Freedom and Faith: Remembering George Michael On His 60th Birthday 

Counting down his 10 most essential songs

George Michael (Image: Sony Music)

If most people were asked to name one pop star who defined the ‘80s, chances are they would choose Michael Jackson, Madonna or Prince.

And there’s a good case to be made for any of the three. But I would argue that George Michael belongs in that group as well. 

Let’s look at the trajectory of each. While Michael Jackson was an immense singer and performer (both with The Jackson 5 and on his own), he not only engaged in some disturbing and bizarre behavior over the years; he also kept trying to remake or top Thriller. That was, of course, impossible.

Madonna was never more than a marginal talent in this writer’s opinion, but she released some good singles and was an incredibly savvy businesswoman. Now, however, her voice is shot, the shock tactics she’s always relied on are gone and she’s become a parody of herself. Only Prince continued to grow as an artist, right up until his death. 

While not as prolific as Prince (and not as gifted as a guitarist), I would argue that George Michael was his equal as a vocalist and songwriter. And he too continued to evolve as an artist until his untimely death from a heart attack in December of 2016. In the interest of honesty, I dismissed Wham! as teeny-bopper music — and perhaps their first album was. But they matured quickly.

Make It Big, their 1984 sophomore set, was a diverse and concise pop album that included four singles, three of which — “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” “Careless Whisper” and “Everything She Wants” — topped the charts.  No disrespect to Andrew Ridgeley, but it had become obvious by 1985 that Michael was by far the more talented member of the duo (this was not Hall and Oates!). And after one more Wham! album  — the 1985 hodgepodge Music from the Edge of Heaven — sure enough, he took the solo plunge.

I still remember the first time I heard the album Faith, which arrived in 1987. My friend Robin stuck the CD on in her car — and I objected. She basically told me to try listening to it with an open mind (or, to quote Michael himself, “without prejudice”)!  I did and quickly became a convert. Good music is good music and, to this day, I think Faith is one of the best albums of the late ‘80s. Apparently, a lot of people agreed. Faith topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, produced four #1 singles (“Father Figure”,  “Monkey,” “One More Try” and the title track) and made Michael the best-selling artist of 1988.

George Michael “Faith” still (Image: Reddit)

His sophomore solo disc, Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 arrived in 1990. As the title implied, this was an attempt on Michael’s part to be taken seriously — to silence all the people (and I was one early on) who thought he was nothing more than a pretty boy pop star. While it wasn’t quite the critical and commercial smash that Faith was, Listen Without Prejudice did very well. It sold roughly eight million copies and produced several hits, including the great chart-topper “Praying for Time.”  

Strangely, between 1991 and his death 25 years later, George Michael only released three more studio albums. Older arrived in 1996 and was, if anything, even more serious than Prejudice had been. It was a mature collection that was heavy on beautiful ballads. Songs from the Last Century, released at the dawn of the millennium, found Michael covering everyone from Rogers and Hart to Ewan MacColl to The Police. His final studio album, Patience, appeared in 2004. While not his best work, it was still a solid effort that saw him alternating between dance tunes and ballads, the political and the personal. Even though Patience was technically his last album, it should also be noted that Michael stayed busy collaborating with other artists (ranging from Paul McCartney to Mary J. Blige), that he released a classical disc and that there are at least two major anthologies of his work. 

Though he was talented, handsome and very successful, Michael was also very open about his demons — a trait which I always thought made him more human. He was only 53 when he died and had already endured battles with pneumonia and drug addiction and been arrested for public lewdness (which he later poked fun at in the song “Outside”). If his catalog wasn’t as extensive as that of some musicians, it can also be said that George Michael never made a bad record — and at his best, he had few rivals. 

So today, on what would have been his 60th birthday, let’s celebrate the man who was born Georgios Panayiotou. I’ve made a list of 10 of his essential songs. This is not meant to be definitive, but rather is meant to showcase a mixture of hits and deep cuts… dance tunes and ballads… solo material and Wham! songs… And to make an argument for Michael being the definitive pop star of the 80s.


10)  Jesus To A Child  (1996)

The lead single and opening track from Michael’s Older album, “Jesus To A Child” is one of his best and most touching ballads. It was allegedly written as a tribute to Anselmo Feleppa, his lover and a Brazilian fashion designer. Feleppa died in 1993 of an AIDS-related brain hemorrhage.  


