I was always a big George Michael fan. I kinda hid it when he was in Wham! (I had my reputation to protect) and while George was popular, he wasn’t really cool. Still, I think there were a lot of Motley Crue fans who turned up their dial for their dates (while secretly singing along themselves inside their heads) when I’m Your Man came on the radio.
After George left Wham!, his music deepened. There were hints of his new musical direction before the duo broke up, like Careless Whisper (the greatest Sade song that Sade never recorded), and A Different Corner.
He teased us with earworms like I Want Your Sex (the greatest Prince song that Prince nev…you get the idea) and Faith. Delicious pop nuggets, so irresistible to the masses that they became ubiquitous.
Those tunes were set-ups to a degree. They reeled us in so we’d be ready to accept Father Figure and One More Try. George went even further after the massive success of Faith. Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 owed as much to John Lennon as it did to the funk and R&B that informed his earlier records.
George was over being a commodity. He wanted to be taken seriously, which can be a trap for some artists. (Sometimes one’s reach can exceed one’s grasp, Terence Trent D’arby’s admirable failure of a second album comes to mind). George was so committed to letting his songs speak for themselves that he didn’t make an appearance in either of his first two videos (Praying For Time and Freedom) from the album. And when he does finally show up in the third single’s video, Waiting For That Day, it’s just a simple compilation of footage from the recording studio.
Which brings me to the point I’d like to make. Waiting For That Day was a minor hit upon release – I suppose it was always going to be too low-key to for the chart’s upper echelons – but as time has gone by, I’ve become convinced that it’s his greatest recording.
It’s deceptively simple. A strumming of folk guitar leads into a shuffling hip-hop beat, hushed “doo doo doos” quietly insinuate themselves into the track, and then George’s weary but impassioned vocal (which sounds like it echoes in from a far-off canyon) takes over.
The lyrics are his very finest. At first it seems to be an eloquent song about a lost relationship and the heartache that comes with it. And it is that – but it is also something more, as this stanza would suggest:
Now everybody’s talking about this new decade
Like you say the magic number
Then just say goodbye to
The stupid mistakes you made
Oh, my memory serves me far too well
At that moment something magical happens. The song becomes a universal lament on regret. A question of what we will do with these lessons we’ve learned – or of whether we’ve learned them all.
By the end of the song, as George cribs from the Stones by singing “you can’t always get what you want” over and over into the fade, the question remains open.
In the pantheon of songs that sound effortless, as if they were written in one sitting and sung in one take, it’s on the same level as Otis’ Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay or Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On.
There’s not a damn thing anyone can say to convince me I’m not right.