George Michael: a personal tribute

Can you remember what you got for Christmas in 1984?

I wouldn’t have been able to,  but a few days ago,  bored by Christmas TV and turkey sandwiches,  Husband went rummaging in the loft, thoughts of a New Year clear out on his mind. He emerged with our old radio cassette player and a box containing our few remaining audio cassettes. One of which was this one:

Wham! Make it Big, 1984

I immediately dated it to 1984 – the ‘must have’ album on the Christmas list for me and many of my friends, after a year in which Wake me up before you go go, Careless Whisper and Freedom had dominated the charts, a year which ended with George Michael and all our other heroes scoring a Christmas Number One with Band Aid. How many thousands of teenagers unwrapped their long awaited copy of Make it Big that Christmas morning and spent the next few days playing it at full volume?  (Because in those dark days before the instant download, albums were waited for and then listened to all the way through) And what would we have thought,  if we’d been able to fast forward 32 years and learn that George Michael would die aged 53 on Christmas Day 2016?

Of course,  back in the 1980’s the 21st century seemed an unfathomable distance away. It’s possible that we might have thought that 2016 sounded far enough into the future to count as a reasonably good innings.  But now,  looking back over 32 years which have gone in the blink of an eye,  it’s horribly,  jarringly premature. George Michael was too young to go.

We plugged in the cassette player and put Make it Big  on, and within the first few tinny but exuberant bars of Wake me up before you go go  I realised I was crying.  Crying to one of the most upbeat, cheery songs of all time was not only strange,  but also impossible to sustain for long. 12YO and 6YO, oblivious to the song’s significance,  were deep in one of their frequent conversations about Strictly Come Dancing, so before long we were dancing round the kitchen. Turns out Wake me up before you go go is pretty good to cha cha cha to. I think George Michael would have approved.

Later on, I tracked down this Top of the Pops performance of Freedom on YouTube:

I remember recording this one on our top-loading Betamax video, and playing it over and over again during the autumn of 1984. Watching George Michael,  all enthusiasm and white teeth,  with his big hair and big voice,  performing like it was all he ever wanted to do,  and he was loving every second of it. That’s what made me cry – the memory of that joyous 21 year old dancing to his own music with a massive grin on his face.

We use the word ‘star’ too lightly in our celebrity obsessed culture,  applying it to any and every C-Lister who flickers across the limelight for their 15 minutes of fame. But George Michael shone. He blazed.  And now that light has gone out.  Celebrity deaths can’t ever really touch you like the loss of family or friends,  but for those of us who remember how Wham! lit up the 1980’s, the world somehow seems a little bit darker for the loss of George Michael.


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