George Michael had a rough time of it in the 90’s and much of the Naughts, seemingly trying to kill himself with booze and drugs and anonymous sex. Like Gerry Rafferty before him, it seems he really wasn’t cut out for fame.
He and Wham! partner Andrew Ridgely hit the Britpop music scene in the early ’80s, tailor made for the video age — two good-looking white singers ripping off Motown, and ripping it off well. It’s difficult to imagine now how genuinely excited people were in 1987 for Michael’s debut solo effort, Faith, given how little music Wham! had actually produced. But it was a huge success, generating 25,000,000 worldwide sales and six Top 40 hits.
Production of his followup album, Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 is where the trouble began.
Michael had had enough of being the pretty poster boy, and refused to allow his face ([snark]or even his rear end from the “Faith” video[/snark]) on the cover. Instead he opted for Weegee’s 1940 photograph, “Crowd at Coney.” He even refused to appear in most of the videos. The album’s biggest hit was “Freedom! ’90,” the lyric of which was Michael’s declaration of independence from MTV, from his record label executives, and a plea to his fans to be grownups. Listen Without Prejudice was considered something of a commercial failure, selling “only” two million copies in the US and eight million worldwide. It would be six years before he released another studio album of new material.
Artistically though Listen was Mission Accomplished as Michael worked on improving his songwriting and orchestration skills. Tonight’s pick, “Cowboys And Angels,” is proof that he achieved both of his goals, with what is easily my favorite single of his.
He could put out an album of this kind of material once a year, every year, and I’d be a happy buyer of each and every one.