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George Michael: 20 Essential Songs

The best of the pop icon’s hits, duets and reinventions

George Michael: 20 Essential Songs

Revisit 20 essential George Michael songs, from his days in Wham! to his late-period dance singles.


Following his early-Eighties breakthrough with Wham!, George Michael swiftly transitioned from teenage pretty boy to outspoken pop force. “I think it says something for the power of the music,” he told Rolling Stone after the release of his smash 1987 solo debut, Faith, “that I’ve managed to change the perception of what I do to the degree that I have in this short a time. Because it’s something that a lot of people thought wasn’t possible.” In the years that followed, the singer-songwriter would go on to collaborate with idols such as Aretha Franklin and Elton John, and confront social and sexual taboos in increasingly bold fashion on four Number One albums and a lengthy string of Top 10 singles. Here are 20 of the Michael’s best, from Wham!’s breakthrough up through his final U.S. hit.

Elton John feat. George Michael, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” (1991)

Sixteen years after Elton John's original, solo version of "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" was released, John joined Michael in concert for an arena-scale duet of the ballad. This wasn't the first time the pair sang the song together – they first joined forces at Live Aid in 1985, but their 1991 reunion led to a Number One hit in the U.S. and U.K. and a Grammy nomination. Proceeds from the song's immense sales went to charities for AIDS, education and children.

“Too Funky” (1992)

For the 1992 HIV/AIDS awareness compilation Red Hot + Dance, George Michael helped to assemble a formidable cast of performers and remixers including Crystal Waters, EMF and PM Dawn. But the standout jam was his own club monster "Too Funky," originally composed for the abandoned follow-up to Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1. Samples of Anne Bancroft's famous come-ons from The Graduate hint at the song's carnal objective, a simmering kind of lust that's made explicitly clear by Michael's practically panting delivery of "I'd like to see you naked maybe/I'd like to think that sometime, maybe tonight." With burbling synths borrowed from Jocelyn Brown's post-disco track "Somebody Else's Guy," a throbbing bass groove and endlessly looping house piano licks, "Too Funky" sets the mood just right for surrendering to the body’s mysterious urges. Add in the fashion-heavy Thierry Mugler–directed video, and the delicate act of seduction starts to resemble something more like high art.

Queen feat. George Michael, “Somebody to Love” (1992)

The Freddie Mercury Concert for AIDS Awareness, held at Wembley Stadium in the spring of 1992, invited pop stars of all stripes – Axl Rose, Annie Lennox, David Bowie – to fill in for the deceased Queen frontman, who passed away from AIDS-related pneumonia the previous year. Michael took on one of Mercury's most bravura vocal performances and, backed by Queen's surviving members as well as the London Community Gospel Choir, he lived up to the "tribute" promise, his voice soaring where Mercury's did. His all-in performance lit up the Wembley crowd in a way that recalled the man of honor's show-stopping performance seven years prior. A masterful show that proved Michael's meticulous pop scholarship and formidable instrument.   

“Jesus to a Child” (1996)

Michael paid poignant tribute to his late lover Anselmo Feleppa, who had died from an AIDS-related brain hemorrhage several years earlier, with this slow-burning ballad. "Heaven sent/And Heaven stole/You smiled at me/Like Jesus to a child," Michael sings. The star found himself unable to write for more than a year after Feleppa's 1993 death but reportedly penned "Jesus to a Child" in a sudden burst of inspiration. From the time he came out as homosexual in 1998 up through his final performances, he would dedicate the song to Feleppa.

“Fastlove” (1996)

The years leading up to "Fastlove" were dark for Michael. In the Nineties, he weathered the death of his partner Anselmo Feleppa and an unsuccessful court battle with his label, Sony. This synth-y 1996 track is Michael's brutally honest inner monologue on the topic of one-night stands ("Made my way into the night/All that bullshit conversation/Baby can't you read the signs?") and became a fan favorite. It reached the Top Ten in the U.S. and Number One in the U.K.

“Outside” (1998)

Following his 1998 arrest for lewdness in a public lavatory, Michael responded in biting, unrepentant fashion with "Outside" – the lead single from his greatest hits collection Ladies & Gentlemen. "I think I'm done with the couch/I think I'm done with the hall/I think I'm done with the kitchen table, baby," he groans in a deep, slightly unsettling tone. Despite the legal ramifications of his arrest, he laughed off the incident and the idea of vanilla sex with this lush disco track about the illicit thrills of fucking in the great outdoors. Considering the prurient subject matter, the track – produced by Michael – actually sounds like vibe music for a glitzy cocktail party, dusted with elegant strings, wah-wah guitar and gently cooing backing vocals. It's a subversive bit of sleaze from a star who was clearly no longer bound by heteronormativity.

“Amazing” (2004)

Michael's final Top 10 single in the U.S. was a dancey soft-rock number about how love changed the singer's life, and it was based on his relationship with Kenny Goss, his partner from the mid-Nineties through 2009. He also drew inspiration from his days dancing at clubs in the London suburbs before he was famous and claimed that the song reminded him of his time as a pop idol. "'Amazing' reminds me of Wham! more than anything else I've done," he once said. "The work I’ve done over the last 12 years might have a certain intensity or depth, but nothing has had the energy of the earlier work. I think it's come with the relief of feeling good again."

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