Wednesday, October 17, 2012

My favorite albums: Listen Without Prejudice Vol.1

Hola Chicos y Chicas!

It's that time of the week again where I showcase one of my favorite albums. Well duh! You just read the freakin' title:)

Today's choice actually has some historic value for me, as it was the first album I bought in CD form.

Yes back in the day, long before I bought CD's, I was strictly a cassette tape man. Not so much because it was better than CD's(they're really not and history has proven that) but mostly because I was a big cheapo about it, and believed(and rightfully at the time) that CD's were more expensive to buy than tapes.

Plus, like anyone who used cassette tapes back then, you could record songs off the radio, as I so frequently did back then.

But back to the topic at hand, the very first CD album  ever bought wasn't the typically cool choice like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Guns n'Roses, or even my beloved Beatles. Nope, it was George Michael.

I let you guys have your brief fit of laughter now, I'll wait.......


Good. Hey, George Michael is one hell of a singer/songwriter. Not to mention one of the very few, and I do mean very few, I'd trust to faithfully cover Freddy Mercury songs. His voice is that damn good!

Listen Without Prejudice Vol.1 was my first CD album, and what an album it turned out to be! Despite being not old or mature enough to grasp even half of what he was talking about or the concepts that laid within, it didn't stop me from thoroughly enjoying the entire album.

A quick bit of backstory on this album, and yes I did have to go back and look some, but not all of this up.
George Michael as the time, had just come of his run of numerous hits during the 80's, especially his successful debut album Faith, and combined with his almost wholesome image at the time, seemed to poise him for another successful decade in the 90's. But he was tired of lying to the public about not being gay, when in fact he was, and wanted the freedom to spread out and do new things, try new things. His record label at the time, Sony, didn't like that idea so much, as having Michael come out of the closet was believed to mean media backlash, and basically kill the cash cow that Michael had become.

Inevitably, the two clashed, and Michael soon sued Sony to get out his contract with them. That whole long and lengthy process didn't break Michael, but rather strengthened his resolve that what he was doing was right. And in the end, the whole thing seemed to work out alright for him in the end. But not without expensive legal fees, and whole lot of heartbreak.

It's this whole ordeal and struggle to find his true identity that makes Listen Without Prejudice Vol.1 such a powerful piece of work.

Think of it as George Michael's own Declaration of Independence or Emancipation Proclamation, and you'll get the idea.

Or to put in comic book terms, he was fighting for creator rights like Jerry Siegel  Joe Shuster, Jerry Robinson, Neal Adams, and so many others in the industry.

There, maybe that got your attention.

And really, with songs titles like "Praying for Time", "Freedom '90", and "They won't go when I go", how could you not get the sense that some really serious shit was going down?

Take a listen to those tracks if you haven't already:

Praying for time:

I love those lyrics,
 "The rich declare themselves poor 
And most of us are not sure 
If we have too much 
But we'll take our chances 
'Cause God's stopped keeping score 
I guess somewhere along the way 
He must have let us all out to play 
Turned his back and all God's children 
Crept out the back door"

Damn that's some good shit right there.
If you listen to the entire song and its lyrics, I'd say they pretty much match up with today's time and current social and political climate.

Next up is the famous and very popular Freedom 90, famous because of the then popular supermodels used in the video. And love, love the image of his leather jacket, made famous in the video for Faith, going up in flames. Just so much meta-commentary going on there. 
Like him breaking away from his old hetero, wholesome image, to possibly him revealing his homosexuality? Hey the jacket is flaming. Get it? Gays, flaming homosexuality? Yeah you get it.

"They won't go when I go":

In case you didn't get the gist of this one, it's basically George Michael calling out his supposed friends and supporters for not, you know, supporting him during his battle with Sony.

Also, it was really fun and interesting to find out that legendary performer, Stevie Wonder played piano and provided backup vocals, along with singer Yvonne Wright on this track. Hey if Stevie Wonder decides your cool, then you're fucking golden man!

