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Feb 10

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

FT + Popular96 comments • 6,353 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. 1
    Mark G on 11 Feb 2010 #

    “Well, they say Aretha Franklin could make any old rubbish sound good, and I think she just has!” John Peel, Top of the Pops presenter, 1987…

  2. 2
    Billy Smart on 11 Feb 2010 #

    All bombast, no chemistry. Again another homage to sixties pop that leeches out charm and spontaneity. Also, I’ve always thought that the song would work just as well sung by one singer to an imagined other, rather than as a duet sung by two people to each other.

    Aretha Franklin had a really sainted reputation amongst NME soulboy circles at this time, that in some ways rather worked against her interests, positioning her as the living epitome of all pride and dignity, rather than as ace pop soul singer of most incredible sensuality and emotive power. This discourse always made the prospect of listening to her great Atlantic recordings seem like a chore rather than something that you’d do for pleasure. And this was as poor an invitation to investigate further as the contemporaneous ‘Living In America’ was an introduction to James Brown for us 1980s kids.

  3. 3
    Billy Smart on 11 Feb 2010 #

    Number 2 Watch: Two weeks of ‘Heartache’ for Pepsi & Shirley. George’s old colleagues nearly spoil his party.

  4. 4
    Billy Smart on 11 Feb 2010 #

    Light entertainment watch: Just the two UK TV appearances for Aretha, the Cliff one survives, and the Lulu one possibly might as an extract, although the complete show doesn’t;

    THE CLIFF RICHARD SHOW: with Una Stubbs, Hank B. Marvin, Aretha Franklin (1970)

    IT’S LULU: with Lonnie Donegan, Aretha Franklin, Mike Newman, Pickettywitch (1970)

    She did get an Omnibus documentary at the time of ‘Knew You Were Waiting’, though.

  5. 5
    lonepilgrim on 11 Feb 2010 #

    coming on the heels of the previous number one this now seems doubly irrelevant.

    George may have wanted to portray this as a case of standing on the shoulders of giants but if so it sounds as if Aretha is underwater gasping for air while he strikes poses above the waves.

  6. 6
    Tom on 11 Feb 2010 #

    This is also part of a pretty ignoble tradition of cross-generation rent-a-soul-star records, one of which got a comments box regular fired from the NME I believe, and which occasionally resurfaces today. Not sure if this was the first one though.

  7. 7
    TomLane on 11 Feb 2010 #

    #1 Pop and #5 R&B in the U.S. for this. While not anywhere near a classic duet, some facts need to be added to Tom’s post. This duet was put together by Clive Davis, who had Aretha signed to his Arista Records at the time. It was Davis’ idea to add Michael to the song. So, when Clive called Michael, what did you expect him to say? No, I won’t do a duet with Aretha Franklin? I don’t doubt that Michael was thinking, much like Clive, in commercial terms. Also, the song was released on Arista, not Columbia, so it’s even more of an Aretha single than a George Michael one. As for the finished product, nope it didn’t turn out to be a duet for the ages. But I don’t blame either duet partner. Michael is giving it his all as is Aretha. The production from Narada Michael Walden keeps it from taking off. George Michael did a better duet with Mary J Blige with their cover of Stevie Wonder’s “As” in 1999.

  8. 8
    tonya on 11 Feb 2010 #

    What’s more irritating? Duets with soul legends or duets with Pavarotti? This was a number 1 in America too, but I couldn’t have told you what year it was from, it’s 80’s-by-numbers.

  9. 9
    Tom on 11 Feb 2010 #

    #8 thanks for that info Tom – Wikipedia misled me into thinking it was a George-initiated project.

  10. 10
    LondonLee on 11 Feb 2010 #

    I guess it’s a step-up from how some UK acts would hire black backing singers and a horn section to “soul up” their sound or get a Helen Terry to wail all over it, now we actually had the clout to work with the proper American legends. But it’s like how a romantic comedy will use some old classic soul or jazz number on the soundtrack in the hope that some of that class will rub off on the film, it just annoys because it seems so calculated and makes it all seem even cheaper.

    I love “Gospel magnetic fridge poetry”, it’s how most American Idol winner’s songs appear to be written too.

  11. 11
    LondonLee on 11 Feb 2010 #

    #7 Maybe I should revise my opinion somewhat in the light of that. But it still smells of marketing synergy to me, which would be OK if the record was better.

