Album summaries by music journalist James Gaden.
The most recent effort from Michael was the most popular according to the Facebook poll, but while that may be due it being new and fresh for fans, it’s more likely down to the collection of excellent material. After previously trying his hand at writing some originals with well chosen collaborators, We Are More Than One sees Michael putting out an album of almost entirely new songs.
The optimism of ‘Be The One’ and ‘God Willing’ juxtapose wonderfully alongside the gut-wrenching ‘Never Let You Go’ and ‘Is That All Folks’, the latter being a heartfelt tribute to his friend Victoria Wood. There’s also reflective fare in the form of ‘Simple Complicated Man’ and sheer unadulterated fun via the disco-flavoured ‘Home With You’ and infectious ‘Let’s Just Dance’.
Michael shows off some excellent wordplay in ‘The Song We Will Remember’ and offers wise words with ‘Be Gentle’. There are just three cover versions here, spanning the Bee Gees penned classic ‘Heartbreaker’, a superb take on Beverley Craven’s ‘Promise Me’ and an inspired duet with one of the album’s co-writers, Amy Wadge, who joins Michael for a delightful rendition of the Bob Seger standout ‘We’ve Got Tonight’.
A Ball & Boe Christmas album can be viewed one of two ways, either a natural thing for a popular pairing to want to do, or a ploy to grab a slice of an already over-saturated market. Regardless which side of the fence you sit, there is no denying Michael and Alfie are having fun here. The obvious inclusions like ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’, ‘It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas’, ‘White Christmas’ and ‘The Christmas Song’ (which features Gregory Porter) are all delivered with style, but it’s the original ‘My Christmas Will Be Better Than Yours’ which provides the most levity. Whether you need a version of ‘O Holy Night’ and ‘Silent Night’ as a duet with Alfie is personal preference, considering these already appear on Michael’s Christmas CD. It’s a nice record but easily the least important of the Ball & Boe collaborations to date.
The third Ball & Boe effort saw the duo look even further afield for inspiration and the result is excellent. It’s really an album with something for everyone, with ‘Sunrise, Sunset’ from Fiddler On The Roof nestling alongside the Phantom Of The Opera track ‘Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again’. These tunes are juxtaposed with a particularly impressive medley of Queen hits and a couple of Frank Sinatra standards in the form of ‘My Way’ and ‘Come Fly With Me’. The Lion King is revisited with ‘The Circle Of Life’ which features guest vocalist Shaun Escoffrey and ‘The Greatest Show’ from The Greatest Showman is a real highlight. To add to the surprises, there’s an original track called ‘Army’ penned by Ben Earle, and a pleasing, if somewhat unexpected, cover of the Dire Straits hit 'Brothers In Arms'. Like it's predecessors, the album was a great success.
A close second on the Facebook poll, Coming Home To You was, as Michael himself described, his first real attempt as songwriting. Coming Home To You is a great record that offers real variety while never lacking cohesion.
On the covers side, Michael takes on songs made famous by heavyweight artists, like Elvis Presley’s ‘I Just Can’t Help Believin’’, Cliff Richard’s ‘Miss You Nights’, Carole King’s ‘Goin’ Back’, Lionel Richie’s ‘Sail On’, the legendary Bee Gee’s number ‘To Love Somebody’ and Dolly Parton’s ‘Love Is Like A Butterfly’.
What makes the originals so notable is that they sit comfortably alongside such tunes, with ‘Tenessee Dreams’ showing some real lyrical dexterity from Michael. ‘All Dance Together’ was built for the live stage, ‘Blood Red Moon’ is great fun and ‘Home To You’ is a top drawer opening track. Add in a beautiful version of ‘Bright Eyes’, a great take on Jim Croce’s ‘I Have To Say I Love You In A Song’ and a stunning rendition of Freya Riding’s haunting ‘Lost Without You’ and you won’t need a skip button.
Its popularity also demonstrates that the fans not only enjoyed the original material, but they actually feel that Michael’s most recent albums rank among his best.
