George Michael, The Isley Brothers and “If You Were There”

Well, look what I found in my Christmas Stocking. Not strictly in the stocking as not the best shape to fit, and, not strictly a surprise present from the big man in the red suit (as I had bought it for myself), but a full two years on from his death, I still have a yearning to collect more George Michael goodies. When I saw this glossy mag in our local branch of WH Smith last week, I just knew it had to be mine, all mine…. .

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Christmas Day for us this year was very chilled, and the first of a new regime where we have none of the older generation around any more to join us. A bit strange, but meant there was none of that manic preparation that goes into hosting a formal Christmas lunch complete with all the traditional accompaniments, accoutrements and accessories. A visit to the care home took place in the morning to exchange presents with my mum (DD had ordered a very special bear for her that plays a Jim Reeves song), followed by a mid-day bacon sandwich and the opening of our own presents. Then there was a Facetime call to DD’s boyfriend at the other end of the country, and a virtual first meeting between the two sets of parents (landmark moment). Once we’d had an afternoon walk along the river, followed by a bit of telly, I leisurely prepared a turkey dinner with all the trimmings which we simply ate in our new kitchen this year – Yes, all very chilled indeed.

When it got to evening, George of course beckoned, and by the time I went to bed I think I’d read right to the end of the magazine. Just in case I’d missed anything, I re-read it again from cover to cover on Boxing Day, and although it contained nothing particularly new that I didn’t already know, a few lines jumped out at me, and I took notes: 

George, as we all know, was one of the key vocalists on the 1984 Band Aid charity single Do They Know It’s Christmas?, however on the day of the recording he said he felt really uncomfortable, as Wham! were treated as a bit of a joke by their peers, with (careless?) whispers and in-jokes being made at their expense. By this time Wham! had left their baby-biker image behind, and now sported blond highlights, gold hoop earrings and Day-Glo shorts, but George found it hard to believe people couldn’t see past the image and appreciate the music they were making. He was still only 20, but was writing, producing and arranging these records that jumped out of the radio. If that is true, shame on you fellow Band Aid participants. (Also, did you know that having released Last Christmas shortly before the Band Aid single, they donated all the royalties to the Ethiopia Appeal?)

Band Aid - 1984
Band Aid (George just left of centre)

Something else I learnt from the magazine, was that Wham! would never have come about if not for Andrew Ridgeley, who was the driving force behind forming a band. George was the geeky songwriter, and a career in music was very much frowned upon by his strict father, who wanted him to join the family business. The Wham! image therefore belonged to Andrew, who was outgoing, sociable and loved going out dancing with girls. George lived vicariously through Andrew, but after being impressed by the confidence exuded by the character Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever, he decided to lose weight, acquire some contact lenses and threw himself into the local disco scene. Without Andrew Ridgeley there would have been no George Michael.

During his career George had to face hostility from artists who attacked him for his appropriation of black music. He fought back, and ended up joining forces at various stages of his career with artists such as Aretha Franklin, Mary J Blige and Whitney Houston, who held him in high regard. His earliest musical influences however had come from artists such as Stevie Wonder and The Isley Brothers. In fact one of my favourite Wham! songs is If You Were There, which was not for once penned by George, but was an Isley Brothers cover included on their second album “Make It Big”. 

If You Were There by Wham!:

If You Were There was also the title of the 1997 Wham! “Best Of” album, which of course I had to buy. DD was a mere toddler back then, but I remember well dancing around the living room with her whilst listening to it, recreating the moves. We were now nearly 15 years on, but yes, I had been there and yes, I did know… .

So, “What’s It All About?” – Whenever I think I’ve written my last George Michael post, something else comes along, and prompts another one. In this case it was the magazine I bought myself as a treat for Christmas (other gifts did appear in my stocking by the way).

I am often embarrassed by some of the songs I share around here, as they are unashamedly of the pop persuasion, but time and time again I have been vindicated (the Bee Gees, the Carpenters et al). George Michael himself proudly championed great pop music as true art. Here is a quote from him:

“If you listen to a Supremes or a Beatles record, which was made in the days when pop was accepted as an art of sorts, how can you not realise that the elation of a good pop record is an art form? Somewhere along the way, pop lost all its respect. And I think I kind of stubbornly stick up for all of that.” 

