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Making George Michael: Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1

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George Michael: Listen Without Prejudice would prove a worthy follow-up to the singer’s debut album, giving him another No.1 LP in the process… By Steve Harnell

George Michael: Listen Without Prejudice
George Michael: Listen Without Prejudice cover

The signs were there, of course, right from the Wham! days. After all, what was Careless Whisper if it wasn’t a plea to be taken seriously away from the bachelor-centric fun of the band mothership?

George Michael: Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 – a provocative title that also hinted of further material already in the works – was a concerted attempt by George Michael to free himself of the shackles of pop superstardom. Introspective, at times mournful, mature, this was a powerful and ambitious collection from a serious-minded singer-songwriter at the peak of his powers.

Michael felt under siege – a prisoner of his fame as one of the most recognisable pop icons on the planet, and lambasted as a black music interloper. His two wins at the American Music Awards were controversial and unpopular in some sections of the black music community.

If George felt that his hit-making powers had often brought him nothing but unhappiness and mental anguish, then Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 would see him set out an agenda for his own future, defiantly on his own terms. This was a kind of musical digging-in of heels that had rarely, if ever, been pulled off before by an artist of his stature.

Recorded at Sarm West and Metropolis Studios in London, the record – like Faith – would be entirely self-produced by the songwriter. 

In the Freedom documentary, George explains: “Suddenly, I couldn’t get anywhere near black radio and that was really the reason why the record was called Listen Without Prejudice. It was me saying ‘here’s an album that has bits of gospel, R&B, some very white stuff. It was just trying to say ‘let me be [all] of these things without having to be one or the other.’”

George’s ever-present soul inspirations can still be heard on the LP, but new influences are also added to the mix, in particular the songcraft of Lennon and McCartney.

For the duration of the writing and recording sessions, The Beatles’ progressive Revolver and the sophisticated studio perfectionism of Abbey Road were constant touchstones. 

If fans of Michael had any doubts that he was stretching out into a more adult direction then they vanished with the startlingly mature initial offering from the album, Praying For Time, his first release in almost two years and the opening gambit of the masterwork to follow. Universally admired, it was a remarkably incisive plea for social equality.

James Hunter of Rolling Stone magazine described the song as “a distraught look at the world’s astounding woundedness. Michael offers the healing passage of time as the only balm for physical and emotional hunger, poverty, hypocrisy and hatred.”

Praying For Time was George’s determined effort to write something with the anthemic and philosophical qualities of John Lennon’s Imagine; he pulled it off with aplomb, far exceeding the overly simplistic spirituality of the former Beatle’s most famous solo single.

If George’s record company thought his new direction would be a difficult sell, the conflict between artist and label was further compounded by news that the singer would not appear in any of the videos for his new singles. In the record company’s eyes, this was prima donna stubbornness taken to a whole new level.

For George, it was the only way he could preserve his own sanity after the mentally exhausting promotional merry-go-round that had surrounded the whole Faith campaign.

Read our feature on the making of George Michael’s Faith album

Read more: Wham! – Fantastic

Carefully sequenced, the jolting opener is followed by Freedom! ’90, equally primed to prove a point. With an almost Italo house piano lead line, Freedom! ’90 was packed with some of George’s smartest lyrics as he moved away from his former life as a pop pin-up.

In just one verse he sums up his Wham!, Faith and new eras: “We won the race, got out of the place/ Went back home, got a brand new face for the boys on MTV/ But today the way I play the game has got to change, oh yeah/ Now I’m gonna get myself happy.”

Its video – even without George – still managed to become iconic. Helmed by Fight Club director David Fincher, it featured the world’s five most famous supermodels of the era – Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington and Tatjana Patitz. 

George was unrepentant about choosing to remain absent from the screen, later explaining: “If you’re going to say to your record company ‘Look, I’m not going to appear in this video’, then I would say that’s a fairly good consolation prize. The burning jacket, the exploding guitar, the exploding jukebox… it was me just saying ‘I’m sick of all this, I really can’t cope with it.’”

