From Wham! to Solo: The Top 7 Songs of George Michael

From teen heartthrob to serious artist defying taboo, George Michael was a man with faith that music had the power to change the world. Blessed with a soaring voice and an instinct for pop melodies, Michael was a brilliant songwriter and one of the most powerful forces of his time. He had the kind of voice that didn’t sound out of place or out-matched singing next to Aretha Franklin or Elton John.  

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George Michael had a string of Top 10 singles, and his album Faith has sold over 25 million copies. But outdated attitudes toward LGBTQ+ people in the late ’90s led to his fall from the mainstream charts.

Michael died too young, at age 53. Thankfully, he left behind a body of work that is both inspiring and beautiful. Channeling “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” let’s look at some of the “fragments of life” left behind by George Michael.

7. “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”

“Go-Go” introduced Wham! and George Michael to the United States. The song was inspired by a note from Wham!’s Andrew Ridgeley to his mother where he mis-wrote “up up.” This became “go go”—and translated to neon-pop gold. It sounds like something Smokey Robinson might have written for Motown.

You get the grey skies outta my way
You make the sun shine brighter than Doris Day
You turned a bright spark into a flame
My beats per minute never been the same

6. “Faith”

The first thing heard is a church organ playing Wham!’s “Freedom.” Then a Bo Diddley-inspired guitar rhythm leads to one of George Michael’s catchiest melodies. The guitar solo channels Elvis guitarist Scotty Moore as Michael channels the King of Rock and Roll himself. The iconic imagery from this period of Michael’s has him in a leather jacket, Ray-Bans, Levi’s, and stubble—another British act borrowing things distinctly American. “Faith” was the biggest song of the year.

Need some time off from that emotion
Time to pick my heart up off the floor
Oh when that love comes down without devotion
Well it takes a strong man, baby, but I’m showin’ you the door

5. “Last Christmas”

The best Christmas songs have a tinge of melancholy to them. Maybe it goes with the worry of being alone at the holidays. There’s a line in “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” that says, Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow. Profoundly sad, and Wham!’s “Last Christmas” has a similar sadness to it. You give someone your heart and the next day they just thoughtlessly give it away (and that’s not to mention the antagonist’s unspeakable crime of regifting).

Last Christmas, I gave you my heart
But the very next day, you gave it away
This year, to save me from tears
I’ll give it to someone special

[RELATED: The 25 Best George Michael Quotes]

4. “Careless Whisper”

A pre-Wham! dance-floor confessional, the song’s best-known lyric is “Guilty feet have got no rhythm.” The advantage of songwriting is you can sometimes toss meaning for a good turn of phrase. There’s infidelity here, and regret and loss. A soaring vocal over a Latin rhythm and dark alley saxophone. This was an anthem for the cheaters. Michael co-wrote “Careless Whisper” at age 17 with Andrew Ridgeley. It’s Michael trying to figure out love as a teenager, without being self-conscious. It’s even a little innocent in its deviousness.

I’m never gonna dance again
Guilty feet have got no rhythm
Though it’s easy to pretend
I know you’re not a fool

3. “Father Figure”

But sometimes love can be mistaken for a crime. This is a complex love song, which its accompanying video belies. In the video, Michael is in a relationship with a woman but the song’s lyric and Michael’s very public private life tell a different story. “Father Figure” echoes “When Doves Cry” in its feel and desperation. And the gospel choir in the chorus is a perfect touch.

I will be your father figure
I have had enough of crime
I will be the one who loves you
Till the end of time

2. “Everything She Wants”

This is Wham!’s best song. The protagonist is stuck in a miserable marriage with a baby on the way and there’s no way out. Michael’s performance here is proof he was one of the best pop-soul singers and songwriters of his time. The track began as a home demo. It’s synthy and funky, and the vocal hints at another famous ’80s Michael (Jackson). “Everything She Wants” and “Last Christmas” were released together as a double A-side.  

I’ll tell you that I’m happy if you want me to
But one step further and my back will break
If my best isn’t good enough
Then how can it be good enough for two?

1. “Freedom! ’90”

An acid house piano song, “Freedom! ’90” is a perfect pop track that musically sounds like Happy Mondays covering “Sympathy for the Devil.” Michael addresses success by looking at his own experience finding fame at an early age. He sings, Sometimes the clothes do not make the man. It’s gospel philosophy, with his anger directed at the cynicism of pop-icon culture. He tried to outrun it, then found the courage to face it head on.

The “Sympathy for the Devil” reference is more than just musical. Here, the devil could be the press, and the sympathy is how Michael needed the attention as a rising pop star. But you can’t just stop it when you want. And the devil did what devils do—make a mess of your life. Michael found his footing and fought back the only way he knew how. He wrote another anthem…and freedom is what he found.

Take back your picture in a frame
Take back your singing in the rain
I just hope you understand
Sometimes the clothes do not make the man

Photo by Steve Rapport/Getty Images

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