This song has broken some serious records, y’all. Too bad they’re for copyright infringement.
Well, what can I say? It was 1991, I was fourteen, and I seriously thought Michael Bolton had one of the greatest voices I’d ever heard.
I mean, mullet aside, the man has some chops. And at fourteen, my aural palate had not developed enough to be able to differentiate him from some of the great soul crooners in whose footsteps he followed. His rough, strained, bombastic voice was a ready foil for the other voices topping the charts at the time – the wispiness of Paula Abdul, the saccharine goodness of Amy Grant, the blue-eyed pop of Peter Cetera, the youthful virtuosity of the new star, Mariah Carey. He was simply made for the Billboard Charts in the early 90s, in that little window of opportunity between the dissipation of New Wave and the introduction of grunge.
I grew up on oldies music, but my tastes (and the radio station) ran more to Motown and the Beatles than it did to Al Green, Sam & Dave, and the Isley Brothers. Unfortunately for Mr. Bolton, while he grew up imitating the masters of soul, he didn’t listen closely enough to them either. “Love is a Wonderful Thing” climbed the charts in 1991, peaking at number four on the Billboard Hot 100. But in 1994, the Isley Brothers successfully sued Bolton for copyright infringement, claiming that his tune borrowed a leetle bit more than the title from their own non-hit, released back in 1966. Despite Bolton claiming he had never heard it (which is possible, given that the song didn’t crack the Top 100), the court ordered Bolton to pay the Isleys well over $5 million in royalties, making it at that time the single most expensive copyright case in pop music history. Oops.
Honestly, I just don’t know what to make of the guy now. He’s become the ready butt of so many jokes that it’s hard to step back and evaluate him objectively. I really don’t think the guy’s half bad, but as the years went on, his choices in repertory just couldn’t keep up with anything beyond MOR adult-oriented pop. I wonder what could have happened if he would have churned out more things like “I Said I Loved You But I Lied” and less “When A Man Loved a Woman.”