George Michael’s Soul
Appreciating his genius as a singer, writer, and producer
By Mark Ronson
I bought Listen Without Prejudice the day it came out, which happened to be my 15th birthday.
Even when I put it on now, hearing the opening chords of “Praying For Time” — the opening tune—I can picture the exact shade of yellow paint that covered my teenage bedroom. It all comes back to me in pure technicolor. That’s how much of a mark that song left on me.
I had never heard a musical language quite like that before. Later, when I discovered the 70s masterworks of Stevie Wonder, I started to understand where George got it from. But at that point, to my naive musical knowledge, it blew the doors open. It prepared me for Stevie, in a way.
Later on, as a DJ in hip-hop clubs in New York City in the late 90s, George/Wham’s “Everything She Wants” was one of maybe three or four tunes by white artists that you could follow MJ, Frankie Beverly or Roy Ayers with. The keyboard lick from “Father Figure” comprised the bones for the Jungle Brothers’ classic, underground club destroyer “J Beez Comin’ Through.” So while “Faith” and the like made George a global phenom, another side of his genius as singer, writer, producer and arranger made him a bonafide giant of soul music. A lot of us owe him an unpayable debt.
As did most soul aficionados, George had a huge affinity for the music of Amy Winehouse. I imagine he felt more than a little kindred spiritness to some of the personal stuff too. Anyway, as a result of my ties to Amy, he called me once. I was on holiday exactly around this time nine years ago. He told me that he had a few soulful tunes left off of Faith that he never got to finish and asked if I would be interested in working on them. I remember one of the songs was absolutely flooring, as good as any pop/soul ballad of the era. I said of course I would be interested — all the while in complete disbelief that I was actually on the phone with GEORGE MICHAEL.
I don’t know why, for some reason it never materialized. I hope one day that I might get to, but I really dreamed of being in the room with him while I did. This has been a tough time in a brutal year. But I’m so grateful for what he left us.