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Remembering George Michael: Pop music icon of the ’80s

Stefan Andrews

With great sadness, we have received the news on Christmas day, that the British singer, songwriter and record producer, George Michael has passed away.

George Michael died of heart failure, aged 53. Undoubtedly, he was one of Britain’s biggest pop stars of all times, rising to stardom as part of the iconic pop duo Wham! best known for its ultimate classic hits Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go and Last Christmas. More fame and recognition came for George Michael as he also released his hit Careless Whispers in 1984 and proceeded with even greater hits in the forthcoming decades.

Born as Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, in London with a father of Greek-Cypriot prominence, Kyriacos Panayiotou, married to Lesley Angold, an English dancer.

George Michael’s work with Wham! has certainly been a promise for a great career yet to unfold. After the multiple hits as part of the iconic duo, in 1987, he went on to release his first debut solo album, Faith. His first single from that album, I Want Your Sex, soon appeared in the tabloids headlines as it was banned by many radio stations across the UK and US due to its sexually suggestive lyrics and for sure was an announcement of many more turbulent days to come.

George Michael performing on stage during the Faith World Tour in 1988 photo credit

His second single released, Faith, nevertheless has scored high over the world charts. It hit the No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US and remained there for four weeks in a row. It also held the second placement on the official UK Top 40 chart.

George Michael’s success only strengthen with his next release in September 1990, Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1. The album has been Michael’s attempt to establish a new reputation as a more serious artist and performer. The attempt was very successful and brought him an award at the 1991 Brit Awards for Best British Album of that year.

Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 also featured one of his best and most recognized singles, Freedom ’90. The video for the song was directed by David Fincher and for its purposes, George Michael recruited the supermodels Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Tatjana Patitz and Cindy Crawford. Each model had a compensation of $15,000 a day during the filming of the video. The video eventually started to count as one of the best music videos of all times.

George Michael in Antwerp, November 14-th 2006 photo credit

Another prominent appearance was Michael’s duet with Elton John, Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me, a song they both performed at the 1985 Live Aid concert, and that was later on released as a single. It successfully topped the UK and the US charts respectively. Moreover,  he had other memorable collaborations with Marry J. Blige, Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin.

The later period of George Michael’s career

Michael managed to keep his status as a major figure in the music industry, though there was a significant decrease in the sales of his records throughout the later part of his career. Regardless, he always had a very loyal base of fans that only strengthened as the singer confirmed the rumors of being homosexual at the end of the 1990’s.

For Michael, there have always been divisive feelings over the demands of his celebrity status, and how it affected his private life. In 1998, he was arrested for engaging in a “lewd act” in a public lavatory in California, an event which forced him to unravel his homosexuality, something that he had put great efforts to keep private before.

George Michael in 2011 at the Palais Nikaia for his “Symphonica Tour” photo credit

Notable achievement from the 2000’s has been the release of his fifth studio album, Patience, in 2004. By this time, George had already built a reputation also around the gay community. Patience had proven much successful and had hit high over the UK and European charts. It featured Amazing and Flawless (Go to the City) as major hits.

‘Last Christmas’ Played as George Michael Died

The world will most certainly remember George Michael as the author of one of the most beloved Christmas songs ever- Last Christmas, that only grew as a holiday season classic since it was released in 1984.

Last Christmas was most certainly playing at many places around on Sunday, as many have simultaneously learned about the unfortunate event of his death. In a poetic sense, yet morbid at the same time, the song makes a rather sentimental tribute to his overall music career, only to remind us that this has indeed been the very last Christmas for the British music icon.

George Michael at his concert in Munich (Germany) on 30th October 2006 photo credit

There have been numerous different opinions about Last Christmas over the years. However, this song is undoubtedly an inevitable chorus of Christmas time. It has never scored No. 1 in the UK, as in 1984 upon its release it came second after Band Aid’s charity hit single, Do They Know It’s Christmas, but it still counts as one of the most downloaded holiday singles in history.

Read another story from us: Leonard Cohen, legendary musician, poet, and author, dies aged 82

According to other critics, it rivals only with Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas Is You, as the best holiday song of all times.

Stefan Andrews

Stefan is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to The Vintage News. He is a graduate in Literature. He also runs a blog – This City Knows.