George’s rapid maturation into one of the most impressive white soul vocalists of his generation is best seen in the virtuoso cover of Stevie Wonder’s mournful gospel ballad They Won’t Go When I Go, which even manages to surpass the original.

Speaking in the Freedom documentary, Wonder was effusive in his praise for it, adding: “At the end of the day, we come alone in this world and we will die alone. It’s what we do in between that’s going to determine how and what we’ll be remembered as, and what we can think about in spirit. It was great to hear [George] sing this song.”

Something To Save, an acoustic string-laden ballad was equally affecting; a plea for a relationship in trouble. At seven minutes plus, the jazzy shuffle of Cowboys And Angels proved that George was unafraid to stretch out in the studio and throw the radio-pleasing conventions of the three-minute pop song in the trash. But Listen… isn’t without its awareness of chart trends.

Waiting For That Day jumped on the Funky Drummer sample bandwagon even if it turned the ebullience of the original rhythm into something more downbeat.

Equally, Mother’s Pride was downcast and maudlin. The track gained significant airplay in the US during the first Gulf War in 1991, with radio stations mixing tributes from callers to their fallen relatives with Michael’s song of families torn apart by military conflict and damned to repeat the process, generation after generation.

Read our feature on the albums of George Michael

If Listen.. can seem like the sound of a tortured artist struggling to find hope in a hopeless universe, then the balm of the Paul McCartney homage Heal The Pain takes some of the weight off the album’s heavy shoulders.

The reggae-tinged Soul Free lets in some sunshine at the tail end of the record, too, only for the tender acoustic ballad Waiting (Reprise) to anchor us to harsh reality once again.

A landmark record in Michael’s back catalogue, after the populist staging post of Faith, his transition to fully-fledged grown-up solo artist was now complete. 

George Michael: Listen Without Prejudice – Key tracks

Praying For Time

The stately album opener and lead single is a huge statement of intent from Michael. A deliberate attempt to write a generational anthem to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with John Lennon’s Imagine, this is one of George’s finest compositions. An incisive analysis of our relationship with the idea of charity and social injustice, Praying For Time announced his full-scale reinvention as a mature songwriter who wanted to ditch his pop star past.

Waiting For That Day

Based on the ubiquitous Funky Drummer sample of the early Nineties, this introspective break-up ballad also incorporates elements of The Rolling Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want. With just drums and a strummed acoustic guitar for backing, the stripped-back mid-tempo track puts the emphasis on George’s pained soulful vocals. They didn’t appreciate it in the States – it was the first of George’s singles to miss the Top 10.

Freedom! ’90

A rare upbeat moment on the album as an instantly memorable piano hook kicks off some of George’s wittiest couplets. As with Waiting For That Day, it’s driven by a sample of James Brown’s Funky Drummer. It’s a mission statement for new-era George – wilier, knowing, wry and prepared not to take any nonsense from his record company paymasters. A superb reworked version that included snatches of Soul II Soul’s Back To Life (However Do You Want Me) featured on the B-side.

Heal The Pain

After the Lennon homage of Praying For Time comes this nod to the melodic heart-on-the-sleeve balladry of McCartney. The acoustic-led number makes for a pleasing counterpoint to the stark Mother’s Pride in the album’s closing stages. George eventually went on to re-record Heal The Pain with McCartney in 2005 for his Twenty Five compilation of the following year; it’s also included on the 2017 expanded version of Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1.

George Michael’s official website

Read more: Adam Ant – Persuasion

 

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Listen to “Still Think About You” by thisisNAMASTE

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The last time I featured thisisNAMASTE on the blog, the track I spoke about, “I Like Your Face“, got a play on the reality TV show Love Island UK. Which was a pretty, awesome thing to happen. And so lovely for Natasha Marie Stewart (AKA thisisNAMASTE) to receive this kind of recognition. It just goes to prove how relatable her lyrics are and that she hits the right vibes with a pop audience that spans all ages. In follow up, as summer finally kicks in. She is out with another glorious, shimmery bop. Come rain or shine, “Still Think About You” provides the taste of Summer in song form. Delivered by a joyous, uplifting melody and thisisNAMASTE’s straight-up glowing vocals.