If something is successful, then you make a sequel and that rule applied to the Ball & Boe collaboration. For their second album, the pair once again plundered the Musical Theatre genre, kicking things off with a West Side Story medley, and delivering an excellent rendition of ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’ from Sunset Boulevard. However the duo had a much wider scope for filling out the rest of the album. There’s a version of ‘New York, New York’, a cover of John Farnham’s hit ‘You’re The Voice, ‘He Lives In You’ from The Lion King, ‘Evermore’ from Beauty And The Beast and even a nod to Morecambe And Wise with ‘Bring Me Sunshine’. ‘Stranger In Paradise/And This Is My Beloved’ from Kismet, which Michael originally recorded on Past & Present, also appear here as a duet. The album went to number one and the pair toured stadiums to promote it.
After spending time working together on the show Kismet, Michael formed a bromance (or is that Boe-mance?) with fellow vocalist Alfie Boe. The duo would decide to record an album together and while many fans prefer hearing Michael singing alone and not sharing the vocals, it cannot be disputed that this pairing raised the profile of both artists. Predictably, the two stay very much in the Musical Theatre genre here, with songs like ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, ‘Anthem’, ‘Music Of The Night’ and a spectacular Les Misérables suite. They also include something a little more contemporary, covering ‘A Thousand Years’ from the Twilight Saga which is one of the album’s highlights. The record would hit number one and go platinum, leading to a nationwide tour and paving the way for future collaborations between the singers that would remain highly successful.
If you’re looking for a lovely way to spend just shy of an hour, you could do a lot worse than put on If Everyone Was Listening. It has more of the Country influence via Jace Everett’s ‘Bad Things’, Jake Owen’s ‘What We Ain’t Got’ and Lady Antebellum’s classic ‘Need You Now’.
There is a contemporary upbeat effort in Sugarland’s ‘Stuck Like Glue’ juxtaposed with 70s Rock such as the Supertramp penned title track and Bob Seger’s ‘Still The Same’. John Martyn’s ‘May You Never’ is another real standout cut, as is Alison Krauss’ ‘Simple Love’, while the superb arrangement on ‘Jessie’ sees Michael overlaying his own harmony vocals to great effect.
On paper, including a Miley Cyrus song shouldn’t work but ‘The Climb’ sounds right at home here. The mix of old and new material works wonderfully, all held together by Michael’s flawless singing.
A more laid back affair, Both Sides Now nevertheless boasts a wealth of wonderful songs, not to mentioned sonically sounding superb. Named after the Joni Mitchell song which opens the album, the track fits Michael like a glove. The material collected on here spans both old and new songs from a wide array of artists, such as Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Songbird’, Snow Patrol’s ‘Run’, Bob Dylan’s ‘Make You Feel My Love’ and Dolly Parton’s immortal ‘I Will Always Love You’.
Alongside the Les Misérables song ‘Suddenly’ there are some brave choices such as Rose Royce’s ‘Love Don’t Live Here Anymore’ and the decision to re-record ‘Love Changes Everything’, now featuring Il Divo. However both choices pay off, as does the inclusion of the uplifting ‘Fight The Fight’, a song taken from the, at the time, new musical From Here To Eternity.
As you’d expect from the title, Heroes is, as Michael explained in the sleeve notes, “the album I’ve wanted to make for some time – it salutes/honours some of my all-time musical heroes”. As a result there are so many fine choices to enjoy here, spanning favourites like the Tom Jones anthem ‘I’ll Never Fall In Love Again’, Elvis Presley’s ‘I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You’, Billy Joel’s ‘New York State Of Mind’, Frank Sinatra’s ‘Summer Wind’ and Neil Diamond’s ‘Play Me’.
These sit alongside marvellous renditions of Long John Baldry’s ‘Let The Heartaches Begin’ and Scott Walker’s ‘Joanna’. Arrangement wise, Michael doesn’t stray too obviously from what went before, but the production and work the musicians put in still make this sound very much like a Michael Ball album. Also, the closing duet of ‘Avenues And Alleyways’ with Tony Christie is absolutely superb.
In complete contrast to the set mentioned above, Past And Present was a proper compilation put out by Universal to celebrate 25 years in the business, and Michael even did a memorable tour to promote it. It is just one disc but it really does include some of the absolute cream of the crop, with ‘Love Changes Everything’, ‘This Is The Moment’ and ‘Empty Chairs, Empty Tables’, plus ‘One Step Out Of Time’ and the excellent version of ‘The Show Must Go On’ from Music.
