Song Of The Day 12/25/2016: Wham! – “Last Christmas”

Christmas Week -- This wasn't what I was expecting to happen when I decided to postpone 12/25's Song Of The Day until I felt like it.

You didn't have to feel strongly about George Michael's music to appreciate the substantial risks he took when he exited the pop machine Wham! -- a machine that, a friend just reminded me, Michael built largely on his own. He had no Max Martin or Desmond Child supervising him, no Diane Warren or Linda Perry to steer his message. While we all have different reactions to, say, the sax line in "Careless Whisper" ranging from swooning to chuckling, Michael came up with the music himself.

He sensed the limits of the '80s teenage pop that gave him his first breaths of life and, self-consciously or otherwise, knew he had to advance his artistic case. He had resistance, especially from people like -- well, me, then in the throes of an awkward transition into adulthood and its various aesthetics. But when I finally gave in and bought the album Faith I was surprised at how uncomfortable it turned out being. I'm sure when he decided to do a love song called "Father Figure" he had to know how unsettling many would find it, although some wouldn't for years after its release. And that in itself cast a weird pall over other seemingly harmless songs on Faith -- "One More Try," for instance. And I surmised "...wait a sec. This might be a shrewder move than I thought it was."

Right around then I figured out that George Michael knew what he was doing. And as long as he did, I respected that and thought he had a chance to elevate himself above the frantic noise of young pop. I might not like everything he did, but whatever he'd do I figured would be honestly arrived at. I feel exactly the same way about Miley Cyrus these days and people look at me just as funny as they did in 1986.

I admit it's more admiration for how he charted his career than Michael's actual music, though he had a great voice, lethal stage presence, many good songs and performances (including one flat-out brilliant "response" video that same friend just reminded me about). His living nostalgia is a lot more satisfying than it seemed at first. And now, just like far too many people this year, he's permanently part of that nostalgia as the year of endless gut-kicks lumbers towards its end. Rest in peace, man.

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