84. George Michael, 'Faith'
George Michael sang suggestively on "I Want Your Sex," the incendiary hit that ignited his 1987 album Faith. Besides the sensual implications, the lyrics could also describe the British performer's make-over from teen idol to mature pop talent with his solo debut. "I was trying to shake an image — a very glossy, bubblegum image," says Michael, recalling his early-Eighties career, when he and childhood pal Andrew Ridgeley sang together as the prefab dance duo Wham! After their split in 1985, Michael became intent on finding a fresh start as a solo artist.
Shying away from his persona as a preening dandy who sang drivel like "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go," Michael cultivated a new approach that was seriously sexy. With torn jeans, perfectly coifed hair and stubble that would make Don Johnson envious, he became the leading progenitor of a style that all but redefined late-Eighties fashion.
But the real change was in the lyrics, not the look. Beyond the beat-crazy dance rhythms, most of the songs on Faith revolve around important issues. "I Want Your Sex," for example, raises the issue of monogamy in the age of AIDS; "Look at Your Hands" deals with abused wives; and "Monkey" touches on the horrors of addiction. "I wouldn't have dared approach subjects like wife beating or addiction when I was with Wham!" says Michael. "But I had been liberated from those particular confines."
Michael spent almost two years writing and recording Faith, influenced, he says, by "a lot of American radio, which kind of seeped into my consciousness." Months before he began recording the album, he had created "I Want Your Sex" as a song for a friend to sing, but he reclaimed it. "I Want Your Sex" unleashed a torrent of protest and publicity for the young star. The BBC banned the song in England, and many American stations refused to play it. Nevertheless, spurred by an outrageously erotic video clip and all the surrounding controversy, Michael's sassy come-on sold more than 1 million copies in the United States.
After "I Want Your Sex" scored, the catchy single "Faith" was released in October; the entire album was released a month later. Supercharged by four more hit singles — "Father Figure," "One More Try," "Monkey" and "Kissing a Fool" — the album went on to sell 14 million copies worldwide, and Faith became one of the few albums to top the pop and black charts simultaneously. As further evidence of its broad-based appeal, Faith subsequently captured a Grammy for album of the year and topped Rolling Stone's annual readers' poll.
"I was expecting the album to be big, but I wasn't expecting anything like the success it had," says Michael. "There was a fair amount of pressure on me to carve a different niche as a solo artist without actually having to force it. The progression had to be natural, but I also knew there had to be a progression."