George Michael Wore the Mask of Production. Beneath it, He was Beautiful.
“I’m always flattered by cover versions of my songs.” -George Michael
When a pop musician dies, and 2016 has claimed many, the retrospectives favor stories about how many albums the artists sold, or scandals they conjured. The more shallow the pop art, the more salacious the coverage must be to cross the gulf in meaning and value. Compare, for example, the recent deaths of David Bowie and George Michael. Both artists made headlines with their respective evolving sexuality, and both found themselves in compromising positions, yet Bowie enjoys a better a critical reputation. The result was postmortem praise for his music and chameleon-like style. Michael was not so fortunate; many of his obituaries found space for his dalliance in a mensroom. Compare you that to Bowie, who once had a coke fueled threesome with Lou Reed and Mick Jagger, yet only the longest of articles would mention it, and indeed, Bowie enjoys many more long articles.
This could all be chalked up to Bowie being a better artist, which he was, or his greater fame, which he had, but George had an additional handicap that robbed us of objectivity concerning his work. George Michael was up to his eyeballs in studio production, and it robbed his music of authenticity and grit.
You can say it’s a goofy 80’s song and that makes it ironic, but there’s a lot of songs from the 80’s that are great tunes but are masked by production, but are great tunes. -Sam Beam of Iron and Wine
When given a list of songs to cover to The Onion, Sam Beam picked One More Time and explained his choice with the above quote. This cover was a sort of proof of concept that behind studio production lies real emotion, and as Beam and wife sing this pop culture staple we hear a new song emerge. The pop platitudes fade away and he wear the song Michael must have worked out on guitar in his apartment on a winters day, and that song says more about his sexuality than the insipid observations of music magazines.
The billboard topping hit is ostensibly about, per the Wikipedia description, a person hesitant to enter or revisit a new relationship.
This is a song about a young gay man in an unhealthy, yet emotionally necessary relationship with an older gay man who is teaching him about his own sexuality. “I’ve had enough of danger,” it starts. “When you were just a stranger….And I was at your feet…I didn’t feel the danger” (words written by man who risked his whole career by soliciting men in bathrooms, an act he himself has attributed to a desire to be caught.)
There is no strength or defiance to be found. The soul roots of the song are restored in the cover; the desperation, the sorrow, the begging. Love is strength, but the need for it is weakness.
In the cover, we hear the voice of a man, or “boy” rather, who’s need for intimacy exceeds his pride. He wants this man, this teacher, who is teaching him things about himself, but he is aware he is being used. The distance in age and class make things all the more painful for the “uptown” boy, and that this affair that has filled him with hope is not the love he seeks, is the lesson he does not wish to learn.
There are many fine covers of this song, but I’m not sure any other understands that this a song is about how hard it was to be a gay man in the 1980’s.
The last one I had made me cry.
This is a song about a time and place that is now gone, by a man who is now gone. Few people seem to have heard the popular song in the first place. Hear it now.