Christmas is a bittersweet time for George Michael fans. On one hand, it’s the time we all get to indulge in repeat airings of Last Christmas, one of his greatest ever creations. But of course, December 25 this year will mark five years since his tragic passing.
In tribute to him, we’ve picked out 10 essential tracks from his back catalogue, from the ones he created in partnership with Andrew Ridgeley as part of Wham!, to the solo classics he wrote, recorded and produced himself. Enjoy.
Freedom! ‘90 (1990)
“I would never like to step in front of a camera again”. So declared Michael around the time of Freedom! ‘90’s release — a song he refused to appear in the video for. It was a move symptomatic of his growing aversion to fame and superficiality, which had become unbearably grating, and his conviction that, as he sang here, “I don’t belong to you and you don’t belong to me”. With hindsight, it’s easy to see the hidden meaning in lines such as “There’s something deep inside of me (There’s someone else I’ve got to be)”. But even at the time, with its deep grooves and soaring vocals, this was clearly the sound of a man shaking his shackles loose.
Jesus to a Child (1996)
Jesus to a Child was another of Michael’s songs whose sharp grief only pierced deeper once its true nature was revealed. A meditation on the loss of his former lover, Anselmo Feleppa, who he’d met in Brazil at the beginning of the Nineties but who passed away just a couple of years later, it’s possibly Michael’s finest ballads — the doleful bossa nova was a subtle but undeniable reference to a loss he had felt compelled to keep secret for years.
Everything She Wants (1984)
Credited by some as the seed that would later grow into Michael’s solo career, written and recorded entirely on his own as it was, Everything She Wants was released as a double A-side with Last Christmas (what a duo!) and became one of Wham!’s biggest hits. With a squelching romp of a backing track and lyrics about doomed marriage, it also hinted at the heavier lyrical material Michael would explore in later years. But as a standalone track, it’s fantastic — no moment more sublime than that aching melody of the “Somebody tell me…” line.
Last Christmas (1984)
Is this the best Chrismtas song of all time? People feel very strongly about these things, so to avoid getting a cup of scalding hot mulled thrown over us by an angry Pogues fanatic, or whoever, we’ll leave that one open to debate. But Wham!’s addition to the festive oeuvre is surely up there with the very best of them — the fact that it gets played year after year after year, but still tingles with melancholy each time you listen, proves it as a timeless delight.
If 1996 was a year dominated by Britpop — both Blur’s Charmless Man and Three Lions by Baddiel, Skinner and the Lightning Seeds would top the UK charts within a month of Fastlove doing likewise — then it was also the time that Michael proved he could still cut through the noise. An unapologetically lustful ode to one night stands with a lush R&B instrumental that popped with its Patrice Rushen basslines, it was in fact the last time he’d score a UK number one in his lifetime; a worthy finale, then.
Careless Whisper (1984)
Saxophones don’t get any more iconic than this (although maybe Gerry Rafferty would have something to say about that). And did Michael ever sing a better lyric than “Guilty feet have got no rhythm”? Probably not. Careless Whisper is certainly the best known song in Michael’s back catalogue, and it’s not surprising — such an intoxicating swirl of romance and regret, delivered with such style, was only ever going to be a mega-hit.
Father Figure (1987)
Sensual and seductive, Father Figure was the standout track on a debut album in which Michael tried to move away from his boyband past and towards something more profound as a solo artist. This song did that, with its barely concealed admissions of forbidden attraction — “But sometimes love can be mistaken for a crime” — with a passion that breaks free in the gospel exultations of the chorus.
A Different Corner (1986)
The vinyl sleeve for A Different Corner had a note written on it: “This record is dedicated to a memory”. And it sounds like it — a misty reverie of a track, its drumless atmosphere feels as if it’s been wafted in from some crevice of the past. Written by Michael while he was still technically a part of Wham! but released as a solo track, and inspired by a fleeting but no less flooring relationship, it’s one of his most beautiful heartbreakers.
Music fans of a certain generation might have heard the Limp Bizkit cover of Faith before they heard the original — poor them. Nu-metal nonsense aside, Michael’s burst of rock’n’roll was bracingly simple, a knowing pastiche that never veered into cliché. Most memorable, though, was the video, with Michael stubbled and skinny-jeaned, a crucifix hanging from his ear and clad in leather, just startlingly handsome; one of his truly iconic looks.
Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go (1984)
One of the most irrepressible tracks of the Eighties, but taking plenty from the sun-kissed pop of the Fifties and Sixties, Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go hit that perfect balance between heartache and happiness — lyrics that long over an absent lover but music that sounds like pure joy. As anthems go, Wham! rarely did better.