It is an inescapable fact that while George Michael left Andrew Ridgeley far behind in his rearview mirror, and while the Faith album proved Michael was capable of being the British Prince — writing, playing, and producing virtually everything, and doing it well — a certain craving for musical partnership has kept him coming back to collaboration time and time again. You can definitely see it here in the tracks connected to this, the fifth and final post of my All Wham! weekend.
And while George Michael likely contained close to 99% of the musical talent that made up the Wham! partnership, there is still an extremely large percentage of people who long for a Wham! reunion. Mind you, these may be the same people who love “Last Christmas” to such a degree that they don’t even know if they love it ironically or not. On top of that, there is a great nostalgia factor involved that continues to allow (much) lesser ’80s acts like Bananarama and Rick Astley to sell a cartload of tickets as part of package shows throughout the British Isles and select parts of Europe. And as the world moves so quickly in this age of lightning-fast technological advancement and instant gratification, most of what we deal with in our lives changes from “now” to “nostalgia” in the blink of an eye. And with nostalgia comes that warm and fuzzy feeling that softens the edges of our memories, or at least coats our mental lenses with a bit of Vaseline.
For instance, look at the results of the Spice Girls reunion tour. They were big only about ten years ago, put out a small body of work with not even an album’s worth of decent material, and lasted only a couple of years, and yet they’re selling out concerts around the globe at an astounding rate. You think that Wham!, who in their heyday, became the first Western pop act to play Communist China, couldn’t do virtually the same thing? They had pretty much the same career path as the Spice Girls, only ten years previous, and with a much greater dose of talent. A Wham! reunion would be attractive to both the percentage of the population that really loves their material, as well as those whose relationship with the 1980s is one long RickRoll. It would be attractive to both the fanboy and the snarker, and both would probably run to the Internet to flame the hell out of each other before going to experience the concerts together.
But, in a way, that misses the point: the reality behind Wham! The truth is that Wham! held George Michael back, both in terms of getting the attention that he craved (and probably deserved) and couldn’t get as part of a duo, and, especially financially. Not only was Michael unhappy with the contract they had with Sony, which (a) afforded them a paltry amount of royalties, and (b) locked them into a relationship necessitating they both record albums for Sony even after they broke up, but for what little monies Michael was receiving for his work, a decent percentage had to be split with Ridgeley.
And yet, even considering the few things Ridgeley brought to the partnership musically, an eventual Wham! reunion makes sense, for a number of reasons. The first, of course, I already laid out above: people would come to see it. That’s especially important to consider nowadays, because most of the money available to artists comes in through touring. What with the music market shifting to digital, and with companies like EMI, BMG and Sony continuing to have their heads up their asses, thinking that instead of making their full catalogs available digitally for a flat subscription rate, that if they sue just a few more people, they can get CD sales to go back up again, few artists can count on having fanbases who will actually buy their new recordings, let along continuous re-releases of their back catalogs. The truth is that even with splitting a percentage of ticket sales with Ridgeley, George Michael could probably do better in this unique period of popular culture with him than without him.
More importantly for George Michael, and perhaps for anyone who considers himself anything remotely resembling a serious artist, is the ability to have immediate critical observation from a trusted confidant. If not an actual artistic collaboration, then an emotional one. That can have a positive effect in the creation of art, whether it be through writing or performance. I would say that all of the performances that George Michael gives here are quality, especially those with people who he’s had a long lasting friendship and/or musical relationship (Aretha, Elton, Deon Estus, and Paul McCartney).
To see the effects that a musical partnership can have, even an unequal one, let’s look a bit more at the Elton and McCartney pairings below. Everyone is probably familiar with the remake of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” It was a worldwide #1 hit. However, I want you to concentrate on Michael’s performance, and the subtle differences between when he’s doing the song by himself, and once Elton appears. His performance becomes more dramatic once he is in in the presence of one of his heroes: he pushes himself more; his vocal staging is more dramatic; he adds the call and response of Elton’s lines not in the original song. He is truly excited to be part of the performance, shouting “Mr. Elton John!” both when Elton arrives and at the end, before the song is even over. This is definitely not the type of performance one was likely to hear on other dates of this tour, when he was singing it by himself.
The McCartney collaboration, “Heal the Pain,” is a remake of another song off of Michael’s fine Faith followup, Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1. It’s a fine selection for the duo, as McCartney brings out the obvious…shall we say…Beatle-y elements of the song. I would say that compared to the earlier version, this remake (available on the new 25 collection) is just a hint brighter, both in the arrangement and George Michael’s performance. It comes as a pleasant surprise, to tell you the truth: a very nice moment between two legends of British pop, who have done some of their best work collaboratively, either in a direct musical manner (Paul with John Lennon; George with his bassist Deon Estus), or more psychically (Paul with his late wife Linda; George with Andrew Ridgeley, both serving as not very talented but true emotional rocks in their bands).
Even George Michael may have come to a realization that emotional solidity might be important for him. After a few trying years in which he has been better known for pot arrests and driving mishaps, and after his last album was his first of original works to not break in the States since the first Wham! album, 2007 saw the swirl of possible reunion rumors, though nothing has come of them to date. Still, with Michael just starting into a long world tour, I would give it a better than 50% chance that Ridgeley pops up at least once along the way; maybe even a few times.
Aretha Franklin and George Michael – I Knew You Were Waiting for Me
Deon Estus with George Michael – Heaven Help Me
George Michael and Lisa Stansfield – These Are the Days of Our Lives (Live)
George Michael and Elton John – Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me (Live)
Mutya Buene and George Michael – This is Not Real Love
Whitney Houston and George Michael – If I Told You That
Bebel Gilberto and George Michael – Desafinado
George Michael and Mary J. Blige – As
George Michael with Paul McCartney – Heal the Pain
Thanks for sticking with me these last three days. May all your weekends be full of Wham!