The lyrics are self-explanatory on this new banger. It is a break-up song of sorts steered by lyrics that spin on a positive axis. “We said forever, but I’m thankful we’re done. Now I’m number one” she sings. While further issuing a bolder statement. “Boy, don’t get it confused, now your gone, yeah, I’m thriving, no point in denying I still think about you.”

Listen on Apple Music

Another way of looking at the track is that it also celebrates new beginnings. But that’s just the way of thisisNAMASTE’s open and honest pop brilliance. She goes out of her way to empower through her lyrics. Giving us much to take on board and be optimistic about set to a glittery pop beat. “Still Think About You” is a must-have track on your summer playlist. So catchy, melodically led, pop perfection. In fact, she has now amassed a plentiful supply of beautifully crafted songs where each one directs us with ease to become addicted to the repeat button.

Still Think About You” continues to solidify thisisNAMASTE’s presence in the pop realm. In that, I know who to come to when I have cravings for super catchy and accessible pop. thisisNAMASTE always sees me right.

Connect with thisisNAMASTE
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thisisnamaste
Twitter: https://twitter.com/thisisNAMASTE
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thisisnamaste/





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‘Lost’ Donna Summer song drops ahead of new remix album

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I’m A Rainbow: Recovered & Recoloured
I’m A Rainbow: Recovered & Recoloured

The late Donna Summer is back with a new track from her hotly-anticipated next album.

The song, You To Me (Oliver Nelson Remix), is the second single to be taken from I’m A Rainbow – Recovered & Recoloured, a 10-track album which completely re-imagines Donna Summer’s ‘lost’ 1981 LP I’m A Rainbow mixed by a host of international producers; Junior Vasquez, Le Flex, Figo Sound, Jean Tonique, Ladies On Mars and Oliver Nelson – who has just signed to Atlantic Records – have all added their touch. 

Forty years ago this September Donna Summer’s new album I’m A Rainbow, produced by Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, was weeks away from being released. During 1981 the musical landscape was changing, production techniques were developing and Summer’s label wanted a more R&B-influenced album and took the decision to withdraw the album just before its release.

It languished in the Geffen vaults until it was eventually issued in 1996 as an 18-track CD with no fanfare at all.

Fast-forward to 2021 and I’m A Rainbow has received a fresh coat of paint. 

Album curator Michael Neidus on this second track to be taken from the album: “You To Me has always been my favourite song from the album but have always wondered how it would sound slightly more up-tempo. Whilst in Los Angeles in 2017, I kept hearing this cracking dance track over the poolside speakers. ; it was a remix by Swedish producer Oliver Nelson, of Habits (Stay High) by fellow-Swede Tove Lo.

“It had been a UK Top 10 hit but somehow I had completely missed it. I kept hearing Oliver’s remix, then discovered his other work and knew that I’d want him to work on a future project; You To Me just seemed the right track. He delivered a great version, respecting the original but adding new elements to it and giving it a little more pace. I suggested to remove the original intro and introduce a drum rise, which he did and it gave more impact to the start of the track, especially stylistically in a Love Unlimited vein. Within two seconds its warmth made it sound like an old and familiar friend.”

You To Me is available now with I’m A Rainbow – Recovered & Recoloured following on 8 October.

