George Michael Biography

Georgios (Yorgos) Kyriacos Panayiotou, 25 June 1963, East Finchley, London, England. Michael first served his pop apprenticeship in the million-selling duo Wham!, the most commercially successful, teen-orientated band of the 80s. His solo career was foreshadowed in 1984’s UK chart-topper ‘Careless Whisper’, a song about a promiscuous two-timer with the oddly attractive line: ‘Guilty feet have got no rhythm’. By the time Wham! split in 1986, Michael was left with the unenviable task of reinventing himself as a solo artist. The ballad ‘Careless Whisper’ had indicated a possible direction, but the initial problem was one of image. As a pin-up pop idol, Michael had allowed himself to become a paste-board figure, best remembered for glorifying a hedonistic lifestyle and shoving shuttlecocks down his shorts in concert. The rapid transition from dole queue reject to Club Tropicana playboy had left a nasty taste in the mouths of many music critics.

Breaking the Wham! icon was the great challenge of Michael’s solo career, and his finest and most decisive move was to take a sabbatical before recording an album, to allow time to put his old image to rest. In the meantime, he cut 1986’s UK chart-topper ‘A Different Corner’, a song stylistically similar to ‘Careless Whisper’ and clearly designed to show off his talent as a serious singer-songwriter. Enlivening his alternate image as a blue-eyed soul singer, he teamed up with Aretha Franklin the same year for the uplifting ‘I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)’, a transatlantic chart-topper. Michael’s re-emergence came in 1988, resplendent in leather and shades and his customary designer stubble. A pilot single, ‘I Want Your Sex’ was banned by daytime radio stations and broke his string of number 1s in the UK. The transatlantic chart-topper Faith followed, and was not only well-received but sold in excess of 10 million copies. The album spawned four US number 1 singles, with the title track, ‘Father Figure’, ‘One More Try’ and ‘Monkey’ all reaching the top.

Equally adept at soul workouts and ballads, and regarded by some as one of the best new pop songwriters of his era, Michael seemed set for a long career. In 1990, he released his second album, Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, a varied work that predictably sold millions and topped the UK album chart. The first single from the album, ‘Praying For Time’ reached number 1 in the USA. In the UK, however, the comeback single was surprisingly only a Top 10 hit. Still dissatisfied with his media image, Michael announced that he would cease conducting interviews in future and concentrate on pursuing his career as a serious songwriter and musician. A duet with Elton John on ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me’ revived his UK chart fortunes, reaching number 1 in December 1991, and also topping the US charts. In 1992, the Sunday Times announced his arrival as one of the richest men in the UK.

Although Michael, with some help from Queen and Lisa Stansfield, topped the UK charts with the Five Live EP in summer 1993, a court clash with his record label Sony dominated his activities in the following two years. The case, which was eventually estimated to have cost him $7 million, saw Michael arguing that his contract rendered him a ‘pop slave’ and demanding to be released from it. Mr Justice Jonathan Parker ruled in Sony’s favour and Michael stated he would appeal, and also insisted that he would never again record for the label. In July 1995, it looked likely that Michael had managed to free himself from Sony - but only at the cost of $40 million. The buy-out was financed by David Geffen’s new media empire, DreamWorks, and Virgin Records, who were also reputed to have paid him an advance of £30 million for two albums. The first was Older, one of the decade’s slickest productions. Although it became a huge success there was no great depth to the songs underneath the immaculate production. The album yielded two UK chart-toppers, the sublime ballad ‘Jesus To A Child’ and the funky ‘Fastlove’.

Michael announced the formation of his own record label Aegean Records, in February 1997. On April 7 1998, he was arrested for ‘lewd behaviour’ in a toilet cubicle at the Will Rogers Memorial Park in Beverly Hills, California. Michael later confirmed his long-rumoured homosexuality and was sentenced to perform community service. He bounced back with an excellent single, ‘Outside’ (complete with a video satirising his arrest), which entered the UK charts at number 2 in October 1998. The Ladies & Gentlemen compilation was a bestseller, topping the UK chart for 8 weeks. His duet with Mary J. Blige on a cover version of Stevie Wonder’s ‘As’ broke into the UK Top 5 in March 1999. At the end of the year, Michael released Songs From The Last Century, a motley selection of cover versions that drew a bemused response from most critics.

The singer returned to the charts in March 2002 with the one-off single ‘Freeek!’, which was accompanied by a risqué £1 million video. He courted controversy again a few months later, baiting US President George W. Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair with ‘Shoot The Dog’. The single’s poor chart showing (only reaching UK number 12) indicated Michael’s commercial star was very much on the wane. A new single (‘Amazing’) and album (Patience) were released in March 2004. During promotional duties for the album, Michael announced he was abandoning the music business to release his songs online for free. In an apparent change of heart, he launched a major tour in 2006 to coincide with the release of a new compilation.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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