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The self-titled Michael Bolton was released in April 1983 and made the Top 100 best-sellers, as did its lead single, "Fools Game." At the same time, "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You," a ballad Bolton had co-written with Doug James, became a Top 40 hit for Laura Branigan. Nevertheless, Bolton's second album for the Columbia label, 1985's Everybody's Crazy, was a commercial flop. He finally broke into the mainstream with his third release, The Hunger, which appeared in September 1987. On this album, Bolton abandoned the hard rock sound of his previous records and concentrated on blue-eyed soul singing, both on his own songs ("That's What Love Is All About") and on covers like Otis Redding's "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay." Those two singles became his first Top 40 hits.
Soul Provider, released in July 1989, turned Bolton into a certified superstar. Featuring songs co-written with hitmakers like Dianne Warren and Desmond Child, it reached the Top Ten, sold four million copies, and spawned five Top 40 singles, including Bolton's number one version of "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You," as well as the Top Ten hits "How Can We Be Lovers" and "When I'm Back on My Feet Again." "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You" also won Bolton a Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. Time, Love & Tenderness, released in April 1991, was even more successful, hitting number one, selling six million copies, and featuring four Top 40 hits, including a chart-topping cover of Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman" and the Top Ten hits "Love Is a Wonderful Thing" (later the subject of a successful plagiarism suit brought against Bolton by the Isley Brothers) and "Time, Love and Tenderness." The album sold over eight million copies in America alone. Worldwide, it sold twice as much.
Bolton won another Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, this time for "When a Man Loves a Woman," but he had to put up with abuse from two camps of detractors at the February 1992 ceremony. Just after Bolton had finished performing, pre-rock songwriter Irving Gordon won the Song of the Year award for "Unforgettable" and pointedly attacked songs that "scream, yell, and have a nervous breakdown" and singers who "have a hernia" when they sing. Then, backstage, Bolton faced a hostile press corps of critics unhappy with his tendency to mimic great soul singers like Redding, Ray Charles, and Sledge. Bolton suggested they apply their lips to a certain part of his anatomy. He further responded with Timeless: The Classics in September 1992, an album made up entirely of classic cover songs. It went to number one, sold three million copies, and featured a Top 40 hit in Bolton's version of the Bee Gees' "To Love Somebody." Bolton's next album of original material, The One Thing, came in November 1993. It hit the Top Ten, sold three million copies, and featured the Top Ten hit "Said I Loved You...But I Lied." Bolton celebrated his decade-long string of hits with a best-of compilation, Greatest Hits 1985-1995, which debuted in the Top Ten. This Is the Time: Christmas Album appeared one year later.
After topping the adult contemporary charts with "Go the Distance," a song he produced and recorded for the Disney film Hercules, Bolton returned in late 1997 with All That Matters, his first album of new material since 1993's The One Thing. Instead of continuing his success, however, it was a surprise flop, failing to generate a hit single and barely cracking the Top 40. It fell out of the charts altogether after 15 weeks. Even so, its lack of success didn't stop Bolton from turning his attention to My Secret Passion, a collection of opera and arias that he released in January 1998. By classical standards, the album was a hit, and the record received a great deal of press and surprisingly good reviews. He supported the two albums with a summer tour co-headlined by Wynonna Judd. Bolton then voluntarily stepped back for almost four years, disappearing from the public eye until the spring of 2002 when he began promoting Only a Woman Like You, his first album for Jive Records.
After a brief sabbatical, he returned with Til the End of Forever, a hybrid album of seven new recordings and a live greatest-hits concert. In 2006, he released Bolton Swings Sinatra, a 12-song tribute to Ol' Blue Eyes that included a duet with fiancée/actress Nicollette Sheridan. One World One Love, an album featuring collaborations with Ne-Yo and Lady Gaga, arrived three years later in the U.K., followed by an American release in 2010. Bolton took part in the 11th season of Dancing with the Stars later that year, having already endeared himself to reality TV fans with 2007's Clash of the Choirs. He also collaborated with comedy troupe the Lonely Island by singing on the hip-hop parody "Jack Sparrow," which debuted as a digital short on Saturday Night Live before appearing on the Lonely Island's second album, Turtleneck & Chain. Keeping the collaborative spirit alive, he released 2011's Gems: The Duets Collection, an album featuring duets with vocalists (Seal, Delta Goodrem), country groups (Rascal Flatts), and instrumentalists (guitarist Orianthi). Two years later, Bolton saluted the legendary Motown Records with the full-length album Ain't No Mountain High Enough: A Tribute to Hitsville USA. The album debuted at 38 upon its February 2013 release and, a little over a year later, it appeared in a revised form featuring a duet with Leona Lewis on the title track. ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi