Born in Connecticut, 1953, Michael Bolton (originally Bolotin) started his recording career in 1975. His first two albums were released as Michael Bolotin. When his solo career didn’t take off, he put together a hard rock band BLACKJACK with future Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick. Blackjack’s first album sold around 100.000 copies and the single ”Love Me Tonight” was a modest Billboard Top 100 hit, peaking at 62. The second album ”Worlds Apart” was a commercial failure, and the band broke up soon after its’ release. Interestingly, two of the songs from ”Worlds Apart”, ”Stay” and ”Maybe It’s The Power Of Love” have been sampled by million selling rap artists Jay Z and Kanye West.
The career of the recording artist Michael Bolton started in 1983 when he released his self-titled album. Featuring contributions by Touch members Mark Mangold and Craig Brooks, former Blackjack bandmate Bruce Kulick and his brother Bob Kulick, the album was a rather fine AOR record. ”Fool’s Game” (co-written by Mangold & Brooks) was a minor hit and ”Can’t Hold On, Can’t Let Go” was later covered by Eric Martin.
Bolton’s second album ”Everybody’s Crazy” is considered as an AOR masterpiece by many fans of the genre. With superb production by Neil Kernon and a selection of outstanding songs, some of the co-written by Mark Mangold again, this should have been a million seller. It wasn’t. The hard rockin’, Y&T-like title track was a rock radio hit and made it to the soundtrack of ”Back To School” movie, but that’s about it.
The next Bolton album ”The Hunger” was released in 1987, and it marked a slight change in style. Bolton collaborated with Journey members Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain on several songs. There were even rumours of him joining the band. Other co-writers include Martin Bailey, Bob Halligan Jr and Diane Warren. The success of the singles "That's What Love Is All About" and the Otis Redding cover "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" paved the way to Bolton's future career as a ballad singer and a "Blue-eyed soul crooner". His 1989 album "Soul Provider" enforced this image, with most of the songs being ballads. While rock fans of his mourned, Bolton gained himself a few million new fans. "Soul Provider" did have a couple of outstanding AOR tracks though, the Bolton/Warren composition "You Wouldn't Know Love" and "How Can We Be Lovers" which was written by the team of Bolton, Warren and Desmond Child. The album's biggest hit was "How Am I Supposed To Live Without You", a U.S. number one. The song was an older composition, first recorded by Laura Branigan in 1983.
The next album "Time, Love and Tenderness" was more of the same, ballads and another R&B cover "When A Man Loves A Woman". the token AOR song "Steel Bars" was co-written by none other than Bob Dylan. With "Timeless" Bolton went for an all-covers approach, recording his versions of classic songs of The Beatles, Sam Cooke, The Bee Gees and others.
For "The One Thing" (1993) Bolton teamed up with producer Mutt Lange (Def Leppard, Shania Twain, Bryan Adams) for some of the tracks. One of these collaborations, "Ain't Got Nothing If You Ain't Got Love", is the last full-on rock track he has recorded. Otherwise the album followed the path of the previous few, very ballad-oriented.
The 1995 "Greatest Hits" contained 5 new tracks, including the hit "Can I Touch You...There?" and Bolton's re-working of "I Found Someone", a track he and Mark Mangold co-wrote in the mid-eighties. Cher scored a hit with it in 1987.
After 1995 Bolton has released several albums, but only three of them have contained original songs. He's covered Sinatra, opera Arias, songs from movies, Motown tracks and Christmas songs. The original albums have been quite pop-oriented, "All That Matters" being easily the weakest of them, mostly forgettable R&B ballads. On "Only A Woman Like You" he flirted with latin sounds and modern pop, co-writing with Shania Twain, Max Martin and Richard Marx, and again with the usual suspects Warren, Child and Lange. His last studio album of original material is "Just One Love" from 2009. It includes "Murder My Heart", a duet with Lady Gaga. She also co-wrote the song. A rather good song actually, as are some of the others on it. Unfortunately the album also includes "fashionable" vocal editing methods. Bolton's voice shouldn't be tempered with Autotune...
The hopes of Bolton ever releasing a rock album or even a rock song are slim. His recent "Songs From Cinema" album was released by Italian rock label Frontiers though, so maybe they can talk him into revisiting his vault of unreleased songs. I'm sure that there are an album's worth of AOR gems in there. In fact there are lo-fi demos in circulation, not to mention some great songs written for other artists.
Top 10 Essential Bolton tracks:
10. Desperate Heart
9. You're All That I Need
8. She Did The Same Thing
6. Can't Turn It Off
5. I Wanna Hear You Say It
Easily my favourite track of the Bolton songs of the new millennium. It is composed by Bolton, Billy Mann and one of the most profilic Latin songwriters of all time, Rudy Perez. Indeed, the song has a latin flavour, but what I most like about it are the bold modulations, it's like a crazy rollercoaster with Bolton giving it a passionate finishing touch with his vocals. A pop masterpiece.
4. Steel Bars
One of the last AOR songs from Bolton, co-written by an American legend, Bob Dylan. An unlikely collaboration but it worked.
3. Save Our Love
The powerful opening track of "Everybody's Crazy" features pulsating keyboards, a driving beat and a chorus that's bigger than a mountain.
2. How Can We Be Lovers
Whoa-oh! Yes, a Desmond Child-collaboration. When I finally saw Michael Bolton live last year, this song was the goosebumps moment of the concert.
1. You Wouldn't Know Love
If I were to list the 10 best songs of all time, this one would be among them. A lesser-known album track from "Soul Provider", but considered an AOR classic by many. Written by Bolton and Diane Warren, this song has it all: intense vocals, great keys and guitars, a strong lyric, big hooks... the list goes on. Strangely enough, Cher covered the song on "Heart Of Stone" album, which was released on the same day as "Soul Provider". The Cher version was even produced by Michael Bolton! I would like to know the reasoning behind these two versions.
This list by: Kimmo Toivonen
The list as a YouTube playlist
9. Desperate Heart
8. How Can We Be Lovers
7. She Did The Same Thing
6. Fool's Game
5. You Don't Want Me Bad Enough
4. Can't Hold On Can't Let Go
3. Save Our Love
2. Can't Turn It Off
1. You Wouldn't Know Love
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10. Fool's Game
9. I Wanna Hear You Say it
8. You Don't Want Me Bad Enough
6. Steel Bars
5. Can't Hold On Can't Let Go
4. How Can We Be Lovers
3. Can't Turn It Off
2. Save Our Love
1. You Wouldn't Know Love