Here's to you, George.
I grew up in 80s Mumbai. In the, then quieter, suburb of Bandra. Quiet enough for me to hear, listen, appreciate the music that played in the cars zooming down Carter Road. Whichever song played the most in these cars, I knew, was the next big thing. There was then a mad rush to get more details about the song, and find myself a copy.
It was somewhere in the summer of '85, with 'Wake Me Up Before You Go Go' playing everywhere, that I learned about the group 'Wham!' (Yes, with the exclamation mark). Their album, ‘Make it Big’ had released , of course, a year earlier in the UK, but, back then hit records had their own way of coming to India (kind relatives living abroad would record the top 10 in cassettes and send it down). We were always about a year behind.
George Michael's inspiration for the song was a scribbled note left by his Wham! partner Andrew Ridgeley. Image source: mastermp3.net
George Michael's golden-honey-coated, smooth voice could change tones from a soft whisper to a wailing high falsetto. I was hooked…
Soon posters of Wham! (From Hill Road, obviously) adorned my room and thanks to a friend, Royce Dsouza, I could also lay my hands on their first album ‘Fantastic’.
It was fantastic.
I was mesmerised by the funkiness and rawness of `Wham rap,’ `Bad Boys” and ‘Young guns’. This was also my introduction to the world of rap.
The famous Wham! poster on my bedroom wall. Image source: pinterest.com
By 1986, Wham! had disbanded. But there was no time to grieve. Remember, at that time news travelled slowly, so when I learned about this George Michael was already back with 'Faith', his debut studio solo album. It was brilliant. The look even more so… designer stubble with his iconic 'the cross' earrings… It spawned a whole lot of George Michael clones. In India , Anil Kapoor emerged with the same look about the same time... that's another story.
George Michael’s stubble in ‘Faith’ found a bunch of clones including Anil Kapoor. Image source: pinterest.com
I still remember the excitement of watching the video for ‘Father Figure’ somewhere around 1987 when Doordarshan had aired a special on the Grammy-nominated songs of the year. The black and white video with its French noir inspired images was the hottest topic of discussion the next couple of weeks in school.
I was inspired. I got into music. I began to sing along to all his songs. Scouting for his lyrics on Hill Road became my after-school hobby. (Archie's used to publish the lyric books of all the top 40 hits).
Me belting out 'faith, faith…faithuh' with my band
In 1990, I performed for the first time at The St. Andrew's fete. The songs were 'Faith' and 'Careless Whisper'. Faith is one of those classics that stands out even today. The song features this long break, just before the last chorus. After which is the big comeback - "Coz you gotta have faith... faith... faith-uh..." I remember how the MC thought the song was over during that long pause, and he came in to announce the next act. It led to a fist fight back stage. Typical Bandra stuff, men.
I also went on to join my first band 'Chaos' (which soon become 'Vedic Chant') with my school friend Siddhartth who knew the chords to Father Figure. One of the first original songs we wrote was Broken Dreams which sadly, like the title, remained unreleased. Looking back now, it was our tribute to 'Father Figure'.
The supermodel brigade in George Michael's Freedom '90. Image source: thestar.com
While I was finding my footing with music, George Michael, had grown disenchanted with his record label (a problem he would face throughout his career). He refused to appear in music videos. Thankfully, it did give us the great 'Freedom 90' with... super models! (Don't judge, we didn't have internet).
I remember his mind blowing performance at the Freddie Mercury tribute (which many said was the highlight of the concert). George Michael was always on a quest to find himself as an artist. With every subsequent album, he completed the transformation from teen idol to a profound musician.
George Michael at the Freddy Mercury tribute concert. Image source: pinterest.com
While he remained in the news for other reasons like getting busted for soliciting, and drugs, none of it affected his loyal fan base. He remained relevant in the ever-changing cut throat music world. It seemed, his life, his choices, him simply doing his own thing, was a way of flipping the bird at the world. His albums and live shows became fewer and fewer but the output was always the expected - pure brilliance.
Towards the end of the 90s he claimed to be suffering from writer’s block. He released the hugely underrated cover album 'Songs from the last century'. His jazz inspired version of 'Roxanne' with its video shot in the red-light area of Amsterdam created quite a stir.
Our band Vedic Chant's tribute to George Michael included Faith in our medley
Our band Chaos, continued the George Michael tribute by including 'Faith' in a medley we used to perform (along with Sa Ni Dha Pa by The Colonial Cousins and Roop Tera Mastana…Sacrilege??... Who cares...)
We also changed the band's name to Vedic Chant. We had released two albums. After a high-energy electro rock oriented first album, we decided to go back to a softer more 'back to basics' sound for the second. I still remember Siddharth prodding me to sing in the 'George Michael husk' in the sessions for the song 'Dooriyan'. This song became our first single for which we shot an exotic looking video (smartly produced at a very low cost by Shivraj Shantakumar, a genius) at a friend's farmhouse in Karjat.
I continued my journey producing music for films and commercials. Traces of George Michael's music somehow always found its way in everything I produced.
I woke up on the 26th of December to the news of his untimely death, and I, along with most people around the world, knew that 2016 had claimed another icon from our childhoods. The artist may be gone, but the art... lives forever.
We just gotta have faith.
Thank You, Mr. George Michael, for putting the boom boom into our hearts. Rest easy.
'Dooriyan' by Vedic Chant
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By Suhaas Shetty
Cover photo credit: wordpress.com