When I was a child growing up it was kinda hard to get away from whatever pop music was polluting the charts at the time; whether I liked it or not, this music was soundtracking my childhood. However, what I didn’t realise at the time, basically because I found songs like ‘True’, ‘Rio’ or ‘Karma Chameleon’ irritating (though now admit to their pop genius), was that the people who sung numbers like these could not only hold a tune but were seriously talented. Tony Hadley (Spandau Ballet) had an absolutely massive voice, Simon Le Bon (Duran Duran) could really nail a hook, and as for Boy George, his voice had texture – just listen to ‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me’ it’s stunning.
Then, of course, there was George Michael. I wasn’t exactly a fan, but as pop music went at the time George could normally meet with pretty much universal approval and was about as close as you get to pop perfection. I always knew he was a good singer, I mean, I bought ‘Older’, which is a fine album with a jazzy late night feel that makes for a very chilled listen, but it was only recently that it really hit me.
Since the turn of the century, we’ve been inundated with “talent” realities – Idol, X-Factor, The Voice to name a few – and a number of alumni from these shows have gone on to achieve considerable success. The shows themselves have thrown up a number of memorable moments where singers have stunned crowds with incredible voices or stand out performances. A handful are even genuine talents with a long history of hard work behind them; think Adam Lambert and Leona Lewis, but in reality most are just winging it, benefitting from big production, teams of songwriters and talent makers like Simon Cowell looking for a quick return on their investment. However, singers like these, and other internet sensations discovered via YouTube or wherever, have become the norm and are everywhere.
So when, a few years ago, I happened across a George Michael live show on a satellite music channel – it was an unplugged style thing – it struck me just how easy he made it look and how little production he needed. Where the reality stars were singing their hearts out to make it look good, George hardly broke sweat, where the wannabes were struggling to reach a note and get all the words into the melody, George had smoothly glided through and never missed a beat or failed a note. Thinking back over his career, a couple of big ballads aside, he rarely belted out a tune, there was always this sensation that he was singing well within himself and that he could sing pretty much anything with consummate ease. And therein lies George’s genius, ok, his career may have waned in recent years, but his early work has stood the test of time, simply because it was so well done. Great voice, great talent.
Anyway, here’s a bunch of times George nailed it in his own inimitable style.
One of the few times George really lets loose, showing off an enviable range and stunning power. Sure, it’s about as slushy as a ballad can get, but the sax riff is genius and the vocal nothing short of incredible. Hats off to Andrew Ridgeley for writing such a timeless classic.
‘Somebody to Love’
Move over Adam Lambert, George was the original choice as the new Queen vocalist, such was the supremacy of his performance at the Freddie Mercury tribute. There was a lot of speculation in the media that he really would join as permanent replacement, but rumour has it that John Deacon vetoed the project (among other rumours). Whether he could’ve cut it on the rockier numbers will also remain open to question. Anyway, George described ‘Somebody to Love’ as the hardest song he ever had to sing, but boy does he nail it, whether in the famous rehearsal video or on stage at Wembley, where he puts in a sublime performance – take note singers, that is how you work a crowd.
For me, this is one of the most underrated songs in George’s back catalogue and is often overlooked, yet it has stood the test of time and his understated vocal shows the depth of his singing talent. This performance from the Mtv Unplugged of 1996 is testament to the talent of the man.
In my humble opinion, this darkly jazzy track is one of George’s finest moments. It’s a beautifully understated song that shows off some fine vocals – there’s a bit of bite, a bit of hush – and really was a coming of age. The whole album stands up for its quality until today – ‘Jesus to a Child’, ‘Fastlove’, ‘Spinning The Wheel’…great songs, brilliantly sung.
Ok, so I’m a bit of a sucker for a big bad Mary J vocal, she always kills it, but on this Stevie Wonder classic George more than holds his own on what is a superb duet. Whether it’s trading riffs between verses or when they go head to head as the song gathers to its killer gospel climax, George puts in an awesome performance.