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Feb 10

GEORGE MICHAEL AND ARETHA FRANKLIN – “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)”

FT + Popular93 comments • 4,454 views

#584, 7th February 1987, video

“I Knew…” is step three – after the solo ballads and ditching the boy racer – of George Michael’s repositioning as an artist with credibility. In the pop landscape of 1987, getting Aretha Franklin onto your single sent signals – I mean it; I have a certain clout; I want to be big in the USA; I am in this for the long haul; I know my stuff. Unfortunately for him, “credible” in 1987 has aged worse than “laughable” in 1984 did: “I Knew You Were Waiting For Me” is long on hot air and short on delight.

This isn’t really George or Aretha’s fault, as they’re struggling with the fact that Simon Climie appears to have written the track using a set of gospel magnetic fridge poetry. Low valleys, high mountains, deep rivers, faith, destiny, spirit: all that’s missing is, well, God. Of course part of what made Franklin legendary is her ability to balance the transporting passion of gospel with the restrained and coded world of the secular love song – but even so there’s something very calculating and even patronising about this job. Let’s write the sort of song that Aretha Franklin sings, she’ll like that! Combine it with the trowelled-on guitar and gated drums and you get a record which works to deny its vocalists space.

She cuts through to a degree, he doesn’t do so well, but the suggestion in the video that this is a virtual duet is all too plausible – no heat, not much interplay, the only unexpected emotional note either strikes is Aretha’s tender, maternal “I know you did” as George leads into the chorus. Lovely to see her on Popular of course, but the circumstances aren’t ideal.

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Comments

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  1. 76
    Tom on 12 Feb 2010 #

    Song about incompatibility includes clashing themes horror! The choppiness in the song totally works in its favour, just as the smooth reminiscin’ of “Being Boring” works for that song.

    I am a lapsed Stephin Merritt fan so if I get into a discussion of his stuff I’d end up underrating some very good songs. So I won’t. :)

  2. 77
    swanstep on 12 Feb 2010 #

    @72, Pink Champale. ‘It’s different for girls’ was the main Joe Jackson song that was offered as a paradigm (I wasn’t meaning to be evasive – almost all JJ songs are worth studying). Nice tries on the WHIDTDT lyrics but I still don’t find them especially penetrating. I agree that
    WHIDTDT’s core scenario of the always-less-enthusiastic person in a relationship finally being dumped (thereby ending what should never have begun), but nonetheless feeling at a loss when that actually happens is a good and specific one. I just don’t find the lyrical particulars especially well-worked, and the breaking up into spoken bits and dusty bits seems to me to just paper over that fact (and adds confusion: one naturally assumes that Dusty is telling the other side of the story, but that’s not so). The Magnetic Fields song whose lyrics I compared WHIDTDT unfavorably with is here if you’re interested.

  3. 78
    Mark M on 12 Feb 2010 #

    Re 67: Cash and Dylan were only nine years apart.

  4. 79
    Tom on 12 Feb 2010 #

    Actually you’re right – I had assumed Dusty was the other side! But oddly that’s never been an emotional hook for me in the song – I can hardly remember the lyrics apart from the Tennant half-spoken bits, and have certainly never listened to track them through the song (unlike some other PSB songs where I’ve thought quite hard about the words). The punch for me is the way he comes back in with those bits, bringing the song/situation back to reality after Dusty’s more soaring moments. I think it’s a great example, incidentally, of a duet which uses two very different voices well.

    (The gap between “favourite PSB single” and “next ten favourite PSB singles” is teensy by the way, I’ve publically claimed several as my favourite, including one we’ll be coming to.)

  5. 80
    AndyPandy on 12 Feb 2010 #

    And in the 80s Aretha seemed to lose it in a particularly iredeemable way (I cant comment on album tracks like the above mentined “Integrity”) but the singles from mediocrities like “Jump to It” to absolute horrors such as “Who’s Zoomin Who” surely alienated anyone who desired even a modicum of class and craft in their pop.
    In fact it’s hard to think of anyone who note who released such a procession of jarring 100% clotted clunkiness as this.

    I can’t agree with the hating on post-Faith George Michael IMO “Prejudice” (which single-handedly got me through a very traumatic end of a relationship – I actually wanted to write to George and thank him for making this IMO just about perfect record and helping me!)and “Older” (two of my favourite ever albums)are far from preening pomposity but instead low key explorations of human emotions, uncanny in their perspicacity and, with the hindsight gained by our knowledge of George’s own distress at the time,unerringly from the heart.

  6. 81
    Rory on 12 Feb 2010 #

    I thought legend had it that Aretha lost it here. Or here, or here

  7. 82
    swanstep on 13 Feb 2010 #

    Who’s Zoomin’ Who:
    Aretha
    Dionne
    No word yet on a Glee version :).

