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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.

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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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