George Michael’s 10 Essential Tracks, Ranked

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Much has been written by us on the passing of George Michael—on his philanthropy, tributes to him from LGBTQ celebrities and allies and some of his most interesting videos. Now let’s get down to the real business. Let’s remember the man’s music—his top 10 tracks, both with Wham! and solo. No doubt many of your favorites will be missing—“Jesus to a Child,” maybe, or “Everything She Wants”—but that’s just proof there was more to George Michael than met the eye (though that was spectacular as well).

 

1. “Freedom! ‘90

From Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1

His deepest song was tied to his most undeniable groove. That it was also his liberation from his pretty-boy past was just the sexy icing on the cake.

 

2. “I Want Your Sex

From Faith

The controversy over this song is funny in retrospect. If all those prudish moral crusaders had any idea whose sex he truly wanted (wink, wink) at the height of their 1980s AIDS paranoia, they would have crucified him.

 

3. “Careless Whisper

From Make It Big

Released solo in the U.K. and as Wham! here in the U.S., this enormous ballad was where Michael started to show off those beautiful pipes while breaking a few hearts in the process. Sorry, ladies, those careless whispers you heard all turned out to be true.

 

4. “Outside

From Ladies and Gentlemen…The Best of George Michael

This bait track for his 1998 compilation pulled no punches with its video—a pornographic ode to the glories of public sex released not long after Michael’s own brush with the law in L.A. The old-school disco strings and pounding pulse lend just the right amount of lubrication to a sticky, well-trod dance floor.

 

5. “Shoot the Dog

From Patience [Bonus Track Version]

For someone devalued as merely a pretty boy pop star, Michael spoke his mind frequently and never more explicitly as on this anti-George Bush/Tony Blair banger.

 

6. “I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me)” with Aretha Franklin

From Ladies and Gentlemen…The Best of George Michael

Minor Aretha for sure, but it was a dream come true for the U.K. upstart to be hand-picked by the Queen of Soul to duet with her on this prototypical ’80s hit.

 

7. “Father Figure

From Faith

Beyond the cavernous production and vocal echo in vogue at the time, this remains Michael’s grandest ballad. Eternity is, in fact, its subject, and it’s such a great specimen there’s no reason to think it won’t be around forever.

 

8. “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go

From Make It Big

The minor hits of Wham!’s debut Fantastic were relegated to the U.K. and stateside Anglophiles. But this boy band sock hop was the shot heard around the world on their sophomore release. The iconic video with the graphic “Choose Life” T-shirt and Michael’s two-tone denim short shorts kept it on MTV and in our wet dreams for longer than what might be considered appropriate.

 

9. “Going to a Town

From Symphonica [Deluxe]

Michael knew how to choose covers—his collaborations with Queen and Elton John on “Somebody to Love” and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” respectively, were ace, and his Songs from the Last Century album was filled with interesting choices and interpretations. Yet his version of Rufus Wainwright’s “Going to a Town,” from the live orchestral Symphonica release, was a masterstroke: the elder paying homage to the young gun who no doubt benefited from the path his interpreter paved.

 

10. “Faith

From Faith

The sputtering acoustic shuffle and finger-snapping/hand-clapping rhythm made this the most joyful #1 song since, well, “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go.” Nearly 30 years later it reminds us of when a young man took the world by the balls (in some natty, form-fitting blue jeans) and announced his ascendency—for a time—to the pop throne.