Five Reasons George Michael Should Be in the Rock Hall of Fame
Taylor Hawkins said he'd like to see George Michael honored when the Foo Fighters were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2021. This year could be Michael’s year, as the artist born Georgios Panayiotou became a first-time nominee.
After beginning his career as a member of the superstar '80s pop duo Wham!, the charismatic Michael went solo and began a whole new successful chapter. His 1987 LP Faith was a hit on the pop and R&B charts, won a Grammy for Album of the Year, spent weeks at No. 1 and was a worldwide sales success.
In the years after, Michael dabbled in more sophisticated music indebted to soul, disco and electronic tunes, led by 1990’s vanguard-pushing Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 and projects such as a 2011 orchestral tour. His 2016 death at the age of 53 sadly cut Michael's career short, even as he was collaborating on music with artists such as Nile Rodgers.
Here are five reasons George Michael deserves to be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
1. He Dominated Pop Music During the ‘80s
George Michael would’ve been an immortal pop superstar had he just been part of Wham!, the duo he formed with childhood friend Andrew Ridgeley. During the first half of the ‘80s, they were global superstars on the strength of upbeat hits like "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" and the ballad “Careless Whisper.” Michael then hit No. 1 in the U.S. and U.K. with the Aretha Franklin duet "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)" — setting up his blockbuster 1987 solo debut, Faith, which produced four No. 1 singles and sold 10 million copies in the US alone.
2. He Was a Gifted Songwriter, Performer and Producer
Like Prince, George Michael could also do it all in the studio. In fact, Michael famously wrote, produced and played every instrument on the Wham! holiday standard “Last Christmas.” Even when he didn’t play every part on songs, Michael maintained creative control of his work. He produced Wham!’s 1984 breakthrough Make It Big and wrote six of the eight songs himself, and repeated the feat on Faith, co-writing just one song. It helped that Michael also had a beautiful voice that could leap between soulful crooning, rocker snarling, R&B caressing, and pop belting with ease. For proof, look no further than his stunning performance of Queen's "Somebody to Love" at 1992's Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert.
3. He Carved Out a Pop Career His Own Way
A fan of acts such as the Isley Brothers and Stevie Wonder, Michael drew on soul and Motown for some of his most well-known Wham! songs, updating these classic sounds with an ‘80s sheen. On later efforts, he took influence from early rock ‘n’ rollers (like Elvis Presley) and crooners alike. Michael also stayed on the cutting edge, exploring hip-hop on early hits such as “Wham Rap!” and electronic music. On the business side, he was never afraid to take risks and chances. He didn’t appear in the “Freedom ‘90” music video and also wasn’t on the cover of 1990’s Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1. Michael referenced a high-profile incident where he was caught in a public restroom “engaging in a lewd act” for the music video for “Outside,” while his 2002 single “Shoot the Dog” was a political critique of then-leaders Tony Blair and George W. Bush.
4. He Stood Up for The Rights of Artists
Prince and Tom Petty famously fought their record labels for fairer treatment. Michael did the same thing after Columbia/CBS Records became part of Sony due to a business deal. “My relationship with CBS records was a successful affair,” Michael said back then, “whereas this arranged marriage with Sony simply does not work. We do not speak the same language.” Michael lost the lawsuit but declined to record music for Sony, leading to him signing a new record deal starting with 1996’s Older.
5. He Was A Staunch Activist and Philanthropist
Michael was a consistent activist for causes in which he believed. He performed with Wham! at a 1984 benefit for striking miners and later played a benefit for nurses as a way to thank them. Michael also became a vocal advocate for the LGBTQ community — for example, performing at a major 2000 concert for the Human Rights Campaign — and a staunch supporter of HIV/AIDS benefits and charities. Proceeds from his 1991 duet with Elton John on "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" were donated in part to AIDS charities. The Red Hot non-profit organization credited Michael with being “instrumental in bringing the project to fruition” after releasing Red Hot + Dance, the 1992 benefit compilation which featured three of his songs – including “Too Funky.” Michael was also a major philanthropist: After he died, countless stories emerged of people he helped, with no recognition wanted.