Slightly surprised me

Yes, I knew that George Michael was very talented. Perhaps not quite my style of music but he certainly could sing and he wrote very good pop songs (occasionally at least).

What I hadn’t know was that he was also a musician – well, obviously a singer is one of those. But on that 1990 album he’s credited as drums, percussion, guitars, bass, keyboards and horn arrangements as well. Covering that range of instruments is pretty good – especially the horn arrangements, that’s usually a very specialist task.

Would be fascinated to know which parts he played on, say, Freedom 90, if any. It sounds simple enough but it’s not actually a simple arrangement at all.

No, I’m not saying that it’s all great music rather than very good pop but still, there was more there than I had thought.

39 comments on “Slightly surprised me

  1. He had a great sense of humour, too. His collaborations with Ricky Gervais were hilarious.

  2. he was precocious too – he wrote Careless Whisper at 18, knew it was going to massive and put Andrew Ridgeley on as co-writer, thus ensuring that his old schoolfriend would never have to worry about money again

  3. thus ensuring that his old schoolfriend would never have to worry about money again

    Well, I guess it would be nice.

  4. he wrote Careless Whisper at 18, knew it was going to massive and put Andrew Ridgeley on as co-writer, thus ensuring that his old schoolfriend would never have to worry about money again

    Mensch, as the Jews would say.

  5. Tim – πŸ™‚

    GM gets regular airtime in my house. I have a toddler who loves doing his funky little dance moves to Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.

  6. “…on that 1990 album he’s credited as drums, percussion, guitars, bass, keyboards and horn arrangements…”

    I prefer Motorhead’s credit notes on one of their albums:

    “Noise made by shouting and hitting things”.

  7. I always thought Ridgeley was a bit of a twat, but he has been partnered up with Keren Woodward, the very fit and clean one from Banarama, for years so fair play to him

  8. BraveFart – probably just trying to burn off calories from his careless Wispa habit.

  9. Andrew C – “Come on Tim, listen without prejudice.”

    Presumably the reference to 1990 is, indeed, to Listen Without Prejudice. The only song on which anyone is likely to have heard is Freedom. A flop by the standards of Wham or by his first album – 8 million records sold compared to Faith which had 25 million. (And yes, I did just check that on Wikipedia)

    So the people playing on LWP were:

    George Michael – producer, drums, percussion, guitars, bass, keyboards, horn arrangements
    Mixed and engineered by Chris Porter
    Danny Cummings – drums, percussion
    Ian Thomas – drums, percussion
    Deon Estus – bass
    Phil Palmer – guitar
    Chris Cameron – keyboards, horn arrangements, string arrangements
    Anthony Patler – keyboards
    Andy Hamilton – saxophone
    Pete Gleadall – MIDI sequencing and programming
    Bradford Branson – inner photography

    That is to say, it was largely Michael’s vanity project. He parlayed the success of Faith into doing his own thing. Compare that with the enormously successful Faith:

    George Michael – vocals, guitar, keyboards, bass, drums, all instruments on “I Want Your Sex Pt 1” and “Hard Day”, most instruments on “Monkey”, arranger, producer
    Robert Ahwai – guitars
    J.J. Belle – guitars
    Hugh Burns – guitars
    Roddy Matthews – guitar on “Monkey”
    Chris Cameron – piano, cathedral organ, keyboards, backing vocals
    Betsy Cook – keyboards
    Danny Schogger – keyboards
    Deon Estus – bass
    Ian Thomas – drums
    Andy Duncan – percussion
    Steve Sidwell – horns
    Jamie Talbot – horns
    Rick Taylor – horns
    Paul Spong – horns
    Malcolm Griffiths – horns
    Mark Chandler – horns
    Steve Waterman – horns
    Shirley Lewis – backing vocals
    Chris Porter – engineer
    Paul Gomersall – assistant engineer
    Paul Wright – assistant engineer
    Shep Pettibone – remix, additional production
    Steve Peck – remix engineer

    What are so many people doing playing the drums on an album that features – and by an artist known for – drum machines?

    Anyway, I don’t want to say anything bad about the dead but I would think that Michael had more success with less personal involvement and more help.

    By the standards of someone like Prince, I don’t think that Michael is all that unusual.

  10. I’ve always liked Cowboys and Angels. Didn’t rate Freedom. Unfortunately the latter, not the former, foretold his subsequent output and I stopped paying attention. The professional gayness got a bit tiresome as well.

  11. Covering that range of instruments is pretty good –

    Playing live, yes (and I don’t mean simultaneously!) but a reasonable instrumentalist could do this.

    especially the horn arrangements, that’s usually a very specialist task.

    No, that’s really not the case. You can score this quite easily using something like Sibelius and you don’t even have to trouble with the notation if you’re not a ‘reader’.

    None of which is to detract from the man or his ability, it’s just that it does a disservice to musicianship if there’s no more to it than knowing one’s way round ProTools or a similar bit of kit.

  12. Oh come on, that record came out 27 years ago. When an i386 was still a pretty neat piece of kit.

  13. @Tim W- I take your point, but a sampling keyboard like the EMU EMax was out in ’86 for about $3k, and let you noodle around with all kinds of sounds working out parts for horns etc.

    The talent here (and one that GM clearly had) was being able to hear something in his head and describe it sufficiently well to others to get the desired effect on tape during the session.
    TMB’s point about the horn arrangements is a fair one (and yes- I’ve done exactly what I describe above, on exactly the kit I list).

  14. @SMFS “A flop by the standards of Wham or by his first album – 8 million records sold compared to Faith which had 25 million.”

    I’m sure most artists would settle for an 8 million selling album flop.

