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Classic


EMI America

2002

CLASSIC MASTERS



1. BLUER THAN BLUE
(By Randy Goodrum)
from THE MICHAEL JOHNSON ALBUM (1978)
Single Released: 4/10/78
Pop Debut Date: 4/22/78
Highest Billboard Pop Chart Position: #12
Highest Billboard Adult Contemporary Position: #1

2. SAILING WITHOUT A SAIL
(By Bill LaBounty and Roy Freeland)
from THE MICHAEL JOHNSON ALBUM (1978)
B-side of When You Come Home single

3. TWO IN LOVE
(By Mark Henley)
from THE MICHAEL JOHNSON ALBUM (1978)

4. ALMOST LIKE BEING IN LOVE
(By Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe)
from THE MICHAEL JOHNSON ALBUM (1978)
Single Released: 7/10/78
Pop Debut Date: 8/12/78
Highest Billboard Pop Chart Position: #32
Highest Billboard R&B Position: #91
Highest Billboard Adult Contemporary Position: #4

5. THIS NIGHT WON'T LAST FOREVER
(By Bill LaBounty and Roy Freeland)
from DIALOGUE (1979)
Single Released: 7/9/79
Pop Debut Date: 8/4/79
Highest Billboard Pop Chart Position: #19
Highest Billboard Adult Contemporary Position: #5

6. THE VERY FIRST TIME
(By Randy Goodrum)
from Dialogue (1979)
Single Released: 1/7/80
Pop Debut Date: 2/2/80
Highest Billboard Pop Chart Position: #101
Highest Billboard Adult Contemporary Position: #29



7. I'LL ALWAYS LOVE YOU
(By Tom Snow and Eric Kaz)
from DIALOGUE (1979)

8. YOU CAN CALL ME BLUE
(By Larry Brown and David Morgan)
from YOU CAN CALL ME BLUE (1980)
Single Released: 8/4/80
Pop Debut Date: 8/23/80
Highest Billboard Pop Chart Position: #86
Highest Billboard Adult Contemporary Position: #34

9. BLAME IT ON THE RAIN
(By Eric Kaz and Tom Snow)
from YOU CAN CALL ME BLUE (1980)

10. YOU'RE NOT EASY TO FORGET
(By Cynthia Weil and Tom Snow)
from HOME FREE (1981)
Single Released: 8/3/81

11. HOME FREE
(By Michael Johnson and Michael McDonald)
from HOME FREE (1981)

12. THERE'S A LOVE
(By J. P. Pennington)
from LIFETIME GUARANTEE (1983)

Some people thought it belonged to Dion DiMucci, others thought perhaps it belonged to some distant cousin of Gordon Lightfoot. But pretty quickly, back in '78, the warm vocal that wove around the heartbreaking lyrics of the hit record Bluer Than Blue introduced the uninitiated into the middle-period, jazzy-folk-pop stylings of Michael Johnson, whose alleged overnight success actually took many years to kick in.

Technically, his first potential hit was the one-off single "Hills," released on Epic Records in '65, and it came as the result of winning a national talent search during his college years. Most likely, the 23 people who bought the record believed they found "the next big thing" in Johnson. But it took the artist a few more musical incarnations before his identity crystallized into that of a romantic singer-songwriter with the ability to bring listeners to tears with the honesty his captivating vocal inflections emoted.

Learning to master the guitar became an important quest for Johnson, his passion for the instrument starting at age 13. He and his 20-year old brother, Paul, were both bedridden, Michael with pneumonia and his older sibling with a broken leg. Papa Johnson came to the rescue, buying his sons a guitar (from the local GI Joe's pawn shop) for diversion during their recuperation. Over the next five months, the pair became proficient at the instrument, learning various guitar chords, finger-picking, progressions and strums. Eventually, Michael began to play hometown venues such as the local VFW for five dollars and all the screwdrivers the young performer could toss back. After a few years of playing in bands, performing as a folk trio, paying dues in the coffee house circuit and majoring in music education at Colorado State Teachers College, Michael's love of the guitar brought him to Barcelona, Spain, where he studied classical guitar with famed master Graciano Tarrago. The experience and perhaps the sensuous European environments influenced Michael's overall approach to music, his emphasis more on passion and less on fashion and commercial success.



Success reared its pretty head, however, upon his return to the States. He spent time as a member of the folk-pop groups The New Society (that briefly brought him back overseas before dissolving), New Christy Minstrels and The Back Porch Majority before hitching-up with the Chad Mitchell Trio (led by John Denver). Next, he won a role in the very popular musical "Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris" and moved to Minnesota, recording a series of "Explore Minnesota" promotional commercials. Then, in '71, he signed with Atlantic Records where his Phil Ramone/Peter Yarrow-produced album "There Is A Breeze" was released in '73, though shortly after, Michael left the label over creative differences. His next two albums were self-produced and released on the local Sanskrit Records owned by his manager, Keith Christianson. They played an important role in Michael Johnson's musical development story; more jazzy than his previous records, they brought him to singer-songwriter Gene Cotton's attention.

Gene recorded Michael's "There Is A Breeze" and asked him to play on another track, resulting in an introduction to record producers Brent Meyer and Steve Gibson. Michael remembered, "I asked Brent if he and Steve would be interested in producing me on spec." Apparently, it cost all of his savings ($18,000); however, three important Michael Johnson recordings were cut: Bluer Than Blue, Almost Like Being In Love and Two In Love (all featured on this collection). These recordings led to a signing at EMI America, and in '78, "The Michael Johnson Album" was released, featuring Bluer Than Blue, a track that became a #12 pop hit and held on to the #1 position on the Adult Contemporary (AC) charts for three weeks. His cover of the musical Brigadoon's Almost Like Being In Love made it into the AC Top Ten as well as supplying the artist with another solid Top Forty pop hit. One of Michael Johnson's signature songs, Sailing Without A Sail, was also included, as well as Two In Love.



The next EMI America album was "Dialogue," a cleverly titled project that seemed to imply a discourse between the album's "couple." With Michael posed in a somewhat Paul Williams-esque front cover shot, the project featured This Night Won't Last Forever and The Very First Time, both significant AC hits. Also featured was the Eric Kaz/Tom Snow original I'll Always Love You that became a fan favorite and one of the great standout tracks of the LP. The next album, "Home Free," continued the tradition of well-crafted pop songs that could find a home on almost any format, evidenced in the Tom Snow/Cynthia Weil composition, You're Not Easy To Forget and Michael's original, Home Free. His swan song album for EMI was "Lifetime Guarantee," and its lead-off track was both sensitive and brilliant. There's A Love set up what should have been another hit album, but by this point, EMI America had other priorities, and Michael eventually moved on to RCA's Nashville division.

On RCA Nashville's president Joe Galante's watch, Johnson discovered a whole new audience and many country hits, mainly by the likes of great songwriters such as Randy Vanwarmer and genius Hugh Prestwood. Though those hits are best collected on a separate disc, it's important to note that Michael continued to record songs that touched him, regardless of genre. Even though his recorded history may span many styles, his taste was never in question, and his legacy is one of the more interesting catalogs on record. His subsequent albums live up to his earlier reputation, and as always, it'll be interesting to see what Michael next embraces as he continues to make music from the heart.

--Mickey West
November 2001






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