What makes this extra special though is the additional material – the inclusion of ‘The Impossible Dream’, ‘Being Alive’ and ‘The Prayer’ are welcomed with open arms. There’s two Kismet tracks in the form of ‘Stranger In Paradise/This Is My Beloved’, plus a stunning orchestral recording of ‘Gethsemane’. That should be enough to seal the deal, but if not, Hairspray fans will lap up the version of ‘You Can’t Stop The Beat’ which includes the rest of the performers from the original run Michael starred in, making it the closest thing we have to a cast recording.
Also, if you visit iTunes, the version of Past And Present on there has an exclusive bonus track, which gives fans a rare chance to another Hairspray number that Michael normally never goes near, the anthemic ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’.
Consisting of songs from composer Burt Bacharach, Michael’s 14th album was probably his most polished. From the collection of material, to the album photos, to the CD being housed in a super jewel box instead of a standard jewel case, everything about it oozed class.
Naturally there’s plenty of great songs on offer, such as ‘The Look Of Love’, ‘Anyone Who Had A Heart’ and ‘What The World Needs Now’, all of which Michael sings beautifully. Despite appearing on ‘A Love Story’ Michael includes a new version of ‘This Guys In Love With You’ here.
While the album didn’t garner many votes in the Fan poll, the reason for that could be because it’s very much a “mood” album, a sort of late night, sat with a glass of wine affair, as there is really only ‘Reach Out For Me’ that adds any energy. But if you’ve had a hard day and need a soothing record to unwind to, then this is hard to beat.
When the song list was first revealed for One Voice it gave the impression that this could be one of Michael’s most daring records, featuring material from Hard Rock bands like Rainbow and Aerosmith, contemporary Pop via Daniel Bedingfield and songs from well established acts like REM and The Eagles.
However, Michael’s knack is understanding how to interpret a song and he does it brilliantly here. The layered vocals of Barry Manilow’s title track give goosebumps, and he sounds right at home singing a song as well known as ‘Lyin’ Eyes’. ‘I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing’ arguably suits Michael more than it did Aerosmith and his take an REM’s ‘Everybody Hurts’ has much more feeling than REM’s original. The Michael Bublé penned ‘Home’ is lovely, ‘If You’re Not The One’ features some rare falsetto and ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ retains the overdriven guitars, all to great effect.
Opening with a prelude of the inimitable John Miles track after which the album is named, and closing with a full length rendition, Music ranks as one of Michael’s most accomplished records. It’s brimming with excellent song selections, ranging from Queen’s anthemic ‘The Show Must Go On’ to the Simon and Garfunkel standard ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’. David Bowie’s ‘Life On Mars’ is a real powerhouse here and Michael nails the versions of The Eagle’s ‘Desperado’ and Sting’s ‘Fields Of Gold’.
Fans also made suggestions regarding what they’d like to hear, so while ‘You Raise Me Up’ fits Michael to a tee and is hardly left field, ‘Everlasting Love’ was a track Michael had never previously considered and it works an absolute treat. There’s even an original penned by Michael and Nick Battle called ‘And I Love You So’ which fits snugly amongst the covers.
A Love Story saw Michael try his hand at a concept record approach, choosing cover songs to tell the story of a love affair from start to finish. The idea is excellent and you can see how it maps out, starting with ‘You Had Me From Hello’, to ‘This Guy’s In Love With You’. Halfway through the album the mood alters with ‘You’ve Changed’, ‘What Makes You Stay’ and the powerhouse ‘God Give Me Strength’, ending with the vibe of ‘I Wish You Love’ and ‘I Wish I Were In Love Again’.
The finale ‘Me And My Shadow’ with Antonio Banderas is a great pick-me-up however. While a good record, Michael felt his voice hadn’t fully recovered from the previous tour when it came to recording and he performed a curtailed version of this “love affair” on the Live In London DVD, where you can make the case that the condensed, live version is superior to the album.
Centre Stage ticks a lot of boxes for those who enjoy the theatre as every selection here comes from a popular show. What Michael cleverly did though was weave in some songs from popular recordings artists that also have transitioned over into Musical form.
