When we remember the artists, we lost in 2016, we’ll look back with sadness. Not just sadness for the three icons who are no longer around, but the music that came out of their mouths. The losses of George Michael, David Bowie, and Prince made for a devastating sum, with all three deaths unexpected. Michael, Prince, and Bowie should all be here, and yet they aren’t, as they exited this world before we were ready to say goodbye.
King of the hook
Michael isn’t viewed in the same regard as Prince and Bowie by rock purists, seeing as he revelled in pop music, and the height of fame was shorter, at least in the U.S. That’s a mistake. While his chart reign was more pronounced, and his later work was less frequent and made less of an impact on the charts, he could write a hook better than any of his peers. And his voice was far superior, rivalling then late, great Freddie Mercury.
Michael’s writing ability didn’t start and end with Faith, either. Praying for Time from his follow-up album Listen Without Prejudice Volume 1 was as good as anything ever written by Prince or Bowie. But he never strayed too far from pop, the genre that he himself admitted to stubbornly sticking up for. What he mainly had in common with Prince and Bowie, however, was an ability to evolve. Each of the three men refused to be restrained by one political idea, pose, or era. And while each could have attempted to return to their earlier successes, each respected their own evolution too much to do that.
As one half of pop duo Wham!, Michael’s pop genius was apparent from the outset. He was a talented pin-up, and after his debut solo outing Careless Whisper topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, it was only a matter of time before he achieved solo stardom. His evolution seemed effortless, as Faith saw him create one of the most diverse pop albums of the decade, with the Bo Didley-like title track Faith, the gospel-influenced One More Try, and the Prince-inspired I Want Your Sex. It won over fans and critics alike, winning a Grammy for Album of the Year.
In 1990, Michael released the less-commercial Listen Without Prejudice Volume 1, for which he produced just one video, the iconic video for Freedom 90, in which he didn’t even appear. Sony refused to promote the music unless he did things their way, which resulted in Michael taking the record company to court. The move ultimately killed his career in America, but it was a sign of things to come: Michael putting artistic integrity ahead of commercial success. George Michael, Prince, and David Bowie took wildly different routes to success, but all three reinvented themselves in a way that other musicians have tried and failed to duplicate. Their career timelines alternated between brilliant flourishes and experiment8ing with the new. They refused to settle for what they had, no matter how much chart and financial success it gave them.