Talk about an appropriate week to hop back into action. After feeling all the feels over Prince, new music pops up from both Michael Jackson and George Michael. While I enjoy the new MJ mash-up of “Murder on the Dance Floor” with “Dangerous” (and several other tracks), the first posthumous release from Mr. Michael is what I am really feeling at the moment.
To be honest, I don’t recall hearing “Fantasy” in its original form when it was released in 1990 as the B-side to “Freedom 90.” I bought Listen Without Prejudice the week it came out, and that was enough for a poor college student to get by with. I also missed “Fantasy 98” on the flip side of “Outside,” but I did eventually hear “Fantasy” when it was included on the Deluxe version of the Twenty Five compilation. To my ear, the song has always been a bit of a bridge between Faith and Listen Without Prejudice. I’m sure we’ll hear a story about why it wasn’t included on Listen Without Prejudice now that it’s taking center stage in the run up to October’s re-release of Prejudice.
It’s clear from the number of times this song popped up over the course of George’s solo career that he had a soft spot for it. He even performed it live during the Twenty Five tour in 2006. As a result, this surprise release makes total sense when put into context of Prejudice‘s re-release, since there needs to be some type of hook to sell a collection of music that most fans probably have in one form or another. The best part of the story to me is that this isn’t a Frankenstein release pieced together to capitalize on someone’s passing. “Fantasy” was actively re-worked by George in collaboration with Nile Rogers, who took the horns out and added his own funk guitar groove to the track. That, combined with some reworked vocals and samples, makes for an essentially new track while still remaining true to the energy of the original.
Do I love this new version of “Fantasy?” Right now, love is a strong word, but it’s growing on me. As a child reared in the 80s on “event” releases, I instinctively expect a new release from someone like George Michael to be geared to hook people and hopefully propel it to the top of the charts (ie Taylor Swift’s current chart assault). That isn’t “Fantasy.” This is a release that celebrates George’s desire to re-create music that he felt would stand the test of time. He’s done it several times throughout his career, both recorded and live in concert, so it makes sense that the first release after his passing would be a defiant release of a song I’m sure he felt hadn’t gotten its due. I wouldn’t expect any less from George than great music with a hint of rebellion.
A year ago this Labor Day weekend I was wrapping up a whirlwind weekend in Minneapolis/St. Paul with my friend Blake, trying to process a whole lot of emotions. Besides spending time with a close friend, which is always a good thing, I got to get some closure on Prince’s passing. To some, this might be silly, but Prince was one of three guiding musical influences in my teens that helped make me who I am. If you had told me that before the age of 50 that I would lose all three of them (Michael Jackson and George Michael were the other two), I wouldn’t have believed you. But here I am, still moved every time one of them pops up in daily life. While George was the one I related to personally, MJ and Prince brought joy and passion to the plate in ways that changed the music industry and influenced future generations.
Why am I writing this now? Besides the one-year mark, I need to get some of this out. I have about 10 blog posts from over the past two years that have never seen the light of day because I either wasn’t driven enough to finish them or I felt like I couldn’t do them justice. I was deeply moved by much of the stories and art I saw on the fence at Paisley Park, and yet, for a while there, anything I came up with to relate my story felt inadequate in comparison. Even my year-end compilation was over a month late this year.
I can’t make any promises because I’ve broken a few of these in the past, but if nothing else, I want to finish those posts that make sense to finish. If nothing else, it’s time I pay proper tribute to my personal Holy Trinity. Stay tuned…
I am a bit obsessed with George Michael’s “December Song (I Dreamed of Christmas)” at the moment, and it has caught me a bit off guard. As I posted last Christmas (pun abused, reused, and still intended), this song was George’s Christmas present to the world. However, for those of you who didn’t wake up on Christmas day and run straight for your laptop or desktop, you can now pay for the privilege of owning this track, along with a few other treats if you’re very good and want to pay out a few extra coins.
Enough of the logistics, though…let’s get to the song in question. When I first heard the opening strains of something straight out of It’s a Wonderful Life, I thought someone was playing a joke on me. But the piano and sleigh bells kicked in, and I instantly knew the source. If you pay attention to the structure of the intro (and the chorus), you can hear a slowed-down version of “Last Christmas”, but once you hit the first verse, it’s George circa Older.
The video, which on the surface is an escape for a child facing a potentially disappointing Christmas, actually holds very true to one of George’s predominant themes: coping with a situation that doesn’t feel right or true. It doesn’t take long for the child in the video to lose himself in the fanciful world he has walked into, but soon enough he comes crashing back into the real world. Fortunately, this story looks to have a happy ending, with his mom at his bedside.
No matter what form his December Song took, it saved him from despair and sadness. Don’t we all have a song around the holidays that, no matter what is going on in our lives, lifts us up and puts us right back in the mood for the holiday? For me, that song has always been “Last Christmas”. There is something about Christmas that brings out feelings of melancholy, and I have a deep appreciation for that when it comes around. Even though things feel like they are working against me, I recognize that my life is pretty amazing, and the blessings in my life could fill a whole book. Those moments are cathartic, and I come out of them on the other side with a better appreciation of the moment. I tend to embrace the season much more after that.
George’s website mentions that he is working on a new album. Here’s hoping that he continues to share songs that can inspire as deep a feeling as “December Song” does.
NME.com is reporting that George Michael has recorded a new Christmas song in conjunction with his recurring role on “Eli Stone”. Titled “December Song (I Dreamed of Christmas)”, the song will be sent to radio for airplay, and will be available as a free download on his website Christmas Day. It’s an interesting move, and signals his first steps into distributing his own music, which he’s threatened to do for quite a while now.
So what does George Michael and Christmas mean to me? First and foremost, it’s “Last Christmas”, which is among my top 3 favorite Christmas songs. After years of languishing on dusty shelves across America, it seems as if the song has made a major comeback over the past couple of holiday seasons. Those of you in England may be completely sick of it, but there’s a little bit of justice for me in its resurgence. Most of Wham’s musical output (and George’s, for that matter) has just faded into the mist, so it’s great to see a true gem float back up to the surface. There have been a LOT of covers of “Last Christmas”, but the original is still the best.
Of course, if you’re going to talk about George and Christmas, you also have to reference “Do They Know It’s Christmas”, the record-setting charity single released in 1984 by Band Aid. I know about the 20th anniversary re-recording, which was absolutely horrible, but turns out there was also a Band Aid 2, which hit #1 in England. How I never knew about this version, I have no clue. (Kylie! Wet Wet Wet! Jimmy Somerville!)
So now it’s 2008, and what’s the verdict on George’s new entry to the holiday canon? Well, it’s actually pretty good. The opening is a very classic sounding Christmas vocal, but it quickly switches up to a classic George Michael wistful, moody ballad. It’s no “Last Christmas”, but after a couple of listens, I REALLY like it!