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Wednesday, November 11, 1998

George Michael best of is well stocked

By RICHARD JOHN -- Jam! Showbiz

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: THE BEST OF
George Michael
(Epic/Sony E2K 69635)

Given a solo career that has spanned 13 years, it seems obvious that George Michael should release a best-of collection.
 
What makes this collection remarkable is this: He's released only three solo studios albums in those 13 years, yet he's managed to collect 28 songs worthy of being included on 'Ladies & Gentlemen: The Best Of George Michael' (Epic).
 
The two-CD album is divided into two parts: ballads (called 'For The Heart') and more up-tempo dance numbers ('For The Feet'). Every UK single from his solo career is included - from his 1985 solo debut 'Careless Whisper' to 'Outside' the sendup of his recent arrest - alongside some top quality album cuts, duets and charity material.
 
While there have been just three albums in 13 years - 'Faith' (1987), 'Listen Without Prejudice' (1990) on Columbia/CBS and his Dreamworks debut 'Older' (1996) - Michael has found time to collaborate with a number of artists. 'Ladies & Gentlemen' contains four of those collaborations: 'Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me' with Elton John; 'I Knew You Were Waiting For Me' with Aretha Franklin; 'Desafinado' with Astrud Gilberto, and 'Sombody To Love' with Queen.
 
Sadly, a few rarer collaborations are not included: 'Waltz Away Dreaming' with Toby Bourke (on Michael's own Aegean label) and 'Heaven In My Hands' with Deon Estus, Wham!'s bass player. The newly recorded cover of Stevie Wonder's 'As' with Mary J. Blige also remains unreleased in North America.
 
Now for some background. During the period of 1992-1995, Michael was embroiled in a lawsuit with Sony. During the time, it was agreed that he would release only charity material. This material could be released on labels other than Sony. Michael eventually lost the fight against Sony, but his contract was bought by Dreamworks Records in 1995.
 
His musical output during this time was sporadic at best: three new tracks on 'Red, Hot + Dance' (including the single 'Too Funky', featured on 'Ladies & Gentlemen'); a live EP with the surviving members of Queen (featuring 'Sombody To Love', included on 'Ladies & Gentlemen') and a charity EP featuring 'Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me' with Elton John.
 
Over the course of 'Ladies & Gentlemen', you really get a feel for the growth and progress in Michael's musical output, from the early sax-ladened teen saga of 'Careless Whisper' (1985) to the mature 'Jesus To A Child' (1996), which documents the death of a friend. It's hard to believe some of these songs were written by the same person who fronted Wham!, the '80s pre-eminent good times band that scored the lightweight hit 'Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go!'.
 
During the '80s, Michael also managed to get himself into the record books with the track 'A Different Corner' (an intro-free version appears on 'Ladies & Gentlemen'). This love ballad was the first UK number 1 pop single not to include drums.
 
Through much of the later output, Michael's influences start to show - even to the extent of needing a co-writing credit like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards get on 'Waiting For That Day/You Can't Always Get What You Want'. Elements of Stevie Wonder, Elton John, The O'Jays and assorted soul and funk can be felt across the span of these 28 songs.
 
Most of the material on 'Ladies & Gentlemen' is pulled verbatim from the albums. Having said that, the superior Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis 7" remix of 'Monkey' replaces the inferior 'Faith' album cut. The 'Star People '97' single remix is also included. One interesting inclusion is the choice of 'I Want Your Sex (Rhythm II: Brass In Love)' over 'Rhythm I: Lust' a.k.a. the single mix.
 
This collection brings to a close Michael's legal commitments to Sony as well as this chapter in his career, a career that has garnered 11 number ones, 60 million units shipped and two record labels.
 
For fans of George Michael or quality pop-soul-funk-dance, this album is a worthy purchase... and just in time for Christmas.

Track Listing

Disc 1: For The Heart
1. Jesus To A Child (6.51)
2. Father Figure (5.41)
3. Careless Whisper (5.00)
4. Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me [w/Elton John] (5.48)
5. You Have Been Loved (5.29)
6. Kissing A Fool (4.35)
7. I Can't Make You Love Me (5.21)
8. Heal The Pain (4.47)
9. A Moment With You (5.42)
10. Desafinado [w/Astrud Gilberto] (3.20)
11. Cowboys And Angels (7.14)
12. Praying For Time (4.44)
13. One More Try (5.53)
14. A Different Corner (4.02)

TOTAL TIME: 74.35

Disc 2: For The Heart
1. Outside (4.45)
2. Fastlove (5.30)
3. Too Funky (3.45)
4. Freedom '90 (6.29)
5. Star People '97 (5.38)
6. Killer/Papa Was A Rollin' Stone (4.16)
7. I Want Your Love (Rhythm II: Brass In Love) (4.37)
8. Monkey (Remix) (4.46)
9. Spinning The Wheel (6.08)
10. Waiting For That Day/You Can't Always Get... (4.50)
11. I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) [w/Aretha Franklin] (3.58)
12. Hard Day (4.54)
13. Faith (3.13)
14. Somebody To Love [w/Queen] (5.23)

TOTAL TIME: 68.18
 
N  E  W    R  E  V  I  E  W  S

  • Beck: Sea Change
  • Steve Earle: Jerusalem
  • Ryan Adams: Demolition
  • Supergrass: Life On Other Planets
  • Buddy Miller: Midnight And Lonesome
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  • Blind Boys Of Alabama: Higher Ground
  • Gus Gus: Attention

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