For Michael Bolton, it wasn’t always a life full of time, love and tenderness… his early, pre-success years were not without the odd setback or pitfall, and indeed the fact that rock fans the world over were able to accuse the man of ‘selling out’ at all was a testament to his single minded determination to succeed at the task at hand…

Originally signed to RCA under his real name, Michael Bolotin, Bolton’s early years were far from easy. Three albums came and went to little acclaim, and by 1978 he was drifting away from fame at a disturbing rate of knots.

Deciding that perhaps the world had enough unknown and struggling singer-songwriters looking to make a crust to be going on with, Bolton decided to form a band, and teamed up with Bruce Kulick (who himself would later grace the ranks of Kiss and Grand Funk Railroad with his six string skills) to form Blackjack. Signed to Polydor, Blackjack cut two albums of classic, Bad Company-styled hard rock as the seventies turned inexorably into the eighties, but again nothing more than cult status was achieved amongst rock fans and the band petered out through lack of interest, as much on the band’s side as anyone else’s.

Bolton entered this new era without a deal again, but opted to retain his freedom by staying as a solo artist. Hooking up with Colombia Records, the man entered what many fans consider to be his golden period. The first fruit of the Columbia liaison the self-titled ‘debut’ album as Michael Bolton, is undoubtedly something of a landmark in American AOR history.

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The 1983 LP mixed storming yet melodic rockers like Fools Game and She Did the Same Thing with ballads like I Almost Believed You, the recipe at last striking a chord with record buyers as the record became a big success in the US as Bolton toured heavily in support, whilst also bothering the Import charts elsewhere.

At last it seemed as if Bolton was on the road to big, tangible success. But the setbacks hadn’t stopped yet; He returned to the fray with 1985’s Everybody’s Crazy, joining forces again with Kulick as well as re-enlisting the help of Craig Brooks and Mark Mangold from pomp rock Gods Touch to produce what is undeniably a pop metal classic, with every song a winner from the Kiss-crazy title track to the sets’ epic standout track, uber power ballad Call My Name (later covered by Jennifer Rush). Unfortunately the paying public wasn’t convinced by this shift in direction from catchy arena rock to out and out heavy AOR, and the album stiffed at the sales counter. For the third time in his career, Michael Bolton was forced to sit back and take stock.

Luckily career retrenchment seemed to be something the man had a talent for, and the day seemed not entirely lost when Columbia decided to pick up the option for a third album. They were paid back in spades, but this is where it starts to go wrong for fans of the man’s rock oeuvre…

Whereas his previous two albums had been primarily self penned, Michael’s third solo outing for Columbia, 1987’s The Hunger enlisted the help of a wealth of outside aid in his bid for world domination. Proven hitmakers such as Eric Kaz (Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt), Bob Halligan Jnr (Judas Priest, Icon), Martin Briley (Pat Benatar, Night Ranger, Celine Dion) and Diane Warren (just about everyone you’ve ever heard of) all answered to call (and the pay packet) to give the traditionally steely Bolton pen a glossier edge – and it worked.

Oh, how it worked. Coupled with a titanic cover of the Otis Redding standard (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay, the mix of pro-songwriters and top session men (including American Idol judge Randy Jackson on bass!) worked with Bolton to make The Hunger his most complete work yet. Sure, the hard rock was still there (check out the fantastic You’re All That I Need – co-written by Bolton with Journey’s Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain – and Gina), but the whole album was shot through with pop and soul sensibilities. So many pop and soul sensibilities in fact that Bolton was able to cross over at last to the mainstream and become something of a housewives’ choice. Easy listening hits like That’s What Love is all About ensued, and the rest, as they say, is history.

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But If hard rock fans were concerned by the reduction in Michael’s musical diet of metallic traces on The Hunger, they were mortified by it’s follow up, 1989’s Soul Provider.

All that seemed to be left of Bolton’s rock roots on this album were the leonine mane and one song, How Can We Be Lovers, that at least featured a rousing chorus (unsurprising that, since it was co-written by another up and coming New York songsmith, Desmond Child) and an extremely air guitar worthy guitar solo from John Waite accomplice John McCurry. Throw in Bon Jovi sideman Hugh MacDonald on bass and Billy Squier skinbeater Bobby Chouinard behind the kit and… that was as much rock as Michael wanted on Soul Provider. For the remainder of the album he plumped for a mixture of pure pop, soul and rhythm and blues, exemplified by the schmaltzy duet with Suzy Benson From Now On and an admittedly fine reading of Ray CharlesGeorgia on My Mind. It was clear that this was an album aimed straight for the heart of the mainstream, and damn the cries of horror and accusations from his old, and still loyal fanbase…

It goes from bad to worse after that, but luckily this is an article about the eighties, so I think we’ll draw a line in the sand here…