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…