“We became the all-time ultimate pin-up band. And that was what I thought I wanted, but as success has a tendency of doing when it finally comes round, you find it wasn’t really what you were after and you have to re-evaluate. I could easily have carried on like that, I think I am a good enough actor to have pursued a solo career and Wham!, but we felt, ‘why should we?’. We proved that we did it better than anyone else so why bother carrying on an image that wasn’t suited to you anymore? I mean, I’m a more serious person now, I have rapidly got older and I know we could have got away with it, but why bother? It’s much better this way.” So George Michael told Smash Hits in June 1986, shortly before Wham!’s final gig at Wembley Stadium. Confirmation that the band was ending came on the 1st March 1986 edition of the television chat show ‘Aspel And Company’, where Michael admitted, “There’s no point trying to tell people we’re not splitting up… what we wanted to do when we formed the band four years ago had been just about achieved.” The following week, he flew to LA to record his next solo single, his first with no involvement from Andrew Ridgeley. The two had agreed to an amicable split by mid-1985, as Michael explained in a letter to fans that he asked Smash Hits to print: “Basically, Andy and I had decided that Wham!’s natural timespan was drawing to a close, that it was time to move on… the ‘split’ was not to be immediate, as we still had a few records planned, and wanted to play Wembley Stadium during the summer. And that’s still how we feel. Our differences with our now departed management company, unfortunately brought everyone’s attention to our plan, roughly six months early. That’s all. What’s important for you to know is that no matter what you read or hear, Andrew and I are still the good friends we always were…”
It was the change of management company that had heightened speculation that Wham! were about to split, as the rumour was Michael had changed his arrangements without informing Ridgeley. CBS remained neutral: they publicly welcomed solo material from both artists. While an album from Ridgeley wouldn’t be forthcoming until the 1990s, Michael’s solo career was already establishing itself before Wham! had put our their final record. “I’m making a single with Aretha Franklin, and possibly one in June with Michael Jackson,” he said. “With opportunities to work with people like that how can you not be happy?” There was even a rumour of an anti-apartheid single with Stevie Wonder. In the meantime, that Wham! farewell at Wembley – a six-hour extravaganza on 28 June 1986 – sold out in little more than twice that time. A final EP made #1 that summer.
1987 began with the release of the duet with Franklin (another #1), followed by I Want Your Sex, a song with deliberately provocative lyrics which sounded like he had recorded it in his garage and which he appeared to drop from his repertoire soon after. “Sex is natural, sex is good/not everybody does it, but everybody should,” he sang; the promotional clip saw Michael writing the words ‘explore monogamy’ in lipstick on a model’s back in case he was accused of inciting orgies. This scene in the clip was also the only acknowledgement from Michael of the concept of safe sex, and this being the year of the government’s Don’t Die Of Ignorance campaign to combat the rising numbers of HIV cases in the UK the release of I Want Your Sex didn’t seem very timely. Broadcasters were nervous about it too, and it received little airplay except some late-night airings of the video on MTV. It made #3, sales generated by the mild controversy it had caused and audience loyalty.
The rest of the content of Faith, his debut album, was more conventional, although none of the singles made #1 in Britain, the title track (and next single) coming closest when it reached #2. Nevertheless, the album was well received, sold millions worldwide, and won the Grammy for album of the year in 1989, and the 1988 Faith World Tour was a sell-out success. However, these achievements required Michael to work full-time on the Faith album and its related products for over two years, and he found the schedule (writing, recording, PAs to promote singles, video and photo shoots, live dates and rehearsals, world travel, award acceptance, interviews, etc) exhausting. To leave himself time for developing his music, he told CBS he wanted a reduced promotional workload on future records.
☛ What happened next
Michael’s assertion that “I’m a more serious person now” in that Smash Hits interview quoted at the top of this article set the tone for his 1990s career. The pretentiously (and some at the time said, arrogantly) titled second album Listen Without Prejudice Volume One was a rather solemn affair, and he did very little in the way of promotion for it, refusing even to appear in promotional clips for the singles. The album went to #1 all the same, but while it sold millions it was nowhere near selling as many copies as Faith. Michael blamed Sony (who had acquired CBS); they argued that his self-instigated reduced profile lessened the appeal of the product for fans. A lengthy legal dispute between Michael and Sony began, which would ultimately do him few favours, during which time he refused to record any new material, abandoning a Volume Two of Listen Without Prejudice from which just one single, Too Funky, emerged. Successful covers of Elton John (1991) and Queen (1993) songs were released during the dispute (on Fontana and Parlophone respectively) that returned him to #1 in the UK.
Thereafter, his recordings have appeared sporadically. In 1996 he returned on Virgin with Older, a critical and commercial triumph that confirmed him as one of Britain’s premier recording artists. All six of its singles made the Top 3, with Jesus To A Child and Fastlove making #1, his last chart-topping singles. The album was his last album of original material for eight years, although a number of standalone singles and collaborations kept him in the singles chart, with every release in the ten and a half years from late 1991 to early 2002 making the Top 10. A ‘best of’ and an album of standards were money-spinning long-players in the late 1990s. He returned to Sony in 2004 for his next – and to date, last – studio album Patience. It went straight to #1 although it lacked the string of big hit singles that might have been expected. But for some 25 years Michael has positioned himself as an ‘albums artist’ rather than the maker of chart singles he was in the 1980s. The industry pays attention when he releases a record, as do the critics, and his standing remains such that he was asked to participate in the closing ceremony at the London Olympic Games in 2012.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Dec. 28
BANANARAMA I Can’t Help It (London NANA15)
DEPECHE MODE Behind The Wheel (Mute BONG15)
Billy IDOL Hot In The City (Re-mix) (Chrysalis IDOL12)
George MICHAEL Father Figure (Epic EMU4)
DURAN DURAN All She Wants Is (EMI DD11)