Saturday, 1 August 2009

1987 Aretha Franklin & George Michael: I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)

It's astonishing to realise that this was the first time that Aretha Franklin had been at number on in the UK. The artist who performed 'Respect', 'I Say A Little Prayer', 'Spanish Harlem' et al had to wait until a duet with a former teen star before she got there. As I say, astonishing.

Franklin, of course, had already hit the top ten as part of a duet before in 1985 with the Eurhythmics and 'Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves'. But whereas that was a blatant attempt by Annie Lennox to try (and fail) to hijack her star, there is far more of a quid pro quo arrangement here; Franklin would have been keen to re-ignite her fire with a new generation and saw Michael's name as a genuine vehicle to piggy back on, while Michael himself would have welcomed the kudos that Franklin's name would have brought as he tried to forge a name as a 'serious artist' and put his past to bed.

'Like a warrior that fights' it begins, but if it's a battle, then Franklin wins hands down. Even on her worst day 'I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)' is the sort of mid tempo, middle of the road psuedo soul number she could have sung to bits with a cork in her mouth. It's like asking Chopin to play Chopsticks.

For his own part, Michael simply tries too hard - his vocal growls may sound like an Otis Redding to his own ears, but to everyone else he is (to repeat) simply trying too hard and it keeps this rather clodhopping song firmly on the ground (where, to be fair, it probably belongs) and Franklin's best efforts to make it soar are hampered by a structure that's
strait jacket tight and keeps one of her feet nailed firmly to the floor.

Because 'I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)' is a rather pedestrian effort. Whether Michael was too scared to go head to head with her on something she could really have let rip on I don't know, but the straight 4/4 Linn drum thumps out the dull, predictable pace of a policeman on his beat, pointing out exactly where the twin vocal parts should begin and end and offering no scope for on the fly improvisation.

'I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)' obviously sets itself up as some kind of musical 'event' for the age, but in doing so it makes the damp squib anti-climax all the more pronounced. By the time it ends, both vocalists sound heartily bored with the repetition and each other though the patience of the listener will have probably worn thin long before then. But still, Aretha's only UK number one eh? Astonishing.

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