Chris Martin of Coldplay drew the shortest of straws at last year’s BRIT Awards.
Not only did he agree to take part in the tribute to George Michael, he agreed to sing ‘A Different Corner’. He even agreed to sing his section after the audience had watched George singing the first part of the song on film.
It kind of worked, just. But it showed two things without doubt.
The first was that George Michael had a unique talent. That song was written when he was nineteen. He didn’t just write and perform it, he also produced and arranged it.
It’s a brilliant song, incredibly simple. A sparse intro that sounded quite unlike anything else when it came out in 1986. Then seven verses with no chorus, each verse a rhyming couplet followed by a single line, sometimes repeated, all of which rhyme with each other.
Every verse is memorable in its own way, but it’s those single rhyming lines that tell the emotional story of the song.
‘Had I been there’
‘So I don’t dare’
‘I’m so scared’
‘Would you care?’
‘Don’t you care?’
In a BBC One special, Michael told the audience it was “the sound of a man whose heart had been broken”.
This was also a long time before his very public ‘coming out’ in a Beverly Hills toilet in 1998. So it was a brave piece of songwriting too, a rare thing indeed at the time for a young man to be prepared to show his vulnerabilities. Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith have a lot to thank him for.
The other thing the BRITs tribute showed was that great songs do what great brands do. They make a big emotional connection with a big group of people.
On the face of it, ‘A Different Corner’ is addressed directly to a lover. But it isn’t, of course. It’s addressed to anyone who’s ever come off second best in a relationship. Which is pretty much everyone, isn’t it?
‘I’d say love was a magical thing / I’d say love would keep us from pain / Had I been there / Had I been there’
That’s some reach. But reach is no use if you don’t have an insight to back it up.
'And if all that there is / Is this fear of being used / I should go back to being lonely and confused / If I could, I would, I swear’
That’s some insight. Relationships need some kind of balance. The tension comes when there’s an imbalance.
The film they used at the BRITs (click here to watch it), which was from George’s Symphonica tour in 2014, shows something else too. It’s the importance of context.
‘A Different Corner’ is a beautiful song and George sang it beautifully back in 1986. But watching him sing it in 2014 is somehow far more affecting. The twenty-eight years in between added all kinds of meaning and melancholy.
And watching it now, just over a year after his death, is even sadder.