George Michael got his start in a duo, Wham!, but soon split from partner Andrew Ridgeley to pursue a stellar solo career with 1987’s Faith. However, some of his best musical moments were, ironically, duets and collaborations with other singers. He held his own alongside everyone from Aretha to Elton to Whitney.
As we mourn the Dec. 25 death of Michael at age 53, Yahoo Music looks back at some of the man’s best collaborations.
“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” with Band Aid (1984)
In ’84, the crème de la crème of Britain’s new wave joined forces for Bob Geldof’s charity single. Many of the participants went on to obscurity, but Michael, along with Sting and Bono, was one of the few to establish lasting careers. Wham!’s “Last Christmas” is the holiday song for which Michael is best known, but this one’s a close second.
“Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” with Elton John (1985/1991)
John’s 1974 hit ballad got a new lease on life when he and Michael performed it together at Geldof’s Live Aid concert in 1985. A live recording eventually came out in 1991, going to No. 1 on both the U.K. singles chart and the Billboard Hot 100 in America. Michael didn’t publicly come out until 1998, but in retrospect, this teaming of two gay pop/soul icons was truly historic.
“I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” with Aretha Franklin (1987)
The same year that Michael released his solo statement Faith, he teamed with the Queen of Soul — and established himself as pop royalty in the process. The song helped Franklin’s career as much as it helped Michael’s; it became her biggest hit at Adult Contemporary radio, spending several weeks at No. 2.
“Learn to Say No” with Jody Watley (1987)
Is there any more circa-’87 combo than this? These two were at the peak of their pop powers when they paired up for this funky track on Watley’s post-Shalamar debut.
“Somebody to Love” with Queen (1992)
It takes a truly spectacular vocalist to stand in for the late, great Freddie Mercury. Michael was one such vocalist. Even at an A-list event featuring iconic performances by Axl Rose with Elton John and David Bowie with Annie Lennox, Michael’s appearance at Wembley Stadium’s Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness was a highlight.
“Living for the City” with Stevie Wonder (1997)
Michael continued to establish himself as the go-to duet partner for soul legends during this surprise powerhouse performance at a VH1 Honors salute to Wonder. The event was held to raise funds for music education, and these two surely gave a master class in performing a duet.
“As” with Mary J. Blige (1999)
Twelve years after he sang with the Queen of Soul, Michael teamed with the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul for this Stevie Wonder cover, a new track on Ladies & Gentlemen: The Best of George Michael. While the single landed in the top 10 in the U.K., it was not released on the stateside version of the compilation, allegedly because Blige’s record label objected after Michael’s 1998 arrest for committing a lewd act in a public park. Truly a lost gem.
“If I Told You That” with Whitney Houston (2000)
When two of the great fallen pop icons of the ‘80s got together (for a remake of a Houston solo hit from 1988), Billboard excitedly wrote: “Whatever magic might be found in this effort most certainly is going to come from the fine vocal performances. … Michael still stands tall as one of the finer soul men to step in front of the mike. This pairing is mightily inspired.” How sad that both Michael and Houston’s great voices have now been silenced.
“Blame It on the Sun” with Ray Charles (2005)
Charles handpicked a who’s-who of fantastic singers (Mary J. Blige, Gladys Knight, Diana Ross, Idina Menzel, Patti LaBelle, John Legend) for his 2005 all-star album Genius & Friends. And even on that roster, Michael was a standout.
“How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” with Tony Bennett (2006)
On another all-star duets compilation — this one featuring everyone from the Dixie Chicks and Tim McGraw to Barbra Streisand, Elvis Costello, Sting, and Bono — Michael kept proving himself as one of the greatest pop vocalists of his generation, brilliantly matching iconic crooner Bennett note for note.
“Heal the Pain” with Paul McCartney (2006)
Originally a solo single from 1991’s Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, this track underwent a fab Beatlesque makeover 15 years later for the greatest-hits collection Twenty Five.
“This Is Not Real Love” with Mutya Buena (2006)
Also on Twenty Five, Michael dueted with the ex-Sugarbabes member for this sultry track reminiscent of classic Michael ballads like “Careless Whisper” and “Father Figure.”
“If I Were a Boy” with Beyoncé (2009)
In 2009, Beyoncé brought out Michael for a surprise duet at London’s O2 Arena, and the crowd went wild. This performance was flawless, of course.