Therefore in amongst ‘Bring Him Home’ from Les Misérables, ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’ from Blood Brothers and ‘Not While I’m Around’ from Sweeney Todd, you will also find the Bee Gees penned Celine Dion hit ‘Immortality’ from Saturday Night Fever and ABBA’s ‘The Winner Takes It All’ from Mamma Mia. Of particular note is Michael’s awesome rendition of ‘The Boy From Nowhere’ which is best known as a Tom Jones hit, despite being from the show Matador. Few things will top the amazing duet of ‘The Phantom Of the Opera’ with Lesley Garrett though, which is absolutely phenomenal.
It’s fascinating to note that despite the fact the majority of fans discovered Michael via his array of Musical Theatre roles, when it comes to his albums, the ones that frequently get mentioned are the ones comprised of music almost entirely from outside the theatre world. One of his most enduring releases is This Time It’s Personal, where Michael selected songs that meant a lot to him.
This was really the first album where Michael was able to properly display his fondness for Country songs, where he tackles Garth Brook’s ‘If Tomorrow Never Comes’ and Shania Twain’s ‘Still The One’ with spectacular results. The more heartfelt numbers arrive in the form of ‘The Greatest Man I Never Knew’ and especially ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ which is stunning.
There’s upbeat fare with the likes of ‘Walking In Memphis’ and a great version of the Texas hit ‘I Don’t Want A Lover’. On top of that, we saw the first real glimpse of what was to come, with ‘Just When’ and ‘Never Coming Back’, a pair of songs Michael wrote with his friend Brian Kennedy. While he may play down his earlier songwriting efforts, these two tracks have aged very well and remain popular with the fans.
Christmas albums are difficult to pull off, it’s a crowded market with a limited amount of songs to choose from. To Michael’s credit, he made some excellent selections to set this album apart from being “another Christmas album”.
While it includes obvious cuts like ‘O Holy Night’, ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ and ‘Silent Night’, choosing Chris Rea’s ‘Driving Home For Christmas’ and David Essex’s ‘A Winters Tale’ adds a nice change of pace and Michael sings them better than both of the original artists. ‘As Long As There’s Christmas’ is a fine duet with Elaine Paige and Michael’s vocal on ‘Ave Maria’ is spine-tingling. There’s even an original thrown in, penned by Michael and Brian Kennedy, called ‘Light A Candle’.
The downside to this lovely album is you can only really play it for a few weeks a year otherwise it just seems a bit weird!
Any fan knows Michael is at his best when he’s live, and this is to date his first and only live album (however there are a plethora of live DVDs that have been released). Touring in support of The Movies, here you get songs such as ‘Hot Stuff’, ‘Love On The Rocks’ and the fun ‘Blues Brothers Medley’, but there is also plenty from the world of Musical Theatre too.
‘Oh! What A Circus’ is superb and naturally the version of ‘Empty Chairs, Empty Tables’ brings the house down, but both are eclipsed by the astonishing delivery of ‘Gethsemane’ from Jesus Christ Superstar. Michael even performs the theme from the hit show Friends. However it’s the inclusion of the self penned ‘Someone Elses Dream’, unavailable on any studio album, and the Musical numbers like the show-stopping ‘Love Changes Everything’, that are the real draw here.
Initially one of Michael’s biggest selling albums, The Movies, as you might expect, takes well known songs from feature films. Some choices make perfect sense, like ‘Love On The Rocks’ or a strong take on Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’ from Titanic. Others were less obvious, like taking on ‘People Are Strange’, originally by The Doors and later done by Echo & The Bunnymen for The Lost Boys, but Michael nails it.
Using The Full Monty as an excuse to include Donna Summer’s ‘Hot Stuff’ was a great idea as it became a concert favourite. The Blues Brothers medley is fun but not even Michael can come close to Aretha Franklin’s original delivery on ‘Think’, and while covering ‘We Have All The Time In The World’ from the world of 007 suited Michael, it isn’t a patch on the awesome Bond theme medley he did with Alfie Boe on tour years later.
In a rare example where Michael has released an album of nothing but songs from the theatre, The Musicals offers plenty for those who like Michael best in that setting. There’s several tracks from Andrew Lloyd Webber shows here, such as ‘All I Ask Of You’, ‘Memory’ and ‘With One Look’, as well as ‘Something’s Coming’, ‘Loving You’ and ‘Losing My Mind’ from the pen of Stephen Sondheim.
