An Icon's Legacy: George Michael's 10 Greatest Live Performances and Duets
As the world mourns the loss of George Michael, who was found dead on Christmas Day at age of 53, the Grammy winner’s music lives on — including a three-decade career of incomparable live performances.
Here are 10 of the icon’s best:
1. “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” (1984)
Okay, so he may have been lip-syncing. But Wham!’s debut on the UK’s Top of the Pops in 1984 gave the world its first glimpse of the full-throttle passion Michael put into his performances. Dressed in the band’s iconic “Choose Life” T-shirt, the then 21-year-old snapped and danced his way around the stage with glee. It’s the perfect introduction into a performer who would delight audiences for decades to come.
2. “Careless Whisper” with Smokey Robinson (1985)
Though he was still in Wham! at the time, Michael essentially launched his solo career with his 1984 single “Careless Whisper.” Written by Michael and bandmate Andrew Ridgeley, the track was off Wham!’s album Make it Big — but was billed as “Wham! featuring George Michael” to push him as a solo singer. Over his career, Michael performed the global hit many times. His 1985 performance with Smokey Robinson stands out, though. Still a young singer at the time, it proved that Michael had the talent and voice to stand alongside one of music’s greatest performers.
3. “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” with Elton John (1985/1991)
Elton John’s 1974 ballad was injected with new life in 1985, when he and Michael performed the song together on Bob Geldof’s historic Live Aid concert. The song soon found its way into Michael’s 1991 Cover to Cover tour, and for its last show, Michael surprised the crowd with John — giving the two the opportunity to reprise their duet again. That version would be released as a live recording, which would top the Billboard Hot 100. No two gay performers have done so since.
4. “Freedom 90” (1991)
To celebrate MTV’s 10th anniversary, ABC aired a special called “MTV 10th Anniversary: Money for Nothing” — with artists looking back at a decade of greatest hits on the cable music network. Among the celebrity interviews were a handful of performances from Madonna, Aerosmith, R.E.M., Michael Jackson — and Michael, who offering a stripped-down version of “Freedom 90” that managed to make the chart-topping pop hit sound even stronger.
5. “Somebody To Love” with Queen (1992)
It was April 20, 1992, and an audience of over 70,000 gathered at London’s Wembley Stadium for the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness. Held a year after the Queen frontman died of an AIDS-related illness, it was one of the largest public movements for support for AIDS victims in history, with artists like Metallica, U2, Guns N’ Roses and Def Leppard taking the stage to raise money for AIDS research. Queen rotated lead singers for their own long set. Seal, David Bowie, Elton John — they all sang their way through some of the band’s biggest hits. But it was Michael’s turn on the band’s “Somebody to Love” that really broke the mold. An emotional Michael powered through the tune — giving what is largely considered the best cover of the song ever.
6. “Living for the City” with Stevie Wonder (1997)
Michael and Stevie Wonder were longtime friends, having performed together in 1995 on an inspiring duet of “Love’s in Need of Love Today.” But it was their duet for 1997’s fourth annual VH1 Honors concert that charts Michael here. Airing from the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, the two joined a long list of chart-toppers for the benefit to raise money for music education — including Prince, James Taylor, Steve Winwood, Chaka Khan, Sheryl Crow and the Wallflowers. They stood out from the pack with a duet of Wonder’s “Living in the City” — an energetic and electric performance that still inspires today.
7. “Praying for Time” (2008)
Fans were used to seeing Michael as a vibrant singer. But in 2008, he appeared on the American Idol season 7 finale and gave a frail, emotional performance. The poignant performance came after the top 10 Idol contestants sang their way through a medley of his hits — giving even more weight to the serious tone of the song.
8. “Faith” (2008)
It was his biggest hit — and in 2008, Michael showed that two decades after its release, he still had “Faith.” Performing the hit at Earl’s Court, the singer had the crowd of thousands on their feet the entire time — singing and dancing along to the joyful hit. And with background video projections showing him in his ’80s heyday, all eyes were on Michael and his signature moves no matter where one looked.
9. “If I Were a Boy” with Beyoncé (2009)
Beyoncé surprised the crowd at London’s O2 Arena in 2009 when she brought Michael out to duet with her on her track, “If I Were a Boy.” The crowd went wild upon his appearance — and throughout their performance. Not many people can match Bey in the theatrics department, but Michael sure does come close.
10. “White Light” (2012)
When the Summer Olympics rolled into London in 2012, some of Britain’s best musicians came out to celebrate for the sporting event’s closing ceremony — billed “A Symphony of British Music.” That included Michael, who gave a rousing performance of “Freedom 90” and “White Light.” The latter was the lead single from his sixth studio album and was released 30 years after his first single entreated the British charts in 1982. Heavily inspired by his near-death bout with pneumonia in 2011, the song is a celebration of life – and takes on extra poignancy after his death.