Oh, George, Where art thou?
Today I pose the question: Aging superstar most in need of a comeback?
My answer: George Michael
While I am sure that he would insist that he never left, I would posit that his potent, velvety-smooth voice has been missing from the top-of-the-pops scene for far too long. The man has one of the most versatile and beautiful voices ever recorded; he needs to be heard---NOW!
When you think of 80's pop music, you probably think of Madonna, Duran Duran, the Bangles, Prince, Michael Jackson, and, yes, Wham!, the duo that George formed with his boyhood chum Andrew Ridgeley (who is definitely residing in the "where are they now?" file).
The Wham! era saw George blossom as a singer-songwriter possessed of pure pop craftsmanship. Even today, songs such as "Careless Whisper" and "Everything She Wants" sound fresh because of their precise construction. Okay, the synthesizers sound a little old in 2012 and that saxophone break in "Whisper" is a little cheesy, but I dare you to resist the glamorous melodies and the tight, spot-on lyrics. "Freedom" riffs on the luscious 60's girl-group sounds and "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" sounds as stupidly bouncy as ever!
In the late 80's, George went solo and produced Faith, the album and the single, which resonated with its Bo Diddley beat. It's the epitome of a butt-shaker. Then there's the kinda-creepy, kinda-compelling "Father Figure:" "I will be your father figure, put your tiny hand in mine..." Hmmm, okay, let's not go there. Let's just enjoy the transcendant beauty of the music and the voice as the bridge overwhelms us and we do remember the ones who have lied, who said that they cared but then left as we cried and George reassures us that we won't be thinking of him in these moments because all he ever wanted... "is in your eyes."
In 1990, George took his Eighties pop sensibility and broadened and refined it
on Listen Without Prejudice, Volume I. The somber lead single, "Praying for Time," took a distraught look at the world's festering wounds (and is still astonishingly relevant to our society now, in 2012). In "Freedom 90," which combines dance beats with soaringly vital gospel choruses, George shared confessional secrets with his audience and challenged us to rise above. He wised-up enough to admit that, in the past, "it was enough for me, to win the race, a prettier face, brand new clothes and a big fat place, on your rock and roll TV." But he was endeavoring to leave the apparently embarrassing butt-shaking Faith era behind: "Posing for another picture, everybody's got to sell, but when you shake your ***, they notice fast, and some mistakes were built to last." This is a far cry from the man who unabashedly titled a Wham! album Make It Big. Here was a singer who wanted to be taken seriously as an artist.
Unfortunately, George's fans seemed to prefer the butt-shaker, because Listen Without Prejudice, while a million-seller, never reached the heights of multi-platinum Faith. He fought with his record company, released a couple of CDs, came out, but never regained his place at pop's pinnacle. In 2008, George withdrew from touring, saying he wanted a "more private life" and that, at 45, he felt a bit old for the game: "I think pop music should be about youth culture," he told the BBC. "It shouldn't be an endurance test."
Well, I'm here to say he's wrong. Some areas of pop culture may be for youth, but did Frank Sinatra cede pop music to the young? Hell, in his early 50's, he was topping the charts with "A Very Good Year," "Strangers in the Night," and his collaborations with Antonio Carlos Jobim. Did Tony Bennett cede pop music to the young? He's still recording duets in his mid-80's, and sounding fab. So why not George Michael?
This is an artist whose songs have been covered by everyone from Rufus Wainwright and Ben Folds to Limp Bizkit. He's sold 100 million records. George, wake up and smell the coffee! Your silver-tongued voice is still needed!
I propose an album of standards (yes, I know you did something like that awhile back with Songs from the Last Century, but you have to admit your choice of material on that one was quirky to say the least). Take on the Great American Songbook: try some Gershwin, have a go at Cole Porter, croon a Rodgers and Hart tune! If croaker Rod Stewart can do it, you can-- and better!
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