  12. 12
    wichita lineman on 11 Feb 2010 #

    Would the footballing term be “telegraphed”? GM’s motives (look ma, I made it big!) are as transparent as, ten years on, Blur’s would be in working with Francoise Hardy and Suede’s with Jane Birkin. We are now the equal of our one-time heroes. Territorial pissings.

    It’s good to know this wasn’t George’s idea, if only because it would be pretty shocking if he thought Simon Climie was the man for the job. I’m guessing Columbia would have had to ok this as a single, even if it was on Arista. Mutual benefit for both singers – one needing sales, the other kudos.

    This is the 80s at its worst for me, and so far away from the previous two number ones (one a real deal wake up call for this kind of self-serving tosh, the other total forward motion).

    *squeaking “ladies and gentlemen…!!” about a guest turning up on your own bloody record doesn’t count.

  13. 13
    TomLane on 11 Feb 2010 #

    I got my info for this song from Fred Bronson’s book, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits. Something else to consider. This song was Aretha’s only #1 British single.

  14. 14
    wichita lineman on 11 Feb 2010 #

    Pretty much her only Top 10, Respect just scraping in. I know it’s sacriligious, and it’s just me, but I do think she’s overrated. Volume on 11 the whole time. Gladys Knight does a similar job with more range, equal technical ability, and I think she engages better with her material – meaning she sounds more emotional than the Queen of Soul.

  15. 15
    swanstep on 11 Feb 2010 #

    Aretha had been all over the charts with essentially this sound for a couple of years at this point with the Who’s Zoomin’ Who album, which had that hugely successful collab. with Annie Lennox (‘Sisters are doing’) on it as well as several other big hits (including the SOS-bandy, massive title-track). AF’s bridge to UK New Pop royalty had been well and truly built for her by now, and she was generally all over the place both in modern forms and in more retro ways (for which her show-stopping appearance in the Blues Brother had been a leading indicator in any case). The upshot was that this single was *no* ’80s kid’s intro to Aretha.

    And that matters. This is *not* a rent-a-soul-star record for George Michael, it’s a rent-a-New-Pop-star for an again-very-well-established Aretha and her handlers and producers. [TomLane makes this point better above, at #7.Have to be quick around here.] Of course this association is all very useful for the younger artist too: it does take a bit of courage for a vocalist to go toe to toe with Aretha. Annie L. had done well, now it was George’s turn was how it felt.

    As for the song itself: not bad, a bit stock lyrically as Tom argues (but no worse than that a-ha song people fawned over here!), but all its main hooky bits basically work I reckon. Of course (Peel’s point) the whole thing relies on the fact that Aretha and George can sing the phone-book and have it sound nifty, and, yeah, everyone’s coasting here. But these guys competently coasting is still pretty good: this is at least a high-ish 5/low-ish 6 in my view (but I’d give Elton and Kiki dee a solid 7 vs. Tom’s 5 – so I figure there’s a fundamental disagreement about the value of a certain sort of bouncy MOR material -exposure to their satanic majesties, the Carpenters at an early age may be the crucial variable here!). I’m very happy to have it on my ipod [where it always comes on right before Slayer’s ‘epidemic’ for some reason. Awesome. :)].

  16. 16
    LondonLee on 11 Feb 2010 #

    #14 I wouldn’t agree with the “Volume on 11 the whole time” part (‘Do Right Woman’ comes to mind) but I prefer Gladys too.

  17. 17
    punctum on 11 Feb 2010 #

    It is fairly depressing that this unworthy by-the-book exercise in eccht-soul – co-written by Mr By-The-Book himself, Simon Climie, half of Climie-Fisher – is Aretha’s only British number one single to date. Worse, the only other contender even to come close, “I Say A Little Prayer,” peaked at number four. Those who imagine the Queen Of Soul to have scored an unending fusillade of top ten smashes in the UK are in for a sober awakening on examination of her actual chart record; most of her hits typically made it to the mid-regions of the chart and no further. This raises a fear of Aretha’s rawness not quite being “pop,” and pop similarly being wary of Aretha, at least in a Britain which seemed to prefer their “soul” singers homely, British and preferably white.