Surrounding these efforts are inclusions like ‘Easy Terms’ from Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers, ‘The Last Night Of The World’ from Miss Saigon, ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ from Funny Girl and ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ from Les Misérables. Rodgers And Hammerstein’s ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is excellent, but while the inclusion of ‘Love Changes Everything’ is understandable, it was available elsewhere, unlike the masterful delivery of ‘Anthem’ from Chess.
Any album that opens with Michael’s take on ‘The Rose’ should make you take notice, and First Love does just that. Despite being made in the mid-nineties, time has stood still for this album, with tracks like ‘Let The River Run’ and the rousing version of ‘(Something Inside) So Strong’ sounding as good now as when they were first sent to the mastering plant.
The strings and Michael’s vocal on Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ make this arguably the definitive version and fans of Musical Theatre will no doubt adore Michael’s rendition of ‘Somewhere’ from West Side Story. There is also a tip of the hat to the great Matt Munro with the inclusion of ‘Walk Away’, and the inclusion of ‘How Can I Be Sure’ by The Young Rascals is inspired. Frankie Laine’s ‘I’m Gonna Be Strong’ is yet another superb selection from days gone by that gets a new lease of life here.
It’s shocking to think Michael’s third album is over a quarter of a century old, but that hasn’t stopped it continuing to rank highly in fans thoughts. The formula for the album is a simple one – have writers bring in a selection of well crafted Pop-Rock songs and ballads, and have Michael’s world class vocals deliver them.
It works like a charm, whether it’s the pleasing opener ‘Wherever You Are’ and the excellent ‘From Here To Eternity’ to the emotion filled ‘The Lovers We Were’, there’s nothing here to dislike. ‘My Arms Are Strong’ is a particular highlight, but that doesn’t mean the likes of ‘Leave A Light On’, the catchy ‘Where We Began’ or the wonderful ‘Give Me Love’ should be glossed over. There are three covers as well, albeit not particularly well known ones.
The excellent ‘In This Life’ was originally recorded by Country artist Collin Raye, ‘I Wouldn’t Know’ by Andy Childs and ‘Take My Breath Away’ by Claire Hamill – although Michael makes a firm case for making these songs his own. It’s worth noting that none of Michael’s first three albums are on streaming or digital platforms, but you can still pick up a CD of One Careful Owner cheaply – and I heartily recommend you do.
Michael’s sophomore effort was Always, an album built around a collection of much more familiar songs. There are classics tunes everywhere you turn, from ‘Cry Me A River’ to ‘A House Is Not A Home’ and ‘Stormy Weather’.
Michael does a great job on ‘Someone To Watch Over Me’ and he is clearly having fun with ‘On Broadway’, but while his vocal on ‘Always On My Mind’ and ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’ is flawless, here the production lets the side down, with the then trendy thin guitar tones, artificial drums and synthesized keyboards coming across as very dated compared to the superb instrumentation on later records. Again not available on streaming or digital, you can buy the CD (there are two versions, identical in content but with different covers).
However, the best stuff from this album can also be found on compilations.
Fondly remembered as the No 1 album that really started it all for Michael moving out of theatre into being a recording artist, there’s much to enjoy here. Not only does it boast ‘Love Changes Everything’ and ‘One Step Out Of Time’, there are some really good tracks here like the impassioned ‘It’s Still You’, the breezy ‘Holland Park’ and ‘No One Cries Anymore’ which is another excellent example of how well Michael can deliver a ballad.
Another album you can’t find available to stream or download, you can still find the CD but do note that the studio version of ‘One Step Out Of Time’ can’t live with the more Rock orientated version Michael does live. Also, the other Eurovision contenders ‘As Dreams Go By’ and ‘Who Needs To Know’ are typically lightweight and very much of their time, and the album’s production is a far cry from the more lavish sound on later records.
Be careful of this release, because if you bought the 2003 collection I Dreamed A Dream, this is simply a reissue of that, with the exact same selection of songs in the exact same order. The only thing that has changed is the title and the cover artwork. Therefore the only reason to purchase this is if you wanted a copy of I Dreamed A Dream and couldn’t find one.