Plus, Michael kills, absolutely kills those fucking vocals man! My god that man can sing!. And thus why I trust him and only him(and Paul Rogers from Bad Company) to ever cover Queen songs.

Next up: "Something to save"

Is he talking about an old lover? Sony? Former friends? Maybe all of the above. Again, great vocals here.

"Cowboys and Angels" is up next, and while you could take the song title out of context(I know I could;)
It's still a pretty damn good song. Surprisingly this single didn't really sell that well, making it the only single of Michael's not to make the Top 40.

I don't see why, with it's Jazzy Waltz structure, it's a pretty solid song.

You be the judge.

"Heal the Pain" is another solid hit from this album. Again, this has sort of an ambiguous perspective for me; Is he consoling someone, consoling himself, or is someone consoling him? I guess it's up to the listener to decide for themselves, but to me, it sounds like he's consoling someone during a rough time. This sort of thing is pretty much a constant throughout the whole album.

 "Waiting for that day" is a really good one as well, but also has the added bonus of having the same type of chord structure as The Rolling Stone's song "You can't always get what you want", which if you listen towards the end, is the exact same words Michael's sings at the,well end:)

That's probably why Michael's chose to give them songwriting credits on the album.

Oh, and as an added bonus, in 2006, George Michael and my hero Sir Paul McCartney re-recorded this song as a duet for Michael's album, Twenty-Five. Fucking awesome sauce my friends, fucking awesome sauce!:)

Here it is:

"Mother's Pride" is next, and damn, what an emotional song this was. It's basically about a mother having to see her husband go off to war and die, and then her only son winds up doing the same thing. It's pretty sad song, as Michael's goes into depth about the hurt and pain, the poor woman goes through. I dare anyone to listen to all of it and not get a little choked up just thinking about it, especially considering the current situations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I learned when this song came out, which the album came out in September of 1990, it was put into heavy rotation alongside personal stories and well-wishes from and to those serving in the military during the Gulf War.

Heavy stuff indeed:(

And finally Soul Free and Waiting to wrap things up:

"Soul Free":

All in all not a bad album huh?

Hopefully I've given you some food for thought and possibly changed any misconceptions you had about the man's music.

I can't change the fact that he got busted soliciting an undercover cop in a public bathroom, or that he was found a couple times passed out with weed in his car(Hey it happens;) but that should never take away from his obvious talents to sing and write.

Have a good one folks:)


Shlomo Ben Hungstien said...

dude, considering how fond you are of George Michael you gotta see this. it comes exactly 25 seconds into this Blood Hound gang video:

Dale Bagwell said...

Ha ha, nice one Shlomo:) You can never go wrong with some Bloodhound Gang. Regret indeed;)

Dan said...

I have Twenty-Five - I always thought GM was bigger outside of the US then he was in, but second to a few like Freddie and Bowie, the dude's voice is insane.

I always thought it showed better in duets though - Paul, Whitney, Aretha, Elton whoever he sung with the contrast always showed those notes that he could reach pretty effortlessly.

Fastlove is my fav track, different album I know, but even though I don't have this album like some of the others you've covered, I'll probably explore it now.

Dale Bagwell said...

@Dan, Yeah, like I said, few can really match the vocal range of GM, outside of Mercury, Robert Plant back in the day, Bowie back in the day, and Paul Rodgers, even now.

I loved, and still enjoy Fastlove as well. That album Older, really was a damn good album!

So yeah, if you haven't already, by all means check Listen w/o Prejudice Vol.1, and let me know what you think.

Dan said...

I thought it was great and wasn't that hard to find either! Retro in a cool way and yet timeless kinda too. Plus like you say when you know the story behind it it all makes a lot more sense!

Dale Bagwell said...

Yeah Exactly. I mean it's not required to know the backstory to albums and songs, but it can enhance the whole experience if you're interested enough in it.

Glad you enjoyed it.

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