adult about a decade and a half ago, there was a record store in my area called Summit Sound. A pre owned copy of Wham!’s debut album Fantastic was something of a fixture there until I finally picked it up when the store was closing out a few years later. Turns out the album was recorded over the course of three years. The album was actually very impressive as well as being very catchy and radio friendly for it’s day. The songs are also very soulful and have a strong groove to them as a whole. One song on the record stood out as…well at least to me one of the finest pieces of music Wham! ever made. And it was called “Club Tropicana”.

The stage is set by the sound of crickets and a car pulling up to music behind closed doors. With the sound of the door opening,Dion Estes thumping slap bass line  and Trevor Morell’s pushing drum beat opens the groove with the sound of crowd sounds before Ridgeley’s strident,dance floor friendly rhythm guitar comes in-the Brazilian style percussion opening up the beat even further. The horns of Ian Ritchie and Roddy Lorimer come in with just the right melodic spice on each chorus of the song. The instrumental bridge isolating the slap bass and synth accents is sandwiched in between two jazzy acoustic piano solos courtesy of Tommy Eyre before George Michael literally coos the song into it’s fade out.

A key conversational point between Henrique and myself has been a tendency in the early 80’s to focus in on the more brightly melodic elements of the Caribbean pop music when it came to American uptempo funk grooves of the period. And this song does something wonderful with what Henrique referred to (in specific reference to the Earth Wind & Fire song “And Love Goes On”) as the “cruise ship sound”. The slap bass is bumping,the piano’s swinging,the horns are hot and the funk is turned right up. Andrew Ridgeley really channels Chic’s Nile Rodgers disco era guitar wonderfully on what is surely one of the funkiest jams Wham! ever threw down.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Andrew Ridgeley, Caribbean Funk, Chic, Earth Wind & Fire, Funk, George Michael, Nile Rodgers, rhythm guitar, slap bass, UK Funk, Uncategorized, Wham!