    Although Aretha’s important work was more or less done by 1974, her revival took hold in the mid-’80s; Green’s prophecy of “Aretha” coming back in inverted commas as a signifier of – you guessed it – Real Soul seems to have been fully fulfilled. The Eurythmics collaboration “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves” is one of the most shameful disgraces in all of pop; Franklin forced to slum it in a gaudy mockery of her uncompromising demand for “Respect” a generation previously. But it worked in terms of bringing her back into the marketplace; apart from isolated sparks like 1982’s “Jump To It,” Aretha’s career had dived into a troubled nothingness – debilitated by agoraphobia and legal disputes, she missed the chance to sing on “We Are The World.” However, 1985’s Who’s Zoomin’ Who? album, though perfunctory and plastic, was a great success, and that lay the ground for the George Michael collaboration; sad to say, from a commercial perspective Aretha in the mid-’80s probably needed George more than vice versa.

    The recording of the song, as well as the video, went well enough; George, understandably thrilled at the prospect of working with Aretha, would gladly have sung the contents of that day’s Woking And District Evening Chronicle. Aretha barely knew who George was but seemed to like him. In the video they symbolically perform before a huge video screen displaying monochrome footage of them in their younger years – another indication of signifiers outranking signified.

    Despite Aretha’s immense efforts – hear her voice focus and bite on “Consumed by the shadows” and “I was crippled emotionally” – and George’s evident boyish enthusiasm, the song is processed conveyor belt nonsense, its rivers deep, valleys low and mountains high seemingly generated from a prototype Babelfish of “soul” memes, its production shallow in its gloss. Further, despite the theme of two lost souls finally coming together, it is clearly impossible to believe in 42-year-old Aretha and 23-year-old George as a couple; the relationship is palpably one of mother and son, or teacher and pupil. The explosive “HOW COULD” of the line “How could you treat me so bad?” in the second verse of “I Never Loved A Man” – which you will not be surprised to hear was not a hit in the Britain of 1967 – seems to be a more than fair question to ask of either participant.

  18. 18
    MikeMCSG on 11 Feb 2010 #

    #1 Damn you Mark-I was all primed up with that Peelie quote !

    #14 WL – I’m with you on that one. It got very tiresome hearing the likes of Tracie Young and Green Gartside furiously namechecking her every chance they got. You’re right to point out that actually Britain was fairly indifferent to Arethra in her prime and like her contemporary Tina Turner she’s had far more hits as a middle aged icon than she did in her golden period.

    Simon Climie eh the high priest of Crap Pop. Does any group better exemplify the barrenness of this period in British pop than Climie Fisher ? The late Rob Fisher, a refugee from the most worthless synth act, Naked Eyes, was so uncharismatic his death shouldn’t prevent a reunion. Climie’s wheezy vocals sounded like the last gasp of the British pop tradition.

    As mentioned in the Edge Of Heaven thread this was the second in a trilogy of George Michael number ones which marked red letter days for me. On 15th Feb 1987 I started in my first job. As it sadly wasn’t in the music business or even an environment where a radio was acceptable my exposure to music was considerably reduced from this point. I probably never heard a full programme of Simon Bates or Gary Davies again (I already avoided Steve Wright and Bruno Brookes). What made this a bit more bearable was the sense that my tastes were moving outside the mainstream anyway. My two favourite records of the year were released in this period (that might have something to do with the glow of nostalgia for those six pre-Tameside MBC weeks) “Heaven” by Two People and “Ship Of Fools” by World Party and both fell short of the 40. I also liked Thrashing Doves “Beautiful Imbalance” which was torpedoed by a certain Prime Minister choosing it as her favourite on Saturday Superstore’s Video Vote. Anyway as a consequence of the above my contributions to Popular will slowly begin to diminish in quantity and quality from this one; we’re less than a decade away from the first chart topper to pass me by completely.

    # 17 Do we get the same train Punctum ? :-)

  19. 19
    Rory on 11 Feb 2010 #

    Not much to add to the comments above apart from its Australian chart performance: number one for four weeks from 16 March 1987. A 4 sounds right to me.

  20. 20
    Kat but logged out innit on 11 Feb 2010 #

    Woohoo this was my first 7″! I saved up my pocket money and asked my sister if she would go and get it for me (which she did). However seeing as my pocket money was about 10p a week at the time I probably didn’t give her enough to cover it. My next 7″ request was ‘Misfit’ by Curiosity Killed The Cat.

