When George Michael crash-landed into '80s pop, he was barely out of his teens himself. Through his songs, I learned he didn’t want a baby, either: It was a point he made loud and clear via the Wham! songs “Young Guns (Go For It)" and “Everything She Wants.” If Michael couldn’t deal with a real job (“Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do)”), no way was he ready for a kid. Anyway, he was busy bromancing with his partner-in-crime (though inequal-partner-in-music), Andrew Ridgeley. The duo charted a half-dozen early-to-mid-eighties hits about their excellent, seemingly-heterosexual adventures in smoking cigarettes and giving/getting hickeys (“Bad Boys”), sun-tanning and sipping cocktails (“Club Tropicana”), and doing the jitterbug in day-glow short-shorts (“Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”).
George Michael's Faith Revisited: "Faith" | "Father Figure" | "One More Try" | "Monkey" | "Kissing a Fool"
Michael had also written songs about romance and relationships, of course, but the subject matter didn’t stray from the usual fare: love found, then lost (“A Different Corner”), love ruined by cheating a friend (“Careless Whisper”), love that left him flat-broke (“Credit Card Baby”).
He'd even written several salacious songs about sex. While “I’m Your Man” encouraged the listener to “do it right” while doing it with him, “The Edge of Heaven” claimed, “There’s a place for us in a dirty movie/ ‘Cause nobody does it better than me and you.” My teenage self hardly flinched at such innuendo. After all, this was not long after Frankie Goes to Hollywood urged people to “relax, don’t do it, when you wanna” — well, you know. Indeed, the most controversial thing about George Michael seemed to be that he was a man who wore two hoop earrings — one through each lobe — instead of the more culturally acceptable one.
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Then, on June 1, 1987, Michael released “I Want Your Sex,” the lead-off single from his forthcoming solo album, Faith. In daring to reference the act of intercourse in the song title, the Brit managed to simultaneously torch his boy-band past, one-up controversy chasers Prince and Madonna, and force uncomfortable radio DJs around the world to utter the words “I Want Your Sex." (Except for Casey Kasem: For the entire duration of its stay on his American Top 40, the late host introduced the track as “the new one from George Michael” -- even when it hit number one.)
If the track had been by a lesser-known artist, radio probably would’ve buried “I Want Your Sex” under a pile of promos. But Michael was too big to ignore. Five months earlier, he'd topped the U.S. charts with “I Knew You Were Waiting For Me,” a duet with Aretha Franklin. And the year before, Wham! played their final gigs to humongous, sold-out crowds at Philadelphia’s Veteran Stadium and London’s Wembley Stadium. It was only a matter of time before the BBC, who'd initially banned “I Want Your Sex” from daytime playlists, let down their guard. Meanwhile, many American stations put the single in rotation, opting to bleep out the “sex” in the chorus. The track climbed into the top five in both countries.
As for me, I found myself both seduced and terrified by “I Want Your Sex.” Keep in mind, this overt ode to coitus arrived smack-dab in the middle of the AIDS epidemic. Though my sex-ed teacher left that out of her lessons, I’d read AIDS could be transmitted through intercourse, and contracting it was considered a death sentence.