One of the most popular compilations among fans, Encore is another 3CD set which offers a mind-blowing 60 songs. It gives the best overview of Michael’s career up until that point, covering nearly all the bases that the previous compilations attempted, but adding in material from albums like Music, Back To Bacharach and One Voice.
Having songs like ‘Alfie’, ‘I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing’, ‘Life On Mars’ and ‘I Don’t Wanna Talk About It’ in the company of well worn favourites gives this compilation the edge over pretty much all the others and is an ideal starting point if you don’t own anything of Michael’s – or can’t choose which album to listen to.
Not to be confused with Love Changes Everything: The Essential which was issued by Universal Music, this is a budget compilation from the now defunct Woolworths Worthit range. As you might guess, the idea was a low priced collection of songs and that’s exactly what this is.
Pretty much everything here is featured on other compilations and while the 17 tracks make pleasant listening, the selections, the dreadful cover art and lame inlay booklet all just scream cheap and cheerful and destined for the charity shop.
A front-runner for the most pointless compilation of all, The Silver Collection offers a paltry ten songs, meaning the majority of albums Michael has released contain more material. Yes, it has some classics like ‘Love Changes Everything’ and ‘Music Of The Night’, but if you asked a Michael fan to name their top ten songs he’d released, I doubt many are voting for ‘Light A Candle’, ‘Call On Me’ or ‘It’s Still You’ over some of his other recordings. Undeterred, the compilers ensured all three of those appear here – and without any kind of rarity or bonus tracks, there’s no reason at all to own this.
A 2CD collection issued by Music Club Deluxe, Seasons Of Love is a nice collection of songs, but it’s only real draw is it packs 32 songs onto two discs for a decent price. Track repetition is rife with this set, with a large portion of the songs here also being on the 3CD Stage And Screen set mentioned above. Therefore if you already have that, you’re not gaining much from adding this too.
Buyer beware! There are two separate compilations entitled Stage And Screen and one is much more impressive than the other. The first one was issued in 2001 with a black and white portrait shot of Michael, via the label Music Club. This is a reasonable 18 track collection of songs, staying very much with selections from theatre shows or The Movies. It’s nice enough but offers nothing special. To confuse matters, it was also released on the Crimson label, this time with the cover image flipped the opposite way and now in colour (as shown), but it’s the exact same thing in terms of song content.
The 2005 version, with the picture of Michael clasping his hands, was released by Readers Digest four years later and dwarfs it’s namesake, this one being a 3CD set with a much more impressive 49 tracks. Everything on the 18 track version is featured here, as well as a plethora of popular songs from Musical Theatre (including ‘This Is The Moment’) and a smattering of Pop tunes like ‘Hot Stuff’, ‘On Broadway’ and ‘The Blues Brothers Medley’. As a result, it makes the previous Stage And Screen releases completely irrelevant.
This is the 2005 version of the Stage and Screen album, with the picture of Michael clasping his hands, was released by Readers Digest four years later and dwarfs it’s namesake, this one being a 3CD set with a much more impressive 49 tracks. Everything on the 18 track version is featured here, as well as a plethora of popular songs from Musical Theatre (including ‘This Is The Moment’) and a smattering of Pop tunes like ‘Hot Stuff’, ‘On Broadway’ and ‘The Blues Brothers Medley’. As a result, it makes the previous Stage And Screen releases completely irrelevant.
A popular 2CD compilation, it pretty much lives up to it’s billing as being The Essential, containing all the obvious things a Michael Ball fan would want. The powerful Musical numbers like ‘Love Changes Everything’ and ‘Empty Chairs, Empty Tables’ are here, along with ‘The Phantom Of The Opera’, ‘Music Of The Night’, ‘Send In The Clowns’ and ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’. These nestle alongside some of his best Pop covers like ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ and ‘Everybody’s Talking’. A selection of live songs from Live At The Royal Albert Hall are also here (although the omission of ‘Gethsemane’ is criminal), plus ‘One Step Out Of Time’ and ‘Always On My Mind’ from the first two albums.
