Like many of you, over the last few years I have seen the musical icons who influenced me the most tragically pass away. If you’re of a certain age, and especially if you are a singer or value incredible singers & songwriters as I do, the deaths of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston will have impacted you. In 2016 this has been followed by the loss of David Bowie, Prince, and most recently George Michael. For me all have felt a huge loss, each accompanied with the nostalgia of my earliest musical loves, despite the rich bodies of work they leave behind them.
However, none of these untimely passing’s has impacted me quite as much as that of George Michael. At first, I wasn’t sure why I felt the immense sadness I have in these last few days. Arguably I was a less engaged fan of Michael than others; for example, I never managed to see him play live, though this was very much one of my future hopes. But then I realised George Michael was far more omnipresent throughout my life – he featured heavily at every individual stage of my musical education. I admired different parts of his work at different (and very influential) times, though not necessarily in a chronological order.
One of my earliest, clear memories of his music was the release of ‘Too Funky’ in 1992 – it was a constant on MTV and soundtracked an entire family holiday that Summer. I thought the video, which featured many of the key supermodels of that time though almost no Michael, was unbelievably glamourous whilst not taking itself seriously at all. To my 10 year old self that’s exactly what pop music should be about.
Subsequently, my teens were filled with George Michael – with my love of dance music developing at the time, for me highlights included singles Fastlove and Outside. To me, the latter is one of the most important statements a popstar has made, and the evident sense of humour (and perspective) he had never overshadowed the quality of his songwriting. When a song turns into a chart hit or dancefloor mainstay, it can be easy to write it off as being flippant or lesser quality. But with George Michael his lyrics (often melancholy, always pointed) and his vocal performances (world class) ensured it was impossible not to take him seriously as an Artist.
Tour bus staple
This was evident even in his earliest years if you listen to ‘Everything She Wants’. At over six minutes long it’s a brilliant disco record but with a contrastingly dark tale of a dysfunctional relationship. Released in 1984 by Wham! as a double A-side with ‘Last Christmas’ I didn’t come to this til much later in life when, in my first professional Artist Management role, an act I worked with played this as a tour-bus staple. At the time, I had landed my dream job and as a result this song will forever remind me of the most formative, and perhaps happiest time, of my career.
He was also one of the few Artists myself and my jazz musician Dad could agree on, once he released his album of classic covers ‘Songs From The Last Century’ which showed off just how accomplished a singer he was. And more so, just how classy a singer he was – it always remained on the right side of pop, and was full of soul and jazz inflections. He had a clean, clear, controlled voice with a beautiful tone, and he made it look effortless. I can still remember my entire singing class trying to emulate him on his version of ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’. For many in our vocalist network I don’t doubt that he will have been a large part of your vocal education also.
Each of these periods were of huge influence to me and, crucially, to the existence of the AR Vocal Agency. He is undoubtedly one of the singers & songwriters who made me want to work so closely with Artists, and for this reason alone I wanted to pay tribute to him here – I, and many of you vocalists working in the commercial music industry, owe him so much.