  8. 83
    Billy Smart on 13 Feb 2010 #

    I must report that I really like ‘Who’s Zoomin’ Who?’! Okay, if you’re expecting something as exciting as ‘Think’, it can only seem like a travesty, but treat it as a functional 1985 dance single, and its fun and lifted up by the singer. The only thing that transcends it are the vocals, but what a performance it is – “OoohOoohOoohOooh Yeah! Zooo-ooomin’ who?”. Oh, and that tearing zip sound.

    The 1994 comeback hit, ‘A Deeper Love’ an attempt to marry nineties R&B club style and gospel testifying, I enjoyed when it came on the radio at the time, but have just heard it for the first time in 15 years and it sounds sadly wonky and ill-concieved.

  9. 84
    lonepilgrim on 13 Feb 2010 #

    I bought the gospel album ‘One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism’ that Aretha brought out at the end of 1987 and was very disappointed – there was an air of showboating from Aretha and the other singers that I found very uninspiring.

  10. 85
    swanstep on 13 Feb 2010 #

    @Tom, 76. So are you lapsed on Merritt in the sense that you don’t (at least relatively speaking) care for his recent output, or in the sense that you now find his ’90s stuff less impressive? I can understand the former, but not the latter (except perhaps as a reaction against hype or against Merritt’s prevailing dickishness/arrogance in interviews). At any rate, I have an Umbrellas of Cherbourg vid. for his All the umbrellas in London and I still feel Strange Powers. So, no lapsing away from ’90s Merritt for me!

  11. 86
    Tom on 13 Feb 2010 #

    I absolutely loved it and I think burned myself out on it with the result that I now see its faults more clearly than its virtues (though I still play The Charm Of The Highway Strip a lot, and the Susan Amway voiced stuff more than Holiday/Get Lost/69) (and Merritt is one of those people whose faults and virtues are basically the same). This has happened to me with other stuff – Bowie for instance – and I’ve come back round to it so I’m just going to wait my tastes out I think.

    The recent stuff has done nothing for me though: “I Thought You Were My Boyfriend” is the last thing of his I liked, Distortion I don’t think I ever even got through in one sitting, the new one I haven’t heard.

  12. 87
    swanstep on 13 Feb 2010 #

    @Tom. Ah, yes, burn-out. Fair enough, I think we’ve all been there. A big case of that sort for me: I was utterly Bjork-obsessed up to and including Vespertine (the last album I’ll ever go to a midnight release party for!), and then, suddenly, it was as if I was finally sated. Subsequent releases didn’t tempt me, and the spell the earlier records had had on me was broken. I still like those records but it’s not thee same!

    The mysterious Susan Amway… her voice is so great (perfectly pathetic) on things like Saddest story ever told, it feels bizarre that Merritt stopped using her, and its almost beyond belief that, at least AFAIK, she’s had no other profile since these early ’90s tunes.

  13. 88
    pink champale on 15 Feb 2010 #

    swanstep – yeah, i do really like ‘i don’t want to get over you’ and the lyrics probably are better than those ‘whidtdt’ (though obv i wasn’t about to say so!) but i still think whidtdt a very odd song to pick out if you’re going to discuss notably bad lyrics.

    i was probably a bit too snotty about joe jackson – ‘different for girls’ is pretty good – it’s just that he’s exactly the sort of person who *would* get looked at approvingly in that context – long on the sort of ‘craft’ that’s easy to identify and talk about, but short on a lot of the less tangible, but more interesting, things that go into making good pop records.

  14. 89
    swanstep on 15 Feb 2010 #

    @pink champale, 88. Thanks for meeting me half-way, as it were. I like your idea that Joe Jackson is long on craft and short on charismatic timbre and production ideas. The PSBs indeed have more of the latter than Jackson… but for me that mostly shows on their non-#1 records, esp. Being Boring, Domino Dancing, Love Comes Quickly. I’m going to be interested to read what others have to say about the PSBs forthcoming, ‘Imperial period’ #1s. For me their intangibles and production zing are significant, but less impressive than those of things like Siouxsie’s Peekaboo (one of my all time fave. singles) and New Order’s Biz Love Triangle and True Faith. It’s not clear to me why the PSBs should have ended up scooping the pool in the way they did in the UK (and Germany).

  15. 90
    Billy Smart on 15 Feb 2010 #

    Great though ‘Peekaboo’ is, it certainly doesn’t sound like a chartbusting number one smash to me! In an ideal world, perhaps.

  16. 91
    pink champale on 15 Feb 2010 #

    funny you should say that, swanstep, true faith’s opening declaration ‘i feel so extraordinary’ is another of my favourite lines. but new order records, notoriously, don’t really have any of the traditional virtues of songcraft or singing technique as they’d be taught in a conservatory (not that i have any real idea of what goes on in such a place), their emotional impact comes entirely from some ungraspable alchemy that occurs when ridiculously blank lyrics meet ridiculously blank delivery. tom’s top 100 of the nineties entry on ‘regret’ is much better on this than i would be.

  17. 92
    paysafecard codes generator on 31 Jul 2013 #

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  18. 93
    Patrick Mexico on 9 Apr 2014 #

    Is it just me, or does this sound like the theme to Rita, Sue and Bob Too?

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