Either side of Christmas two more of our much-loved popsters died. It’s becoming a habit. It will probably continue, because if the likes of myself are in our late 50s a lot of our old favourites are going to be older. But let’s celebrate the joy they brought to us.
Rick Parfitt was in Status Quo. They were the ultimate three chord boogie band. But they did it better than anybody and they rocked hard in their heyday. They were the first band I saw live. So they have a special place in my heart.
George Michael made his name in Wham. I can’t claim to have been a massive fan, but you couldn’t resist the pop hits. As a solo artist he made some mature classics. But he gave up serious recording and performing too early. With his passing we are celebrating music that stopped before the 21st century. That in itself is a small tragedy.
The best thing I thought I could do was to repeat the passages from my book. “I Was There – A Musical Journey“. They both featured, because they both mattered.
Rick Parfitt and Status Quo
Leicester de Montfort Hall introduced me to concert-going. My first was Status Quo (the source of my other letter to Sounds: proclaiming their greatness). This was an amazing concert. Quo had a golden period in the early-to-mid seventies, when they rocked hard. Dead simple, but hard. They had the hits, like “Caroline” and “Paper Plane”, but it was the seven minute rock-outs like “Roll Over Lay Down” that really did the business live. Relentless four-to-the-bar riffing; I read not so long ago that Rick Parfitt eventually got RSI from playing the same three chords so often. Could be a myth, but it feels right. The entire crowd moved as one. From the front row I looked back at the people on the balcony and feared for their safety, as the foundations moved up and down to the rhythm. I have never seen its like again. Quo really was a simple, denim clad pleasure, rock’n’roll at its purest. The dividing line between rock and cockney pub band was fine, and eventually they fell over into the latter. But circa ‘75, as we were head banging to “Down, Down”, they were the real thing.
George Michael and Wham
…Which brings us on to Wham. Or is that Wham! ? Now, calling them New Romantics in terms of musical influences would be pushing it – there wasn’t a trace of Bowie or Roxy, and not even that much of the girl-or-boy ambiguity that distinguished the look of the New Romantics. Glamour, yes, but wholesome: Bay City Rollers or Beach Boys would be closer to the mark, at least at the start. But the pop-soul trait was similar, and the big hair, and the celebratory videos. Modern, shiny pop, celebrating the important things in life, like clubbing. It was infectious and inescapable if you listened to the radio and watched TV. I enjoyed the early singles and bought a few of them, like “Wham Rap” and “Club Tropicana”, though only on seven inch – didn’t need the extended dance versions on twelve. I went off them a bit when they started having No 1s like “Wake Me up Before You Go Go” and “Freedom” which were just a bit too formulaic for me; but I did like the 1984 Christmas single, “Last Christmas”. I cannot defend this. It’s a cloying tune with a cloying video with happy people skiing and cavorting in the snow. But I love the tune, simple as that.
Wham continued into 1985 and 86 and had a couple more No 1s; but from 1984, the solo George Michael – the singer and songwriter – began to emerge. His was a more sophisticated, adult sound – not better, but different, and built to last. Through the rest of the eighties and into the nineties he made records from time to time that were hard to resist. “Careless Whisper” was the first and best. No 1 in 1984, a beautiful ballad. I have a memory from a bit later, when I lived in a flat – my first purchase – in Ealing, around 1986. When I was on my own, I used to leave the radio on as I went to bed, with a cassette also running. When the cassette clicked off, after 45 minutes, the radio would turn off as well. One night it didn’t work and the music stayed on. I half woke up at some point and dreamed I was listening to “Careless Whisper”. It sounded fantastic, the most moving song ever, in semi- dreamland. It seemed to last forever.
I was listening to it… it was on the radio. When it ended I stirred and turned the radio off. The end of the dream-but-not-dream. It was etched on my memory, the subconscious, forever a favourite tune: a tune from dreamland.
George Michael has made some great pop music over the years. Erring on the adult, the sophisticated, the sensitive cover, the quite-like-Elton-John. His encounters with the police, the drug issues, are well-documented. They are of no great interest to me. I’ve bought a fair few George Michael CDs for Kath, but I do like them myself. But, but, there’s a feeling that he could have done more, still could do. He’s got an amazing talent for melody, a great voice, an engaging presence. From time to time he has shown real flashes of originality. I’d love to see him – and hear him – break out of his current inertia and really show us all that the best is now and in the future. Let’s wait and see…
Well, we never got to see with George, but the outpouring of grief and affection on social media shows what he meant to a lot of people. Rick Parfitt was in a different world – the rock’n’roll world. And he and his band were one of the best.
RIP Rick Parfitt and George Michael.