George Michael never took the easy path when it came to his career. He broke up Wham! in 1986, just when they were starting to headline stadiums and make huge money. Once he established his solo career with Faith in 1987, he waited three long years to release the follow-up album Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1. Not only did he refuse to appear in most of the videos for the album, but the clip for “Freedom! ’90” showed his leather jacket, a Wurlitzer jukebox and guitar all burst into flames. These were icons from his Faith days, and he wanted the world to know he had moved on.
He continued pushing buttons on his 1991 Cover to Cover tour. It was ostensibly in support of Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, but it leaned heavily on cover songs he loved like “Desperado,” “Living for the City,” “What a Fool Believes” and “Every Breath You Take.” Amazingly enough, despite huge money offers, he wouldn’t tour again until 2006 when he finally relented and took his hits on a 106-date odyssey around the world. It seemed like he was re-launching his pop career, but when he went back out in 2011 he was back to a covers-heavy set. He didn’t play “Faith,” “Careless Whisper” or “Monkey,” but he did do the Police’s “Roxanne,” New Order’s “True Faith” and the jazz standard “My Baby Just Cares for Me” every single night. It would have been easier to just smile and play the hits like everyone else, but Michael didn’t want to play that game.
The tour wrapped at London’s Earls Court on October 17th, 2012. A fan caught most of the encore with a cellphone camera, which you can watch right here. It begins with a medley of “Amazing,” “I’m Your Man” and “Freedom! ’90,” some of the only originals he played all night. It wrapped up with a cover of the Victor Schertzinger/Johnny Mercer 1941 pop song “I Remember You,” which has been covered by everyone from Doris Day to Kenny Rogers. The lyrics take on a new poignancy when you know it’s the last thing he ever sang in public. “When my life is through,” he sings. “And the angels ask me to recall/The thrill of them all/Then I will tell them I remember you.”
Over the next four years there were constant rumors that Wham! was going to reform or Michael was going to head back on the road or record a new album, but there were also steady press reports that he was in failing health. Tragically, he died on on Christmas Day in 2016 of unknown causes.