Why George Michael and Aretha Franklin's spectacular duet of 'I Knew You Were Waiting' is even better 34 years on

16 March 2021, 16:38 | Updated: 17 March 2021, 15:50

George Michael and Aretha Franklin released duet 'I knew You Were Waiting' in 1987.
George Michael and Aretha Franklin released duet 'I knew You Were Waiting' in 1987. Picture: Arista/George Michael/Aretha Franklin

By Giorgina Hamilton

George Michael and Aretha Franklin's incredible duet of 'I knew You Were Waiting' was released in 1987 and 34 years later the music video and pair's incredible voices are sensational.

Was there ever a more powerful duet than that between our very own George Michael and Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul?

1987 saw the two superstars collaborate on the song 'I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)' which went on to top charts in both the UK and US.

The song was so popular George Michael and Aretha Franklin even won the 1987 Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.

Was there ever a more powerful duet than that between our very own George Michael and Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul (pictured)?
Was there ever a more powerful duet than that between our very own George Michael and Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul (pictured)? Picture: Arista/George Michael/Aretha Franklin
The song was so popular George Michael and Aretha Franklin even won the 1987 Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.
The song was so popular George Michael and Aretha Franklin even won the 1987 Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. Picture: Arista/George Michael/Aretha Franklin

It was an unusual pairing and after George Michael's death Aretha opened up about why she wanted to work with the Wham! star.

See more: The Story of... 'I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)' by George Michael and Aretha Franklin

"The first time I heard George was with Wham! and I liked it then," she told Entertainment Weekly in 2017.

"He had a very unique sound, very different from anything that was out there. When Clive [Davis] suggested we get together for 'I Knew You Were Waiting,' I was all ready. It reminded me of Jerry Wexler.

"We'd go in the studio and cut songs. If we were happy with what we recorded, Jerry would say, 'Let's wait until tomorrow. If we feel the same way that we do now, maybe we have a hit.'

See more: 5 of Aretha Franklin's greatest live performances, from 'Nessun Dorma' to 'Natural Woman'

"'I Knew You Were Waiting' had that. Musically, it does not grow old."

"The first time I heard George was with Wham! and I liked it then," Aretha Franklin told Entertainment Weekly in 2017.
"The first time I heard George was with Wham! and I liked it then," Aretha Franklin told Entertainment Weekly in 2017. Picture: Arista/George Michael/Aretha Franklin
"We had a super time. He was calling most of the shots: how he wanted this, how he wanted that," said Aretha about the music video shoot. "He was very friendly and personable, easy to talk to."
"We had a super time. He was calling most of the shots: how he wanted this, how he wanted that," said Aretha about the music video shoot. "He was very friendly and personable, easy to talk to.". Picture: Arista/George Michael/Aretha Franklin

See more: 21-year-old George Michael's duet of 'Careless Whisper' with Smokey Robinson is magnificent

On the video, she added, "We had a super time. He was calling most of the shots: how he wanted this, how he wanted that. My older sister, Erma, just fell for him right away. He was very friendly and personable, easy to talk to."

George Michael wrote about his experience recording this song in his book, Bare, saying that he and Aretha recorded the song together but did their ad-libs separately.

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He also praised producer Narada Michael Walden for being "brilliant" at getting a great atmosphere captured in the studio.

He admitted to being nervous, but knew there was no point in trying to copy Aretha. "Nobody can emulate Aretha Franklin," he said. "It's stupid to try. I just tried to stay in character, keep it simple - it was very understated in comparison to what she did."

See more: When Aretha Franklin had to sing ‘Nessun Dorma’ after Pavarotti fell sick at the Grammys, and it was astonishing

See more: When the Queen asked to meet George Michael: Royal was Wham! fan and 'knew all their hits'

Speaking to Capital FM just months after the record was released in 1987, George went into more detail about how the incredible collaboration came about.

"Basically about two years ago I was asked if I would like to produce and write something for Aretha — there was no talk of singing then. And at the time I just didn’t think I could do it," George admitted.

See more: Listen to a beautiful new piano version of 'Silent Night' by Aretha Franklin

"I said I’d love to, but Aretha was may favourite female singer of all time and I just didn’t think I could sit behind a desk and tell her what to do. I didn’t have the confidence and at that time I’d only just started producing.

"Then last year there was some talk of singing live with [Aretha] after the show I’d done with Stevie Wonder and Smoky Robinson in America. I was very flattered and said I’d love to do it but that fell through.

See more: Moment George Michael first locks eyes with ‘future soulmate’ in audience while singing Careless Whisper

The duet was released just months before George Michael performed live on stage at an Aids awareness charity concert at Wembley Arena in London in April 1987 (pictured).
The duet was released just months before George Michael performed live on stage at an Aids awareness charity concert at Wembley Arena in London in April 1987 (pictured). Picture: Getty

"But we spoke on the phone then for the first time and agreed it would be nice to do something on record. After that it was just a matter of getting sorted out which song it was.

See more: Remembering the night George Michael gave free concert for NHS nurses: "Undervalued heroes"

"Aretha doesn’t really like to travel. I did both the song and the video in Detroit. She doesn’t like planes," George said, adding: "All those reports about me begging the record company were rubbish.

"It was a great honour for me to the song but basically it was a joint thing. We both thought it would be a good idea."

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"We spent eight or ten hours making the video and he was great," Aretha later added. "He is an absolute pro. I’m very happy with the look and quality of the video. It was nice that we performed together."