Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.
I imagine there are more than a few readers for whom George Michael might come under the heading of guilty pleasure. Maybe that’s why it’s taken as long as it has for him to be enrolled, and rightfully, into the Rock & Roll Half Fame. Guilt or no guilt, let’s just pause and admit that he really was one of the most creative interpreters of song we have had, as well as writing a fair old number of quality bangers himself. Yes, some of it may well have been somewhat wispy and ephemeral–most great pop music is–but I defy anyone not to have had a sly, secret bop to “Club Tropicana” in the comfort of their own kitchen.
I could certainly never really admit to loving Wham! at the time, but I sure as hell admired them. Later, as a solo artist, when it seemed Michael was the desire of all our wives and girlfriends, yes, it became a little harder. But, if anything, the quality of his own songs improved exponentially, until it would be only a curmudgeon who could deny his true talent. As his life, and its myriad difficulties, unraveled, that “local color” gave him, in the ridiculous way fame works, a greater credibility, and his untimely death gave even more. Add in the legion stories of his kindness to strangers, and we have all the trappings of a modern legend. Imagine had he lived.
Songs From The Last Century, Michael’s cover album, came out in 1999. He released it at a time when his powers were arguably at his peak, following a run of chart-topping releases, Faith, Listen Without Prejudice (Volume 1) and Older, at least in his homeland. (In the US he had had to be satisfied with numbers 1, 2 and 6, respectively, ultimately very good listings for an artist seen largely as a singles specialist.) By his standards it was a flop, only managing a UK number 2 slot. For some reason, the American market did not take to it all, it getting only as far as a lowly 157, perhaps giving some concern to his management. Not to worry: five years later, Patience returned him to the top spot at home, and 12 in the US.