I meant to post something yesterday, but it was my first day back at work after the New Year, and it felt like a Monday, not a Tuesday, so you'll have to wait until next Tuesday to read my musings on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's inductees. And, frankly, the celebrity deaths over the past few weeks have been coming way too quickly for me to digest everything.
"Last Christmas" jokes aside, of all of them, I think George Michael was the biggest surprise and hit me the hardest. Let me take you back to the spring of 1988. Michael's debut solo album Faith was dominating the charts in the US, UK, and just about everywhere else. The Faith World Tour had kicked off, and it included a couple September dates at the Rosemont Horizon just outside of Chicago, followed by a stop at Alpine Valley, an outdoor amphitheater a couple hours north in southern Wisconsin. Local Chicago Top 40 radio station Z-95 -- perhaps the greatest radio station ever -- was running a promotion, as radio stations are wont to do. Caller 95 would get two tickets to the Alpine Valley show.
As a ten-year-old boy, I listened to Z-95 pretty much every night after school. One evening, the DJ was giving away two George Michael tickets to the 95th caller. I had a strategy. I would dial the number in anticipation of the contest. That way, I would only have to hit "redial" when it came time to win me some tickets, saving valuable time otherwise wasted by dialing seven digits I knew by heart (this was when all of Chicagoland was still under one area code). My strategy had nearly paid off in previous contests, as I had gotten through, but was just not lucky #95.
I can't tell you how big of a rush it was when I would dial that radio station phone number and the line would actually start ringing instead of sending back that blaring busy signal. On that fateful day in April 1988, it was ringing. A female DJ whose name escapes me eventually answered. "You're caller 95. You're going to see George Michael." In my exuberance -- and a prepubescent voice -- I exclaimed, "Holy shit!" This was before tape delays (and perhaps, in some small way, one of the reasons we now have tape delays), so I was on the air in all my foul-mouthed, high-pitched glory. The DJ was quite nice about it. Once we were off the air, she told me how, where, and when to pick up my tickets, and finished by saying, "next time you're on the air, try not to swear."
On September 9, 1988, my mom drove me to East Troy, Wisconsin so that I could attend my first concert ever. On the drive there, I had to explain to her that George Michael sang a song called "I Want Your Sex," which is about as awkward a conversation a ten-year-old boy could have with his mother. I just didn't want her to get mad at me if she heard the song at the concert. It turns out that wasn't really too much of a problem, as most of his songs were muffled by the screams of the teenage girls who surrounded us. And that's my most lasting memory of the evening -- screaming girls who, in retrospect, had no idea George Michael had no interest whatsoever in any of them.
But still, my first concert will always be a George Michael concert, and whenever I hear the name George Michael, I'm happy that the Faith World Tour kicked off what has been a 28+-year concert-going career (and hopefully, I'm only a third of the way through that career). Faith was (and still is) a fantastic album, selling over 25 million copies worldwide, hitting #1 on the Billboard album charts, the UK album charts, and in at least three other countries, and spawning four #1 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 ("Faith," "Father Figure," "One More Try," and "Monkey") and two more Top 5 hits ("I Want Your Sex" (#2) and "Kissing a Fool" (#5)).
However, I'm going with "Freedom! '90" -- off of the follow-up to Faith, Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 -- as my George Michael selection for Retro Video of the Week because I think it's Michael's most iconic video. Directed by David Fincher (yes, that David Fincher), the video features supermodels Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz, and Christy Turlington singing the song. It was a wonderful video for a newly minted teenager like myself at the time, and it's still pretty damn sexy over 26 years later.