Well, another week, another iconic pop star reaches a milestone birthday. Only days after Cyndi Lauper turned 60, fellow 80s megastar George Michael reaches the mid-century mark. I remember watching American Bandstand with Dick Clark when I was a kid and seeing Wham! awkwardly lip-sync early single “Young Guns (Go For It)” while dancing rather comically in leather jackets. It would have been difficult to envision that this singer would go on to become one of the dominant forces in pop music over the next 20 years, but that is exactly what happened.
George Michael, with Wham!, as a solo artist, and in duets with other artists, has amassed an impressive ten #1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 in America over his remarkable career. These do not represent the totality of his chart success, by any means. He’s come close a few more times, particularly with “I Want Your Sex” (which peaked at #2 during the Summer of 1987, stalling behind U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”), and a duo of Wham! singles: “Freedom” and “I’m Your Man” both reached #3. George also scored several additional top 10 hits, including “A Different Corner” (#7), “The Edge of Heaven”, the final major single by Wham! (#10),“Kissing A Fool” from the massive “Faith” album (#5), “Freedom ’90” (#8), “Too Funky” (#10), “Jesus to a Child” (#7), and lastly the 1996 single “Fastlove” (#8).
Interestingly, his success in the US during the “Faith” period overshadowed his popularity in his native country (for example, his American chart topper “One More Try” failed to crack the Top 30 in the UK). However, after his much-publicized bust for cruising for sex in a public restroom, the reverse has been true - the hits dried up in America while he continued to score Top 10 singles in the UK.
As he marks his 50th birthday, here is a look back at George Michael’s ten American chart-toppers:
“Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” (Wham!)
November 17 – December 1, 1984 (3 weeks at #1)
This buoyant pop/R&B confection, with its energetic video (and those famous “Choose Life” t-shirts) saturating the airwaves on MTV, rocketed to the top of the charts in late 1984, and established George Michael as a major star. It’s an infectious Motown-inspired pop classic that still sounds great nearly 30 years later.
“Careless Whisper” (Wham! Featuring George Michael)
February 16 - March 2, 1985 (3 weeks at #1)
Driven by its memorable sax riff and smooth R&B grooves, “Careless Whisper” spent three weeks at #1 in the winter of ’85. Released in the UK as a solo single, Columbia Records saddled it with the unwieldy moniker “Wham! featuring George Michael” in the US, so as not to confuse American fans. It was essentially an admission of what fans already widely suspected, that George Michael was the main creative force behind the pop duo. “Careless Whisper” remains instantly recognizable and is unquestionably one of the great ballads of the 80s.
“Everything She Wants” (Wham!)
May 25 - June 1, 1985 (2 weeks at #1)
Wham! scored a third #1 from the “Make It Big” album with a remix of “Everything She Wants”, a bitter electro-funk influenced track about the potential perils of relationships.
“I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” (Aretha Franklin & George Michael)
April 18– April 25, 1987 (2 weeks at #1)
George Michael helped launch Aretha Franklin back to the top of the charts for the first time since “Respect” 20 years earlier with this dance/rock duet. Taken from her album “Aretha,” it would prove to be her last major pop hit.
December 12, 1987 – January 2, 1988 (4 weeks at #1)
This title track from one of the biggest selling album of the 80s not only elevated George Michael to superstar status, it ingrained the image of his denim-clad ass into the minds of impressionable music fans everywhere. Quite a feat. An irresistibly catchy three-minute slice of straightforward old school rock and roll, “Faith” spent a full month at #1 over the winter holidays of 87/88.
February 27– March 5, 1988 (2 weeks at #1)
George quickly followed up with another #1 smash, the sensual ballad “Father Figure.” It received massive airplay at radio and on MTV, and helped to keep the “Faith” album at the top of the album charts for 12 weeks and to sell over 25 million copies worldwide.
“One More Try”
May 28 - June 11, 1988 (3 weeks at #1)
The epic nearly 6-minute ballad “One More Try” highlighted George Michael’s impressive vocal prowess. Performed over a simple gospel-tinged organ, bass, and drum arrangement, “One More Try” sounded like nothing else on the radio at the time, and helped to firmly establish George Michael as a top-tier pop songwriter as well as vocalist.
August 27– September 3, 1988 (2 weeks at #1)
A reworked version of high-energy album track “Monkey” became an unlikely fourth #1 off the “Faith” album during the summer of 1988. There were also numerous remixes commissioned, and it became a major hit on the dance charts in addition to its pop success.
“Praying For Time“
October 13, 1990 (1 week at #1)
George, determined to be taken seriously as an artist, followed “Faith” with the much more downbeat and contemplative album “Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1” in 1990. First single was the poignant ballad “Praying For Time,” which, despite its heavy subject matter, gave George yet another #1 single. With heavily treated vocals, reminiscent of John Lennon’s “Mind Games”, the song showed another side of George Michael that seemed light-years away from his earlier, more lighthearted pop material. The album as a whole was far less commercial than “Faith,” and had far less overall impact on the charts, but it was highly regarded by fans and critics.
“Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” (George Michael feat. Elton John)
February 1, 1992 (1 week #1)
This live recording, featuring Sir Elton John himself, became George’s final #1, bettering Elton’s performance from 18 years earlier (it peaked at #2 back in 1974). The powerhouse duet did justice to the legacy of two great pop artists.
Given recent health scares and legal troubles, hopefully George views turning 50 as a major accomplishment in itself. George’s most recent single “White Light,” released last summer, became a moderate top 20 it in the UK. With a new album possibly on the horizon, maybe someday George will add to this list. But whether he does or not, no one can dispute his extraordinary accomplishments as one of the most important pop artist in the last 30 years. Happy 50th birthday George!