Single review: George Michael’s 30-year Fantasy (featuring Nile Rodgers)

And so Fantasy is the new George Michael single, the first release bearing his name since his untimely demise last Christmas. The song, a horn-fuelled tale of funking and fabulousness, actually dates from three decades ago, and has a rather brilliantly complicated release history. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin.

Fantasy was recorded during the recording sessions for his first solo set, 1987’s Faith. Sonically it’s very much of its time: all scattered, syncopated rhythms and propulsive, slightly clinical breakbeats. Indeed, it’s no coincidence these were George Michael’s first all-digital recordings, a process he vehemently veered away from in later years.

Ever the perfectionist, Yog decided the track hadn’t quite made the grade on Faith, so it was kept back with a view to reworking it for the follow up, Listen Without Prejudice. But when that set materialised in the autumn of 1990, Fantasy was again conspicuous by its absence. However, when the album’s second single, (Waiting For That Day in the UK, Freedom ’90 in the US and Australia), was issued, Fantasy was finally made public as the B-side.

With it’s caterwauling horns and insistent groove, the track became a firm fan favourite. Even more so when it was appended to the CD of Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me, his live duet with Elton John that became a transatlantic chart-topper the following year.

Come 1998, and fresh from that infamous lavatorial outing in California, the singer compiled his first solo hits collection. Ladies & Gentlemen: The Best of George Michael boasted an impressive 29 tracks from his post-Wham! career. I’m guessing he must have warmed to the idea of Fantasy by then as the track makes its long-overdue album debut. In fact, amongst the singles, collaborations and live takes, Fantasy is the only flip-side on the entire double-disc set. Subtle praise indeed.

Fantasy was also featured as the B-side to the deliciously deviant Outside single, which trailed the album, though this time the song’s been updated in a denser, darker club ’98 stylee.

In 2007 a performance of the song was featured on the DVD George Michael Live In London, filmed at the same Earls Court Arena show the previous year. The same concert where I witnessed Rupert Everett, face like thunder the entire evening, bawl out Kate Moss for buying him “the wrong drink”.

It took until 2011 until Fantasy was finally reinstated and released on the album from which it came: Disc 2, track 2 of the deluxe expanded remaster of Faith.  A similarly packaged enlargement of Listen Without Prejudice was assembled as a 25th anniversary edition, but for one reason or another, this new version of the album took a while to see the light of day. It was eventually announced in September 2016, for release in November of that year.

When nothing materialised, the box set was subject to an ill-fated re-scheduling (March 2017) which George was sadly destined not to be around to witness. The album, which also includes Yog’s MTV Unplugged set, is now slated for reissue in October 2017. Guess what song is on it? You could call it George Michael’s triple Fantasy, as the track, finally getting the dues it deserves, appears no fewer than three times.

The 2017 Listen Without Prejudice features “brand new artwork conceptualised by George Michael” before his death.

The new ‘Super Deluxe’ LWP includes the original 1987 and 1998 remix versions of Fantasy. Furthermore, finally conceding it was worthy of A-side status all along, in 2016 George commissioned legendary producer Nile Rodgers (David Bowie, Madonna) to overhaul the track once more. Sadly he never got to hear it in its completed form.

Nile was working at George’s Highgate home as Yog was spending his final days at his Oxfordshire retreat in Goring upon Thames. “I was just working with George Michael. I was here on December 23, and I had come over to remix one of his songs, and while I was here working on the remix I was also doing a Chic concert that night.

“But then George was doing a film (Freedom, to be aired on Channel 4 in the UK), because he was planning a big comeback. So they had me come over to his house to shoot the film, and I still hadn’t played the demo yet because I thought it was so cool and fairly drastic, I wanted to just play it for him first.”

One hearing of Michael’s tragic death, Rodgers said: “It was heart-breaking and he never got a chance to hear what I did, so now I’m ambivalent about the work because I wanted him to hear it, not the record company necessarily. Not that I have anything against them, it’s just he was such a genius and he created and produced his own work.”

Sony Music made the freshly minted track available today. What are your impressions? Less tinny and more slinky, I’m loving the uplifting warm and peppy sound of Nile’s refreshing rework. It breathes new life, soul – and one of his trademark choppy rhythm guitar lines – into one of Yog’s most underrated recordings. That theatrical sigh that once closed the chorus remains a glorious bit of petulant campery.

Courtesy, Twitter

“I hope we make the fans proud of the amount of love we put into it,” Rodgers said, tweeting to those who expressed mixed feelings about the posthumous nature of the work, “You SHOULD have mixed feelings. No one’s heart was dragged through emotional ambiguity more than mine. Tears, uncertainty, happiness & love”.

Poignant thus the release certainly is, Fantasy is a reminder that George Michael could invest a dancefloor with sex and wit like few other pop stars. Go listen.

Steve Pafford