On Christmas Day, Generation X mourned the loss of George Michael, the pop wunderkind who first achieved fame as one half of the duo Wham! then launched an extraordinarily successful solo career with his 1987 album Faith. While predominantly known as a pop artist, few may recall that Michael stayed true to his blue-eyed-soul roots throughout his 1980s and 1990s heyday. Gifted with an incredibly supple voice, Michael could hold his own with Aretha Franklin and Mary J. Blige while occasionally covering songs by one of his idols: Stevie Wonder. On Faith, Michael displayed his deep love of soul through "One More Try," the gospel-tinged ballad that ultimately topped the Hot 100 and R&B charts.
In 1979, Michael first entered the music business when he teamed with classmate Andrew Ridgeley to form the ska band the Executive. When the group fizzled, the duo tried again in 1981, honing their pop sound and renaming themselves "Wham!" After impressing executives at independent label Innervision with their demos, Wham! released two singles: "Wham Rap" and "Young Guns (Go for It)." The 1982 songs fared well on the UK pop charts, earning them a record deal in America at Columbia. A year later they released their debut album Fantastic, a collection of R&B and hip hop-tinged tracks that also spawned the cult hits "Bad Boys" and "Club Tropicana." Today it seems unlikely, but Wham! introduced many young suburban listeners to rap with tracks like "Young Guns" and "Wham Rap." But they would reach massive worldwide success with their followup, 1984's Make It Big, thanks to a little single called "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go." Michael and Ridgeley's brand of breezy pop appealed to broad audiences, with "Everything She Wants" earning airplay on R&B stations as well as Top 40. When Michael performed the track for MTV Unplugged in 1996, he reimagined it with acoustic instruments and soulful backing singers. However, the essentially solo single "Careless Whisper" suggested that Michael would soon strike out on his own, which he did after one more album with Wham!
Expectations were high with Faith, and fans wondered how or if Michael would change his image and sound post-Wham! The first indication was the album's first single, "I Want Your Sex"; provocative yet catchy, the song attracted controversy but quickly rose up the charts. Then came the song "Faith," a skiffle-esque track that signaled Michael's willingness to blend various genres with accessible pop. The now-classic song, accompanied by its infamous video, proved to be the first of numerous hits including "Father Figure," "Monkey," and "Kissing A Fool." Jazz ballads, funk, dance--Michael spanned all musical forms, with his virtually flawless and highly malleable voice impressing those who typically dismissed pop as disposable.
Another single that emerged from Faith, "One More Try," merged gospel with 1980s pop. It provided the perfect showcase for Michael's powerful, emotive voice, and featured minimal arrangement. The organ dominates, lending more drama to Michael's heartrending tale of heartbreak and unwillingness to surrender to love one again. "I've had enough of danger," he cries, "Just trying to find some peace." He confronts his would-be lover, demanding that she simply tell him that she loves him or say goodbye. After reminiscing about how they met, Michael hints of their troubled romance. "When you were just a stranger . . . I didn't feel the danger / Now I feel the heat." Is it worth learning how to "hold you, touch you" when their love will most likely die? Interestingly, Michael frequently refers to the lover as his teacher, suggesting that she has the upper (and more experienced) hand in the relationship. Toward the end of "One More Try," he suddenly emerges from his pupil role, admitting that "There are things / That I still have to learn," but that "the one thing I have is my pride." Just before the song's conclusion, he seems to reach a decision: he would rather give their relationship another chance rather than shut himself off to love entirely.
Listeners follow the narrator on a soul-searching journey, experiencing his inner struggle to "let me go" but also connect to another human being. The lyrics tell of a situation everyone can sympathize with, and the organ lends the track additional emotional weight. Not surprisingly, "One More Try" topped the US Hot 100 and R&B charts, and cracked the top ten in several countries. It also became a favorite at his concerts, and he often stressed the song's gospel roots in his live versions.
During his career, Michael continued exploring his R&B influences, recording the classic duet "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)" with Franklin, "As" with Blige, and "If I Told You That" with Whitney Houston. His respect for Wonder showed in his moving live cover of "Love's in Need of Love Today," and his love of funk showed in "Too Funky" and "Fastlove." Michael never neglected his passion, and his supple voice handled soul and pop with equal aplomb.