I don’t think I’ll be back again until the New Year – Can it really be almost 2019, the last year of this decade we didn’t know what to call. Is it “The Teens”? – Not sure. Whatever it’s called, hope your Hogmanay celebrations go well. For one night at least, we can forget all the political shenanigans that surround us at the moment, and just enjoy ourselves. The first few months of 2019 will be interesting, that’s for sure! 

Until next time….

If You Were There Lyrics
(Song by The Isley Brothers)

You’re the one that makes my day a dream come true
They might just be the last
Yet and still you wonder if
I think of you
You ought to see how the other girls behave when you’re not around
And only then you would know that it’s on your finger I’m wound

I you were there you’d know
I you were there you’d know
I you were there you’d know
I you were there you’d know
That I care

There’s no need for you not to have faith in me
‘Cos it’s by your side girl that I long to be
Yes there are times with my friends when I don’t know have to much to
say What you don’t know is with you could never act that way

I you were there you’d know
I you were there you’d know
I you were there you’d know
I you were there you’d know
That I care

I care for you baby, I
Swear that I care
There’s no need for you
Not to have faith in me
‘Cos it’s by your side girl
That I long to be
Yes there are times with
my friends when I don’t know
have to much to say uh, uh
What you don’t know is
with you could never act that way

I you were there you’d know
I you were there you’d know
I you were there you’d know
I you were there you’d know
That I care

I care for you , I
Swear that I care for you
Baby
I do
Have faith in me
I care for you baby

Postscript:

Although not much was made of the circumstances that surrounded George’s death in the magazine, after reading the single page that documented the last four years of his life, it appears a premature death was almost inevitable. He dodged a bullet in 2012, after becoming seriously ill in Vienna during the Symphonica tour, but he was also unwell in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Best to remember him in his prime – How he would have wanted it, I’m sure.

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days - I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 50 years ago the song "Alfie" was written by my favourite songwriting team Bacharach and David - The opening line to that song was "What's it all about?" and I'm hoping that by writing this blog, I might find the answer to that question.

16 thoughts on “George Michael, The Isley Brothers and “If You Were There””

  1. Good to learn that George and Andrew donated all the royalties from “Last Christmas” to the Ethiopia Appeal. I was never a Wham fan aside from “Last Christmas”, which I think is a true pop classic. I hadn’t heard Wham’s version of “If You Were There” until now and it’s pretty good, although I’m a huge fan of the Isleys and their version has the angelic Ronald on lead, so nothing can top it. (Sorry, but that’s just the way it is.) There are a lot of pop songs I love by bands that I didn’t much care about. Spandau Ballet’s “True”, Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust” and many more. People can be snobbish about music and that’s something I’ve been guilty of over the years.

    Anyroad, thanks for some great posts this past year and all the best to you and yours for 2019.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, George was incredibly philanthropic – Something we seemed to discover after his death. It wasn’t until recently I found out that If You Were There was an Isley Brothers cover so just didn’t know their version – No need to apologise for liking it best, makes sense.

      Shame on you Lynchie for having been snobbish about music over the years – I think we all agree now around here, that there should be no guilty pleasures, especially when they are finely crafted pieces of joyful pop.

      Happy New Year for when it comes – thanks for visiting over the last year. I never know if I can keep up the pace for yet another year, but aim to try!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Glad you had a good Christmas. I think George’s words about pop are spot on. I find a lot of people dismiss current music for much the same reasons; there’s some strange belief that has become rather twisted into the notion that all old music is good because it’s old, and all new music is dreadful because it’s new. But it’s easy to forget there has always been a mixture. Dire records are made in every decade, and similarly true talent has never died out. Production standards may have changed along with styles but as George says, good pop is indeed an art form and thus ever evolving but still always valid.
    And on that note – happy new year! I think we are all feeling the trepidation about what is to come politically in 2019 but it’s always so reassuring to be reminded that we are not alone when it comes to so many feelings, views, experiences, etc. as has been proven many times on this very blog. Thank you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, we are all a bit snobbish about “pure pop” but when we look back at early Beatles, Ronettes, etc there is no snobbery – Double standards about old and new music – I like lots of current pop music but tend not to feature it here as my tagline is “a nostalgic journey through the tracks of my years” which suggests I’m looking back – Something to perhaps work on for the new year.

