The fact he was pop
Wham!’s first album contained “socially relevant” hits such as Wham! Rap and Young Guns (Enjoy What You Do) which incurred the wrath of Paul Weller and was reversioned by Michael Gove at a visit to a kids’ school. George decided ahead of Make It Big to write the album, and then live up to its name. Club Tropicana, Wake Me Up Before You Go Go, Freedom, I’m Your Man, Last Christmas and Edge of Heaven and the world was a better place for it. As were the charts. Everything She Wants is arguably the best B-side since I Am The Walrus or at the very least Wherever I Lay My Hat. Nah, it’s better than that.
His own songs
After all of the above, he delivered A Different Corner, Faith, Father Figure, One More Try, Freedom ’90, Waiting for the Day, Heal the Pain, Something to Save, Amazing, Fast Love and Outside. Among others. The songs about his dearly departed love Anselmo Feleppa, Jesus to a Child and You Have Been Loved, are as beautiful as any he wrote.
Other people’s songs
It is often said of great singers – he or she could sing the phone book. Although he could have picked up and sung from the Yellow Pages, George had the musical smarts to be able to pick from songs made famous by Elton, Queen, Bowie, Nina Simone, Terence Trent D’Arby, Bonnie Raitt, his idol Stevie Wonder and New Order.
And on the subject of the phone book, before cynics say calling a cab firm may have helped him on occasion, how can he be remembered by occasional screw-ups, which were rare, and to which we’re all prone, over a myriad of great pop songs which only a handful can write. Away from Andrew Ridgley, he only released four studio albums proper, but the best of the songs on those are up there with the brothers Gibb, Anderson and Ulvaeus and The Carpenters.
He was brave
The self-sabotage of a public and long court battle with Sony to escape from his contract (much admired publicly and privately by Prince, who called him often) was extraordinarily courageous and ahead of a period now where pop stars, even those who post clips of their own singing on You Tube, are acutely aware of their rights.
Once he was outed by news organisations after a sting by the LAPD, he didn’t hide. Instead, he fronted up on CNN, and flipped the script on the haters with the Outside video.
He picked an argument on the second Iraq war when he was still hugely successful in America and in Britain. He took flak, and ploughed on with more interviews, and another anti-war song.
If you want more evidence, look at the people he sought out to sing with on stage or in the studio: Elton, the remaining members of Queen, Aretha, Beyonce, Pavarotti, Whitney, Mary J Blige, Stevie.
For a shy pop fanboy from Bushey, that takes guts too.
He was generous
The papers by now are full of stories of the nurses (collective) for whom he played a special gig, and the nurses (individual, and other public sector workers) for whom he would help out financially. The homeless shelter where he volunteered. Colleagues in the charity sector have given examples to this, and more will doubtless emerge. None, you’ll notice, appeared in any of his own interviews. The pop star who says “I love my fans” is not uncommon. The pop star who backs that up with cash to help them certainly is.
Wham! played China
Anyone who says Wham! weren’t cool might want to reflect on their own tour to China. Pre-1985, there weren’t any. While Paul Weller and Jerry Dammers were slating him, Yog, Andrew Ridgeley and Simon Napier-Bell delivered a coup beyond their dreams. Apparently, Chinese bureacrats regarded pop music, according to Shanghai-based impresario Andrew Bull, regarded pop music as “banal and filthy”. Only the good stuff.
He had star quality
He didn’t want to be a celebrity. He was often spotted at his local Italian restaurant in north London, or pulling pints at his local in Oxfordshire. He didn’t, publicly anyway, date anyone famous. He appeared sparingly at awards ceremonies and TV shows. Star People, from Older, sets out his position fairly openly. And yet, or perhaps because of that, there was an elusive force field around him which added to any public appearance. Having been in the same room as Eminem, Beyonce, Britney, The Beckhams and others, I’ve wobbled a bit but they were only people. But when George and then boyfriend Kenny Goss popped into my local 7-eleven and my flatmate told me, all dignity went out the window and I ran out just to view them from afar, just like the cameramen on Planet Earth do with snow leopards. There was just something about George Michael.