1983 was one of AOR's golden years with countless, timeless releases. Out of them all the best was Michael Bolton's self-titled debut album after the short lived Blackjack liaison with Bruce Kulick. The two albums they recorded, ''Blackjack'' (1979) and ''Worlds Apart'' (1980) were met with indifference and they split, with Bolton left to seek his fortune alone. Signing to CBS records Bolton enlisted the help of ace musicians Bob Kulick and Chuck Burgi, both ex-Balance, a class act in their own right. With these two and numerous others, Bolton went on to record one of the greatest AOR albums of all time.
But you wouldn't have known it from the harsh criticism aimed at it in the press of the day. An accusation I take exception to is that this is ''stadium'' rock with Bolton doing his best to imitate Foreigner's Lou Gramm. The person who wrote that has no business writing about music. This sounds nothing like Foreigner or any of the other big acts of the day like Journey and Survivor. This has a level of excellence only equaled by Bolton himself on his 1985 follow-up ''Everybody's Crazy!'' Foreigner are for the most part tepid. Few good songs but in no way addictive. Bolton crafted a perfect album here. No filler. Just pure melody -- in every single note.
My relationship with ''Michael Bolton'' is unlike almost any other record I have ever owned. In all the years I have never grown tired of listening to it. The musicianship is masterful. The synthesizer work is always dominant but always backed up by tough riffs. Anyone who thinks Bolton is a wimp rocker should check out ''Fighting For My Life.'' It is a hard song, with Bolton's emotive vocals truly making you believe this is a man taking his final stand, which of course Bolton was. But on the very next song, ''Paradise,'' Bolton sings of being in a place where he is happy, in love naturally. The chorus on this song is uplifting, ebullient. It is musical heaven. On ''Carrie,'' Bolton gives one of the most melodic performances of his career. Dramatic verses are plentiful here. ''I Almost Believed You'' is a textbook guide to the perfect AOR ballad, sweeping harmonies, thrilling chord changes; it is all there. As for ''Fools Game,'' ''She Did The Same Thing,'' ''Hometown Hero'' and ''Can't Hold On, Can't Let Go,'' there is not a single flaw in any of them. In fact I am in awe of them. How anyone could come up with such melodic music is amazing to me. The fact that this album has been pushed aside is a personal affront. No matter how many great AOR albums I hear, I still consider this and ''Everybody's Crazy'' the benchmark of that genre.
And what I will not do is attack Bolton for his later work. The guy took AOR to levels no one else could. A brilliant rock vocalist, writer and guitarist, Bolton is an AOR genius and along with a few Who albums and Purple's ''Come Taste the Band,'' this is probably my favorite album.
When you have heard as much music as I have, that is the sign of a man who succeeded. 1983 also saw the arrival of Aldo Nova's ''Subject'' concept album, which concerned human emotion. This is another class affair which has long been spat upon by reviewers. If they forgot the concept aspect you basically have a collection of timeless AOR that features some superb playing. Nova pretty much did it all himself and, above all, his synthesizer prowess is to be noted. Every track is dominated by the instrument and leaves an atmospheric feel to it. There are some vintage tunes on offer, namely ''Hold Back The Night,'' ''Victim Of A Broken Heart,'' and ''Hey Operator,'' all recipients of memorable hooklines. Also of note is the savage guitar solo in ''Cry Baby Cry,'' almost guttural in it's impact. Nova was a guest on ''Michael Bolton'' the same year, proving his status as an AOR god. He would never reach these heights again.
One of AOR's hard luck stories was Balance whom I mentioned earlier. They recorded two essential early 80s discs, ''Balance'' (1981) and ''In For The Count'' (1982) which were packed with devastating hooks, keyboards and vocals. The 1982 album was more hard rock than the debut but both make the grade. Current Lynynrd Skynyrd vocalist Johnny Van Zant had a shining AOR moment in 1985 with his self titled ''Van Zant,'' his fourth solo album. Keyboard dominated, it is a superb example of North American rock mid-eighties style. ''Lonely Girls'' is a must-hear classic, full of melodic twists and turns and scorching guitar work. Also worth checking out are various Tubes albums, namely ''Remote Control'' (1979), ''Completion Backwards Principle'' (1981) and ''Love Bomb'' (1985). Some tremendous work on offer. However offbeat The Tubes were, nobody can deny the likes of ''Don't Want To Wait Anymore,'' ''Love's A Mystery'' and ''Piece By Piece,'' among dozens of others.
AOR, along with metal, was at it's peak in the 80s and all these albums helped contribute. It was a glorious period never to be repeated. Some other artists who never made it, like The Jack Street Band and B. E. Taylor, also deserve recognition along with the hundreds of other AOR artists who helped define it.
It seemed audiences had more taste back then. They had an ear for melody and made groups like Hall and Oates become deserving stars. And the scene was so strong that ''Michael Bolton'' was forgotten. I did not forget it and by writing about it I hope you won't either.
Here's to synthesizer, melodic choruses and guitar solos. You won the fight.