584. ‘I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)’, by Aretha Franklin & George Michael

I spent much of my last new post hailing a brave new world of modern dance. As is often the way, the song that follows a ground-breaking #1 proves the more things change the more they stay the same… Or something… For we are still firmly in the mid-1980s here – ‘peak mid-eighties’, if you will – and when the mid-1980s are giving us songs as fun as this, why would we want to leave?

I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me), by Aretha Franklin (her 1st and only #1) & George Michael (his 3rd of seven solo #1s)

2 weeks, from 1st – 15th February 1987

I love the revving guitar in the intro, and the glossy period-piece drums. It’s a lot beefier, a lot more upbeat than either of George Michael’s two previous chart-toppers. There’s a swagger to it, a confidence. It’s very ‘American’, for want of a more sensible expression. On ‘Careless Whisper’ and ‘A Different Corner’, Michael was sad and introspective. Here he’s bubbling with confidence. And that’s probably because he’s duetting with an icon. The motherfunking Queen. Of. Soul.

It’s Aretha who kicks off the first verse. In fact, Aretha takes control of the second verse, too. Make no mistake: this is her song. George Michael may have been one of the hottest pop stars on the planet, but he’s very much the understudy here. He was apparently terrified when he got the call – who wouldn’t be? – but he keeps up nicely. Like all the best duets, the couple riff off one another well: I kept my faith… sings George… I know ya did… replies Aretha.

There’s a clear nod to a Motown classic in the chorus: When the river was deep, I didn’t falter… When the mountain was high, I still believed… Which is great. In the video, the pair perform in front of a screen showing other legendary duets – Ike and Tina, Sonny and Cher, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. And I also love the way Aretha starts letting loose in the second half of the song: belting, trilling and whooping, as if she knows this will (unjustly) be her one and only moment atop the British singles chart.

You could say that Franklin’s hit-scoring days were over by 1987, though it wouldn’t strictly be true – she had visited the Top 10 the year before in a duet with Eurythmics on ‘Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves’. But if we’re being honest, she never really scored many hits in the UK. She’d had just two Top 10 hits in the sixties – ‘Respect’ and ‘I Say a Little Prayer for You’ – and none in the seventies. In the US she was much more successful, but this record still brought about her first chart-topper since she’d spelled out those seven famous letters.

Meanwhile, this was quite the statement for George Michael in his first release following his split from Andrew Ridgeley. Ahead of him lay ‘Faith’ and solo superstardom (though none of those late-eighties hits will feature in this countdown), and here he was, duetting with one of his heroes. I admit I was surprised to see that ‘I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)’ is GM’s 6th most listened to song on Spotify, as I don’t think it’s one you hear too often these days. It feels as if it’s been overshadowed by his other big duet from a few years later, with another famous diva: Elton John. For my money, though, this one’s better, and ripe for re-discovery…

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10 thoughts on “584. ‘I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)’, by Aretha Franklin & George Michael

  1. I thought most of George’s solo records were dull beyond belief. This (admittedly a duet) was the best of a rather poor bunch. Even so, I can never hear it without being reminded of John Peel introducing it on Top of the Pops: ‘Ah, Aretha – she can make any old rubbish sound good. In fact, she just did.’

    • Haha! It’s a good line, but a bit harsh! And a bit harsh on GM’s solo career too, though I do think his talent and legacy has been inflated slightly, certainly since his death… (I’m sure I’ve mentioned that in an earlier post)

  2. Yeah – I’ll give you this one, too! I’m not too ‘up’ on George Michael, but I thin this was when maybe George Michael ‘grew up’ in a musical sense.

  3. I thought john peel said tat not rubbish, but it was an unfair if funny comment as its a fab record. Glossy, yes, but Aretha was releasing overproduced gloss at the time and this was far and away her best record of the period. Mixing with the young brit superstars made them both look good. Annie Lennox and George proved they could vocally hold their own even with Aretha, probably the greatest American female singer of all time. Aretha got a new generation to discover classics like Prayer, Natural Woman, Until You Come Back To Me and many more. Its a great pop song. George is a great interpreter of emotion and soul, its a great shame his US chart toppers off Faith didnt do it in the UK cos One More Try, Father Figure are soul gospel that Aretha could happily have produced in her heyday, Faith is joyous, and the Monkey single remix is a dance banger topnotch. Its a brilliant varied album…

    • I’m probably not as big a George Michael fan as you, but I agree that this is a good song, and that ‘Faith’ would have made a deserved #1… As for Aretha, it’s far from her best, but there are stars who are much worse represented by their sole chart-topper, so we’ll take it!

  4. Pingback: 585. ‘Stand by Me’, by Ben E. King | The UK Number Ones Blog

  5. I don’t like the music part but Aretha…you cannot beat Aretha period. Although I’m not a Michael fan…he does great in this.

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