Also, as mentioned previously, ‘You’ll Never Know (Just How Much I Love You)’ is here which was previously only featured on 1997’s The Collection. What makes this set have real value is the addition of exclusive material. The much requested recording of ‘This Is The Moment’ from Jekyll & Hyde first appeared here, plus a previously unreleased version of Van Morrison’s ‘When You Tell Me That You Love Me’. There’s a brand new original called ‘What Love Is For’ as well as a This Time It’s Personal out-take, the upbeat ‘Why Haven’t I Heard From You’. Even though Michael performed it live on the This Time It’s Personal – One Special Night Live DVD, you won’t find the studio version of it anywhere else.
Issued by budget label Crimson in 2003, A Song For You is a great starting point for exploring the career of Michael, as it contains a whopping 54 tracks spanning three discs. While there isn’t anything difficult to obtain here, what the set does do is condense six albums worth of material down into three CDs. All but one track of Always is on here, 10 of the 14 tracks from Centre Stage are represented, 8 songs from This Time It’s Personal, 12 of the 14 songs from The Movies and two thirds of The Musicals album are all included. That makes this low priced set pretty much irresistible if you want a compact collection for the car or are pushed for space generally.
If you were looking for a condensed collection of material that sums up who Michael Ball is and where he came from, then I Dreamed A Dream would really do the trick. It’s dirt cheap and packed with 18 musical numbers for theatre fans to enjoy. While there’s no rarities or B-sides here, what it does comprise of is a good selection of superb showtunes spanning many favourites such as ‘Anthem’, ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’ and of course ‘Love Changes Everything’.
This CD is a bit more interesting if you want representation of Michael’s earlier work. It has the harder to find ‘No More Steps To Climb’, ‘We Break Our Own Hearts’, ‘Everyday Everynight’ and ‘Call On Me’ that were on the 1994 Best Of, and bolsters the selection by including Musical numbers such as ‘Loving You’, ‘With One Look’ and ‘All I Ask Of You’. Three songs from The Movies are also included, which are ‘The Way We Were’, ‘Because You Loved Me’ and ‘Have I Told You Lately’. ‘Light A Candle’, the one original song from the Christmas album appears, along with the live version of ‘Someone Else’s Dream’ from Live At The Royal Albert Hall rounding things out. A nice compilation that includes some rarities in favour of obvious choices.
This release is virtually identical to Stages issued a few years prior, even down to the running order. The only noticeable differences are the addition of ‘All By Myself’ from the First Love album and the inclusion of ‘Fever’, which was previously only available as a B-side to the ‘Something Inside So Strong’ single. That makes this better than Stages, because it gives you access to ‘Fever’ and the less accessible ‘She’s Not There’, which was Stages main source of appeal, all in one place. Despite that, neither one are essential if you have the One Careful Owner and First Love albums. It was reissued in 2009 with a new cover, but the exact same songs.
Another compilation which offers little if you own Michael’s first two records, which is where almost everything on this collection comes from, it’s handy if you can’t obtain them but otherwise not of any real worth. Aside from ‘The First Man You Remember’ which is a duet with Diana Morrison from Aspects Of Love that was released as a single, the only novelty here is ‘You’ll Never Know (Just How Much I Love You)’, which would also turn up on Love Changes Everything: The Essential, a far superior compilation.
A curious collection, the title and cover art of Stages suggests it would probably focus on Michael’s theatre work. Instead, it does no such thing, taking half of One Careful Owner and half of First Love and presenting it as a compilation. The only thing in it’s favour is the presence of a non-album B-side, ‘She’s Not There’ which backed the single of ‘The Lovers We Were’. If you have the single, then you likely have the other track’s parent albums too, making this compilation mostly redundant.
It might seem rather odd to issue a Best Of compilation when there had only been two albums issued at that point, but while it probably was motivated as a cash in on the back of Michael’s first album hitting number one and Always hitting number three, this compilation is not totally without merit. First of all, the ‘One Step Out Of Time’ single came packaged with two non-album B-sides which were ‘No More Steps To Climb’ and ‘We Break Our Own Hearts’, both of which are included here. On top of that, ‘Everyday Everynight’, ‘Call On Me’ and ‘Maria’ were all unreleased prior to this compilation, and to sweeten the deal even more there are renditions of ‘Empty Chairs, Empty Tables’ and ‘Sunset Boulevard’ for good measure. Not essential by any means, but handy for those unreleased tracks and a good overview of his earliest recorded work.