George Michael’s ‘I Want Your Sex’ is 35 years old today

On this day back in 1987 George Michael released the song I Want Your Sex, marking a transition from his teeny-bopper career as the front-man of Wham to a move into adult contemporary music.

Michael and bandmate Andrew Ridgely had announced the amicable break up of their band the previous year and finished on a crescendo with a massive concert in London. At the time of the band’s demise Michael’s solo career was already well underway.

He’d released his first solo single Careless Whisper back in 1984, although it appeared on Wham’s Make It Big album, and was released under the band’s name in the USA.

In 1986 he put out another solo offering, the minimalist and restrained A Different Corner, and at the start of 1987 he topped the charts with I Knew You Were Waiting For Me, a duet with Aretha Franklin. It’s one of a number of duets Michael had recorded around the time of his solo career launching. He also teamed up with Elton John for Wrap Her Up, and also appeared on Jody Whatley’s album.

I Want Your Sex however was something very different from the British singer, provocative, danceable, with a video that was controversial for the time, and an overt sexual message at a time of extreme conservatism.

The song came in three parts, the first part forming the single, while the 12-inch version included a second brass filled funk section, and before descending into a jazz influenced slow soul groove for the final part. The three parts clearly charting seduction, action and recovery.

Michael recorded the first part of the song back in 1986 immediately after his time with Wham came to an end. Working in the studio Michael played all the instruments and the song’s distinctive squelchy bass opening was created serendipitously.

“So what happened was, we were writing a much faster Pop song that I did have in my head, called Johnny Sex. We needed to trigger a sound off the Juno 106, and in order to do it we had to take the drum pattern down to half speed. It didn’t quite work, but it accidentally set the Juno off to a random pattern, which became the pumping noise at the bottom of I Want Your Sex.

“I thought it sounded really good, really tribal, and it gave me a totally different idea which I worked around, I just played the other stuff and had it sequenced.” Michael later recalled to International Musician magazine.

The video for the song was created by Andy Moran and featured Michael and his then girlfriend Kathy Jeung. Throughout the video Michael is seen writing the worlds ‘explore’ and ‘monogamy’ on parts of what appears to be Jeung’s body – but it was actually a body double.

Michael also appears to be naked, a second of footage that was shocking for audiences in 1987. The video and the song were heavily criticised for encouraging people to have sex, even though the singer was promoting monogamy – it was at a time that complete abstinence from sex is what was being taught in many schools.

For many people the song was first heard in the Eddie Murphy film Beverly Hills Cop II, it’s popularity saw it rushed released in the USA, other territories saw the song being released in June.

When it was released in the United Kingdom the BBC banned it from being played during the day.

As a teenager I went to buy a copy at a record store in Subiaco, but they wouldn’t sell it to me until I returned with a parent to give permission. Behind the counter the record store staff gossiped about the video that Richard Wilkins had played on MTV Australia the previous night – surely George Michael had gone too far!

The mix of exposure in a box office blockbuster, a controversial video, and a unique dance track saw I Want Your Sex be a huge success for George Michael, it was top 10 hit around the world.

Despite it’s success it’s a song that Michael discarded as his career progressed. While he performed it on his Faith World Tour the following year, he excluded it from all subsequent tours. The single version of the song does not appear on any of his greatest hits collections, although the lesser known second part of the song is included.

Years after having success with the song George Michael admitted he didn’t really like the song, saying it sounded too much like a Prince track.

Celebrate the song’s 35th birthday and listen to the entire full thirteen minutes of I Want Your Sex.

Graeme Watson

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