The first time I heard a George Michael song, I had no idea that it was George Michael song. Or more accurately, that it was a Wham! tune – mostly because it was pre-programmed as the demo song onto the tiny Casio SA-20 keyboard that Santa brought me one Christmas. From the age of 6, me and a generation of other kids danced our fingers across the keys as we tried to impress our siblings and parents by keeping a straight face and insisting that it was definitely us playing 'Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go', it was, really. That's the sort of music that George Michael wrote back then: fizzy, effervescent, timeless pop tunes like 'Club Tropicana', or 'Freedom' or 'I'm Your Man', that sounded good even on a shitty toy keyboard from the '80s. With Wham!, he simply nailed the pop market. He had that innate, natural talent for melody. He wrote his own songs, he was charismatic, he was gorgeous, and most importantly, he had one of the most expressive, unique voices of the modern era.
It goes without saying that as you grow older, you fall out of love with the 'throwaway' pop artists of your youth - but that never happened with George Michael. I was 12 when he released his third solo album 'Older', the first one to draw me in completely, thanks to the smooth balladry of the ubiqutous 'Jesus to a Child' and 'You Have Been Loved', and the slinky, sultry 'Spinning the Wheel'. 'Fastlove' was arguably inappropriate listening material for a pre-teen, but it was great pop music. In the '90s, he proved that he could both kick out the pop jams and croon for his supper. A constant innovator, he could do it all. You believed every single word that he sang, whether he'd written the original or not – as heard on his heartbreaking cover of 'I Can't Make You Love Me' or his gobsmacking stint with Queen on 'Somebody to Love', a video which has been shared extensively on social media over the last few days. Looking back over his discography, there are too many highlights to name. He duetted with some of the biggest names in music – Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Queen – and made their collaborations instant classics.
Yes, there was scandal a-plenty, but the fact that he addressed it head-on with such tongue-in-cheek, self-deprecating humour – 'Outside' heralded yet another reinvention and was really a big, fat 'FU' to the media and the tut-tutters of the world - was one of the very reasons his fans loved him so much. He did so much for the gay community by just being himself: unapologetic, unashamed, out, loud and proud. No matter how much he supposedly 'fucked up', he remained so likable. So... well, human.
There had been moments over the last few years, as cultural icons of my childhood and youth have started to die, where I've said 'Whenever George Michael dies, I'm going to be really sad.' I had no idea it would be so soon. I thought I'd get a chance to see him again, but I'm glad at least I spent a balmy summer's evening with him at the RDS in Dublin in 2007.
It's not a competition, but in a year where we've lost so many titans of the music world, George Michael's death feels the most personal. The various stories that have emerged since his death, of his charitable endeavours and generally being a kind soul to both the people around him and complete strangers, almost speak louder than his superb back catalogue.
We'll miss you, George. RIP.