VIDEO: George Michael “Jesus To A Child”


9)  Shoot the Dog  (2004)

“Shoot the Dog” is about as different from “Jesus To A Child” as it’s possible to be! One of several singles from the Patience disc, it’s a satirical dance tune that mocked both George W. Bush and then-Prime Minister Tony Blair. Not surprisingly, some stations refused to play “Shoot the Dog” and the song was even left off the original U.S. pressing of the album! The video is also a hoot.


VIDEO: George Michael “Shoot the Dog”


8)  Praying for Time  (1990) 

The first single from Listen Without Prejudice, “Praying for Time” topped the charts for good reason. The tempo is dirge-like, but that only serves to emphasize the lyrics — which are some of Michael’s best: “The rich declare themselves poor/And most of us are not sure/If we have too much but we’ll take our chances/’Cause God’s stopped keeping score.”

More than three decades later, “Praying for Time” seems more apro pos than ever.


VIDEO: George Michael “Praying for Time”


7)  Last Christmas  (1985)

It may be cheesy but in this writer’s opinion, “Last Christmas” is a great holiday song. The jaunty melody belies a gently sad lyric about heartbreak. Although “Last Christmas” was released as a UK single in late 1984 (and included on the Wham! album Music from the Edge of Heaven), it would take another 30 years for it to become a single in the States!

It’s sadly ironic that Michael died on Christmas day.


VIDEO: Wham! “Last Christmas”


6)  Monkey  (1987)

One of four #1 singles from Michael’s solo debut, Faith, “Monkey” showcased his dance side. If you’ve ever fallen for an addict, you may relate to this song… 


VIDEO: George Michael “Monkey”


5)  Moment with You  (1998)

This is one of the more obscure songs in the Michael catalog — and yet, to these ears, it’s also one of his best. “Moment with You” appeared on the 1998 compilation Ladies & Gentlemen: The Best of George Michael. It’s a silky-smooth ballad that hearkens back to the 1970s.


VIDEO: George Michael “Moment with You”


4)  Fastlove  (1996)

Another one from the Older album, “Fastlove” may be the prettiest song ever written about looking for a hookup! This tune finds Michael bemoaning the fact that his friends have all settled down while he heads out into the cosmos for a one night stand. The end of “Fastlove” finds him using a bit of the Patrice Rushen classic “Forget Me Nots.”


VIDEO: George Michael “Fastlove”


3)  Freedom ’90  (1990)

Not to be confused with the Wham! song of the same name, “Freedom ’90” appeared on Listen Without Prejudice. It may be a catchy dance song, but it’s also a statement of purpose in which Michael address his past unflinchingly. “”I was every little hungry schoolgirl’s pride and joy/And I guess it was enough for me,” he sings. One could take this as a precursor to his coming out several years later or simply as an admission of regret about his pop star past.

The video for “Freedom 90,” directed by David Fincher, was interesting in that it did not feature Michael at all. Rather, the lyrics were mouthed by supermodels Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington and the late Tatjana Patitz.


VIDEO: George Michael “Freedom 90”


2)  Faith  (1987)

The title track of his solo debut and another #1 hit. “Faith” finds Michael taking a rare turn at rockabilly — and pulling it off famously. 


VIDEO: George Michael “Faith”


1)  Careless Whisper  (1984)

“Careless Whisper” was the second single from Wham!’s sophomore disc, Make It Big. Its music and lyrics made it clear that Michael’s songwriting was growing by leaps and bounds and that there was more depth to the duo than most people realized. Of course, the immortal sax solo by Steve Gregory didn’t hurt.

Still, Michael’s lyrics were the best part of “Careless Whisper.” To wit: “I feel so unsure/As I take your hand and lead you to the dance floor/As the music dies, something in your eyes/Calls to mind the silver screen/And all its sad good-byes.” The song stands not only as his crowning achievement but as one of the best love songs of the last 50 years. 


VIDEO: Wham! “Careless Whisper”






Dave Steinfeld

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Dave Steinfeld

Dave Steinfeld has been writing about music professionally since 1999. Since then, he has contributed to Bitch, BUST, Blurt, Classic Rock UK, Curve, Essence, No Depression, QueerForty, Spinner, Wide Open Country and all the major radio networks. Dave grew up in Connecticut and is currently based in New York City.

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