      As for George’s quote, I included it in full without editing it although I struggled a bit with this line – “How can you not realise that the elation of a good pop record is an art form?”. To me it doesn’t make sense although I think I get what he means. If anyone could elucidate it would be much appreciated!

      Yes – Happy New Year (for when it comes) to you too C. 2019 will be interesting that’s for sure and although we have all strenuously avoided mentioning the B word around here this year, I feel a post or two coming on. There always seems to be a lot of agreement whenever we do have a rant so we generally seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet so to speak – Pity that’s not the case for our government and the country at large.

      I’m not going to a Hogmanay Party this year for the first time in about 15 years! We usually see in the new year with our neighbours, but a few are away, a few have grandchildren staying, and the rest of us seem to be battening the hatches. Am going to enjoy a quiet one for a change watching all the telly programmes I usually miss! Changed days indeed.

      Have a good one.

      Like

  3. All the best to you and your family for the New Year, Alyson!

    I agree with you and C. There is good music and bad music, period – regardless of the decade in which it was/is released. Can anyone actually think that Napoleon IV’s “They’re Coming To Take Me Away” or Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” are high points of the ’60s? My blog may have restricted itself to 1920s-1975 (approximately), but that doesn’t mean I don’t have favourites from later decades. (I do have complete disdain for any so-called “artist” who must resort to the use of Autotune, though.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes all the best to you and your other half Marie – Happy New Year for when it comes. (Hope you enjoyed your Christmas in the winter wonderland?)

      Of course you are right – There is good and bad music, period. I like quite a lot of recent “pop” music but as I said to C, it just doesn’t suit my blog’s tagline. I even have a soft spot for those novelty records you mention above – There used to be a radio show called Junior Choice when I was young and songs like that featured frequently. As for Autotune, no, there is a line, and if an artist can’t sing without it, they are not worthy of our time and money.

      Hope to see you blogging again in 2019.

      Like

    1. Thanks for dropping by Brian – They celebrated New Year in Auckland about 12 hours ago but you’ll not see in 2019 for about another 10 hours I suspect (at time of typing) – Hope you have a good one.

      Glad to hear your son likes the sound of George’s voice – Then again he did have an exceptional voice, and we will always have those great songs.

      Like

  4. Happy New Year, Alyson! Your blogposts into deep time are very resonant for us folks of a certain age. During the post-Christmas slump, I was browsing iPlayer and happened upon a documentary about Roxy Music, not a band I ever followed very closely, I’ll admit. However, the music did strike a chord from another time and place, and has been spiralling around inside my head for several days now. Maybe it’s trying to tell me something! Good Luck for all you hope to achieve in 2019.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Happy New Year to you too Graeme. All the best for 2019.

      Yes my posts are just right for people who have passed the half century mark at any rate. We were born at a great time, as everything seemed to change once we headed into the sixties – We were lucky in terms of what makes up the “soundtrack to our lives”. There are some great BBC4 music shows on at the weekend, and I imagine the Roxy Music one was one of those. No, not a band I ever followed that closely either, but good to hear they struck a cord with you – Hope the earworm has now gone though, as it can get a bit annoying!

      Like

  5. Do They Know It’s Christmas? usually gets me in the mood for xmas. Not familiar with If You Were There. Your site is becoming my go-to place for George Michael/Wham discoveries 🙂

    Happy New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Happy New Year to you too Chris. If You Were There was not for once written by George but it was a great song to use as the title for their 1997 retrospective Best Of album – Yes, George, I was there!

      Liked by 1 person

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