  15. @ Matthew L

    I do – only I’m too tight fisted to buy Sibelius so I just print rather rudimentary scores from Sonar instead which is where I do the arrangng.

  16. @Andrew C – or the credit on Madness’ first album for Chaz Smash “shouting and fancy footwork”.

    As an aside, Chaz Smash has now reverted to calling himself Cathal Smyth and released an album a couple of years ago called “A Comfortable Man”, largely about the failure of his marriage. Unexpectedly it’s rather wonderful.

  17. TMB/TW,

    No, he did actually play instruments. Thing with a lot of people is that they often have 1 good instrument, and just play what they need to for the rest. You need 1 instrument to be a writer.

    The rest are often just doing what you need to. Mate of mine writes stuff and mostly plays guitar. But if he wants to do keyboards, he writes the guitar piece, then figures it out on a piano. He only does one handed, but that’s fine.

    One problem is that pop music is marketed differently to rock music. You don’t see musicians with instruments, they aren’t interviewed about the writing and production. The audience for rock often want that “authentic” nonsense of a band seen playing, where a pop audience want some fun.

  18. @BiW

    You’re not wrong there. It’s a show that pop fans want. They don’t care if the band are supported by session players and backing singers. And why not?

    It’s like WWE. I’m not a fan but I don’t get the criticism that “it’s all fake”. So what? It’s a show. No-one criticises Hamlet because the people are just acting. He isn’t really the King of Denmark and no-one is really murdered.

  19. Tim, you’re slightly out. The 486 was a pretty neat bit of kit in ’89, I had a 16mhz, 8mb 386 machine under my desk (at work) by the summer of ’88, and that machine had already done time as a NetWare server beforehand.

    That aside tho’, Cubase had been launched in April ’89, on the Atari ST, which had already established a bit of a market for use by musicians, as had the Amiga, to a slightly lesser degree. Even that ignores the dedicated sequencers that had been knocking around after the Synclavier.

    But ignoring the dubious relevance of all that, I’m surprised that you’re surprised. Careless Whisper was 1984, which (from memory at least) was the revelatory song about his songwriting, and songwriting implies some familiarity with an instrument, and most of the musicians I know seem to have found it relatively easy to transfer their ability from their first instrument to the second.

    (After a point, some of them seem to find it easier to perform while completely pissed out of their heads than merely stand up.)

    FWIW, I found Wham and George Michael to be mildly irritating at the time, and intensely fucking annoying later, but it’s still a shame he’s gone west.

  20. Andrew C,

    Yeah, physical theatre. You still need to be able to do the same things as a wrestler, and it’s still physically demanding, but it’s theatre. It’s why a few have crossed over into Hollywood acting. None of them are great thesps. The Rock is not going to be doing Ibsen, but they’ve got some presence and personality and can at least act a bit.

  21. If you take apart GM’s production, you can hear the quality. His later tunes are so *precise*. A nightmare in the mix studio, I heard, never perfect enough.

    Considering it’s not a genre in which I would immerse myself, Michael *sounded* like quality.

    Cubase on the Atari ST, at that time, was SO much more stable than the PC version. The ST rocked. And I miss my old Akai S-series.

  22. Sunrised at the drum bit as he was welll known for using drum machines, recall he once said he liked them as he always had trouble with that bit in song wiriting so fond it easier to just sample something

  23. Sunrised at the drum bit as he was welll known for using drum machines, recall he once said he liked them as he always had trouble with that bit in song wiriting

    Q: What’s the difference between a drummer and a drum machine?

    A: You only have to punch the rhythm in once with a drum machine.

  24. Meh …I play keyboards to pub level ( hem hem) and I can turn my hand to drums and guitar, bass its pretty easy
    Fat George had some qualities but isn`t life too short for OK?
    To tell the difference listen to the version of ” Dark end of the Street” in the Commitments ( Shite shite shite ) and then compare and contrast with J Carr`s hit version( Beautiful lonely suffering heart in song).

    Top tracks I am into right now

    Small faces Tin Soldier
    Thin Lizz- Rosalie
    The Night – Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons –
    I Can`t Make It Anymore – Spyder Turner
    You Hit Me ( Right Where it hurt me ) Alice Clark
    Time Edwin Starr
    In Love – Tony Galla
    Maybe Im amazed – Rod and Faces ( not the original)
    She`s as sweet as tuppello honey- Van the man

    I gather yer yoof don`t get into the music much any more I pity them .

  25. Newmania:

    2/9

    The break in Tin Soldier- Lane’s bass riff in particular is the bit that makes that song. You get half a point for that.

    The Faces version of Maybe I’m Amazed- you get a point for that, as it is a better cover than the original.

    Rosalie: I’m only giving half a point as you didn’t specify the Live version.

    The rest are rubbish.

  26. Tupelo Honey? Rubbish? Have a care.

    Regarding “Rosalie”, the world could with rather more Bob Seger than it tends to get.

  27. Newmania – “You Hit Me ( Right Where it hurt me ) Alice Clark”

    Rape culture. Right there. Shame on you.

    I would guess Newmania was born in 1962 and is of part Irish origin but born somewhere on the north Atlantic coast of England.

  28. Incredibly talented musicians sometimes hide their lights under a bushel and turn out pedestrian crap. Take Christopher Cross for example. Awful, anodyne lift music, but the guy can play a guitar like you wouldn’t believe.

    Of course there’s still a load of really interesting music being produced. Eels, Laura Veirs, Turin Brakes, Regina Spektor, Nada Surf, Calexico, Ivan & Alyosha, Emancipator, Caro Emerald, The Revivalists, VAST: they’ve all made their way onto my playlist over the last few years. All very different from each other; all good.

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