Ace Young. Now that’s a name that may be consigned to the history books, but for one bright, shining moment in the annals of American Idol, a young singer, who scraped through much of the earlier rounds, pulled out all the stops with a stunning version of Father Figure.
The writer and singer of the original, George Michael, was truly past his prime by then and was barely making a dent in record sales or airplay, but that rendition by Young elicited an uncharacteristically enthusiastic response from head judge Simon Cowell. Young was average, but the power and beauty of the track made it a huge talking point.
In fact, that entire album, which spawned Father Figure, is a funk-driven, R&B pop nugget, one of a clutch of albums which made an indelible mark on pop music the year it came out – 1987. Of course, the song that got everyone initially tapping their fingers and stomping their feet to was the second single and title track, Faith, which in retrospect, may not be the best representation of the album.
George Michael was a great songwriter in the 1980s, but his credentials may have been weighed down by the output of his previous band, pinup wonder Wham!, though tunes like Careless Whisper and Everything She Wants hinted at a great degree of sophistication.
But typical of the singer in his post-Wham! days of courting controversy, the album announced its arrival with the racy I Want Your Sex (Parts 1 & 2). Not surprisingly, the title was a source of contention, offending adults who had little time to delve into the subject matter of the song, which among other things, describes sex as a natural act – and the song also promoted monogamy, a point seemingly lost on prudes.
The album was Michael’s sonic canvas, and with it, he painted a multitude of shades, and tackled a variety of subjects: The dissolution of a relationship (Look At Your Hands), addiction (Monkey), apprehension in love (One More Try) and more.
He even played most of the music on the album himself, but the standout facet of the album, was how brilliantly he sang the songs. There’s emotion, there are vocal chops … and an exquisite sense of melody links everything seamlessly. The album didn’t stay on the Billboard charts at No.1 for 12 weeks for nothing.
Faith did so because the album spawned four No.1 songs – Faith, Father Figure, One More Try and Monkey, all of which ultimately earned Michael the Album of the Year gong at the 1989 Grammy Awards, a fitting tribute to an incomparable pop masterpiece.
Even crooner Michael Buble wanted a piece of the pie when he covered the loungy Kissing A Fool, though Limp Bizkit’s crack at Faith produced less-than-flattering results.
The cassette of the album I had was my brother’s, and I recall lending it to a buddy at some point in the late 1980s. Some months after, I asked him to return it, but he feebly told me that he couldn’t find the cassette … he only had the hardshell case. Some months after that, he returned the cassette and cover. The paper label on the cassette clearly looked like it had been in contact with water, and that was when he sheepishly told me that it had fallen into his fish tank and was among his fishes for a couple of months.
Moral of the story? Even the fish wanted to listen to George Michael then. And guess what? The cassette still plays fine today. Like the music, it has stood the test of time.