There’s enough in George Michael’s back story to fill a good few volumes of an autobiography. In 1991, he released a book titled ‘Bare’ which, written with a professional author, aimed to offer some insight into the man who was the most played artist on British radio from 1984 to 2004. In the fading light of a stellar career, Michael’s indiscretions over the last twenty or so years would well fill another book. Having been two years too unborn to fully appreciate his massive first solo album ‘Faith’ when it was released in 1987 (and thereafter too young to recognise the value of its championing a white male in the R&B lead vocalist role), all I seem to recall about the man are those run-ins with the law and one seriously freaky video clip which tended to cement the perception that he was a total has-been attempting to reclaim the limelight with every last ounce of strength his bionic body could muster. To some extent, the same feeling I get when any of the 80s pop or rock stars are mentioned prevailed – he was good at the time for a reason.
With ‘Father Figure’ blasting out of my car last week as I happened across an ‘oldies’ radio station, that perception changed. Surely, there is a time and a place for the sultry, slinky, sex-drenched tunes of George Michael and more often than not, the anachronism of the sound overwhelms me and I feel either slightly perverted or wildly uncool and turn him off. But the true power of a song like ‘Father Figure’ is difficult to deny when you can recall every word like you’d been learning them for a test but hadn’t heard the song for months, years, get riled up by a pan-pipe interlude (2’20”) and can’t help but get carried away when the gospel-like chorus kicks in, thumping the dashboard in time with wonderfully effective finger snaps. It’s times like these that recommend that songs like ‘Father Figure’ – as of it’s time and 80s idiosyncratic as it is – are those that will prevail when the hyper-intense, rapid-produced songs of yesteryear wither and fade.
As much as ‘Father Figure’ is inherently raunchy (the whole familial-sexual relationship totally politically incorrect by now), it might be in the unrushed, seriously sensuous delivery of lines like ‘Put your tiny hands in mine… I will be your preacher teacher’ that Michael ultimately evades the ‘sex for sex’s sake’ label to deliver a track that, 25 years down the track, is capable of eliciting such an irrational, excitable response from a kid who claims to be an 80s child but only just made 23 blissful days of the decade. That’s the thing that I like most about ‘Father Figure’ – it’s lazy, undulating structure (for a song that reached number one, stretching out to over 5’40” is a serious feat) and the way the distinctly churchy choruses seem to segue seamlessly into more low-key verses. The whole piece seems to float on a bed on a couple of bass notes, an echoed handclap, some enigmatic keys and whispered vocals, and is enhanced by this demure production. A quarter century and countless mug shots might have come and gone in the meantime but that’s all water under the bridge when all you can hear is that melody ‘I will be your father figure…’ playing out in your mind.
George Michael – Father Figure