  21. 21
    HornchurchJohn on 11 Feb 2010 #

    Am I right in thinking that they weren’t even in the same country, let alone the same studio, when they recorded this: she in America because of a fear of flying and him in England? As others have said, this come out at the time of ‘let’s get another soul legend onto the record’ in order to give mediocre tunes some gravitas.

  22. 22
    thefatgit on 11 Feb 2010 #

    I’m in the John Peel camp on this one.

    As much as I like Aretha, I find this is like wading through treacle. Next.

  23. 23
    swanstep on 11 Feb 2010 #

    The Eurythmics collaboration “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves” is one of the most shameful disgraces in all of pop; Franklin forced to slum it in a gaudy mockery of her uncompromising demand for “Respect” a generation previously.
    ‘Sisters’ may not be your cup of tea, punctum, it’s not quite my sort of thing either as it happens, but its quasi-separatist theme is *not* a compromised version of Respect’s idea, it’s a considerable ratcheting up of the assertiveness involved in the earlier song. Lots of lesbo- /feminist-/student polie-types completely dug ‘Sisters’ for that reason (and I can say that from direct experience in both Australia and in the US). And it’s been widely covered ever since with that vaguely subversive thought in mind. I fail to see how it was any sort of degradation (let alone one of the worst things ever) for Aretha to have the third single (with the first two being chart-topping and near chart-topping respectively – Aretha *had* her comeback even without Sisters) off her W’sZW album be a joint project with Lennox and Stewart. In any case, I much prefer Sisters to Would I lie to you or Angel on the Eurythmics side: Lennox and Stewart seemed to lift their games with Aretha in the house, as it were. And Aretha in turn seemed to be a good collaborator and to enjoy the experience (she and Lennox do occasionally sing together still, though only on older, arguably better soul tunes as far as I know). ‘Shameful disgrace’ and ‘gaudy mockery’ would seem to more accurately attach to things like Aretha’s appearing in the lame Blues Brothers 2000 and belting a charmless version of Respect there.

  24. 24
    pink champale on 11 Feb 2010 #

    #6 i’m intrigued by the ‘fired from the nme story’. any chance of details? if it’s not an open wound, of course.

    i’m with swanstep in quite liking the bouncy MOR-ness of this, though gospel fridge magnet poetry is a truly excellent zing.

    #14. you’re not alone. mrs champale doesn’t, as a rule, have much to say about the great rock and roll canon, but one thing she does say, and with relish, is that she HATES aretha franklin.

    oh, and on clime fisher, i’ve always had half an idea that there was a case to me made for ‘rise to the occaison’ as proto baggy, and that it was really rather good. but it’s been a while so i should probably go back and check before going too far with this.

  25. 25
    punctum on 11 Feb 2010 #

    I know you’re not going to dig this in 2010.

  26. 26
    Billy Smart on 11 Feb 2010 #

    Re 6 – I’m looking forward to hearing the full story when we get to autumn 1988…

  27. 27
    Erithian on 11 Feb 2010 #

    Must say I don’t have much of a problem with this one at all. Not one of my 80s favourites, but among the better exhibits of ’87 even so. I like swanstep’s “competently coasting” – it’s a good hook, average-to-good song and two outstanding vocalists. Punctum has a good point with the generational thing – although there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with a 19-year age gap, there’s a performance and not a relationship going on, emphasised by the leather-jacket image which portrays George as the rebellious youth (watching the video again I had a bizarre flashback to Robbie Williams at the Brits with Tom Jones). Regardless of whether it sounds irrelevant alongside the previous number one, it’s still this one that I’d prefer to hear again.

    Looking further down the chart that February we see two none-more-1987 acts side by side – Blow Monkeys and Curiosity Killed The Cat both reaching their chart peaks in the top 5. Plus Randy Crawford’s “Almaz” at four – now that was a beaut.

  28. 28
    Rory on 11 Feb 2010 #

    One striking aspect of this song’s video is that George Michael had found the look – more or less – of Faith.

  29. 29
    Billy Smart on 11 Feb 2010 #

    What are the best duets between young pup and revered veteran, anyway? Of the top of my head, only Bob Dylan & Johnny Cash, and Afrika Bambaataa & James Brown immediately come to mind.

  30. 30
    Steve Mannion on 11 Feb 2010 #

    Kylie and Nick Cave? nah… good question tho

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