‘I’M A RAINBOW – RECOVERED & RECOLOURED’ 

CD TRACKLISTING 

I’m A Rainbow [Junior’s Shiny Rainbow Remix] 

I Believe (In You) [Figo Sound Version] – duet with Joe ‘Bean’ Esposito

Back Where You Belong [Jean Tonique Remix]

You To Me [Oliver Nelson Remix]

Don’t Cry For Me Argentina [Ladies On Mars “Buenos Aires” Remix]

Sweet Emotion [Le Flex Remix]

Brooklyn [Ladies On Mars “Child Of Rhythm” Remix]

Romeo [Ladies On Mars “Luv NRG” Remix]

Highway Runner [Ladies On Mars “Street Race” Remix]

Leave Me Alone [Ladies On Mars “Independence” Remix]

Brooklyn [Ladies On Mars “Child Of Rhythm” Remix-Radio Edit]

I Believe (In You) [Figo Sound Radio Version]

Highway Runner [Ladies On Mars “Street Race” Extended Mix]

Brooklyn [Ladies On Mars “Child Of Rhythm” Extended Remix]

Romeo [Ladies On Mars “Luv-NRG” Extended Remix]

 

LP TRACKLISTING 

SIDE ONE

I’m A Rainbow [Junior’s Shiny Rainbow Remix]

I Believe (In You) [Figo Sound Version] – duet with Joe ‘Bean’ Esposito

Back Where You Belong [Jean Tonique Remix]

You To Me [Oliver Nelson Remix]

Don’t Cry For Me Argentina [Ladies On Mars “Buenos Aires” Remix]

 

SIDE TWO

Sweet Emotion [Le Flex Remix]

Brooklyn [Ladies On Mars “Child Of Rhythm” Remix]

Romeo [Ladies On Mars “Luv NRG” Remix]

Highway Runner [Ladies On Mars “Street Race” Remix]

Leave Me Alone [Ladies On Mars “Independence” Remix] 

 

SIDE THREE

Brooklyn [Ladies On Mars “Child Of Rhythm” Remix-Radio Edit]

I Believe (In You) [Figo Sound Radio Version]

Highway Runner [Ladies On Mars “Street Race” Extended Mix]

 

SIDE FOUR

Brooklyn [Ladies On Mars “Child Of Rhythm” Extended Remix]

Romeo [Ladies On Mars “Luv-NRG” Extended Remix]

 

Donna Summer: Encore boxset review

 

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Watch “are you?” by zeph

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I have New Zealand singer-songwriter Thomston to thank for an early introduction to Maryland-based bedroom pop auteur zeph (Zephani Jong). She featured on Thomston’s recent, dreamy offering “Magnolia” (review here), providing a splash of liquid gold harmonies to the sonically driven piece. She is also the latest artist to be snapped up by Neon Gold Records as a part of their fantastic roster of artists and has released her first single on the label. The catchy and fresh alt-pop track “are you?” arrives ahead of her forthcoming debut EP slated for arrival in the Autumn.

Her vocals are shimmering and hypnotic, with a notable breeziness about them. The best way of describing her style is that it is really, quite indie-pop angelic. And she is into creating vibes from the ground up. The debut “are you?” is written, recorded, and produced by, Zeph herself. She also exudes some quirkiness, which I love to see in pop artists (in fact applies to people in general). I am, loving that quite a lot of quirkiness has spilt over into the music video also. It is sweet and adorable to watch and is making me want to jump into the screen to join her because it looks like Zeph had the best kind of fun making this Erik Rojas (Isaac Dunbar, Rich Brian, Jessie J) directed video.

Listen on Apple Music

The track endearingly broaches the topic of relationships. Does this guy still want to be with Zeph? If only he would quit the mind games. Speak up, reciprocate with some answers and not be so vague and distant, Zeph politely inquires.

Zeph has a voice that is sweet enough to charm. Yet her honest, straight to the point style of lyricism is her weapon of choice and the embodiment of her signature style. This is the winning formula that culminates in the whimsical banger “are you?“. Dive into this fiercely cute pop track now. I guarantee after just one listen, it will be in your head for the rest of the day.

Connect with Zeph
Twitter: https://twitter.com/zephanijong
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/zephanijong/





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