Older is the third solo studio album by George Michael, released in Europe on 13 May 1996 through Virgin Records and Aegean and one day later in the United States. The American release was the very first album released by DreamWorks Records. It was his first album since 1990's Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 – the five-and-a-half-year gap was due to the legal battle that Michael experienced with his record company. Michael dedicated three years to the recording of Older, and the album found him exploring new musical territories in a more serious fashion compared to his previous work.
At the time of release, the album was a huge commercial hit, particularly in Europe, but was received in America with a lukewarm critical approval. In the UK, the album was particularly notable for producing six top three hit singles in a two-year span, creating a record still unsurpassed. The high sales of the album presaged a re-issue of the album under the name of Older & Upper 18 months after its original release.
Following the release of Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, Michael accused his record company, Epic Records, of failing to promote the album as well as lacklustre support for his charity recordings (particularly contributions to the Red Hot AIDS Benefit Series) and requested to be released from his contract. A bitter legal battle ensued through the courts, ultimately resulting in a loss to Michael. During the court battle, Michael stated that he would refuse to release any new material through Epic under his name should he lose the lawsuit. Whilst essentially holding true to his word, Michael was not completely absent from the recording world during the six years between Listen Without Prejudice and Older.
Older found Michael experimenting with new musical styles and expanding his artistic horizons. Particularly notable was the jazz flavour of the album's sound. The album marked a departure from the synthesised production of his previous projects, delivering a more organic sound with the inclusion of brass and strings. Michael was particularly inspired by the music of Brazilian composer Antônio Carlos Jobim, who died in 1994, and to whom the album was dedicated. Another big influence was the album's producer, Johnny Douglas, who has mixed several George Michael songs as B-sides. They first met when Douglas produced Lisa Moorish's version of "I'm Your Man" in 1995, to which Michael added backing vocals. They both began to work together soon after, and they co-wrote "Spinning the Wheel" together and also co-wrote and produced "Fastlove". Douglas also played keyboards on those tracks.
Overall, the style of the album was melancholy, dark and sad. George Michael complemented this departure making a dramatic change of his clothes, hair style and overall appearance. The long blonde hair, beard and jeans that Michael was known for during the late eighties were replaced with a buzz cut black hair and mostly leather clothes. Michael commented, on The Oprah Winfrey Show about that new appearance:
"The way my image changed in Europe was that I looked very different, I had very short hair—I had really a kind of gay look in a way. I think I was trying to tell people I was okay with it [being gay], I just really didn't want to share it with journalists. The album I made in the middle nineties called Older was a tribute to Anselmo, really; there was a dedication to him on the album and fairly obvious male references. To my fans and the people that were really listening, I felt like I was trying to come out with them."
Michael grew back a longer hair style during 1998, as was first shown on the video he recorded for "Outside", premiered near the end of that year.
Older was a huge commercial success, especially in the European markets. In the UK the album was largely anticipated, and debuted at number one with an impressive 281,000 copies, becoming one of the biggest debuts ever in British history (it currently ranks as the 23rd fastest-selling album in the UK). It is also Virgin's fastest-selling album of all time. It became Michael's biggest-selling album in his homeland, achieving over 1.8 million copies sold, and receiving a 6× Platinum certification by the BPI on 5 December 1997. In the UK, it spent a total of 147 weeks inside the top 200, 99 of them on the top 75, and 35 of them on the top 10 (including 23 consecutive weeks). The steady sales of the album were the result of good promotion market and the release of six hit singles throughout a two-year period. All of these singles (except for the one for the title track) were released and promoted as EP's, in two available formats, most of them containing previously unreleased material (including live tracks, alternate versions and, in the case for the Spinning the Wheel EP, two new studio recordings of brand-new George Michael compositions). Most of these singles were promoted with live performances at Top of the Pops and also music videos were recorded for the four first singles. All of this helped to push the album sales from one week to another, with the album usually returning to the top 10 in the British charts. For example, when "Star People '97" was released in mid-1997, Older achieved a 21–14–10–7 progression on the charts. Very much the same happened when "You Have Been Loved/The Strangest Thing '97" was issued as the sixth single (fourteen months after the original release of the album), and Older showed a 24–14–7 move on the UK charts. In all, Older currently sits as the 97th best-selling album of all time in the United Kingdom.
In the United States, the album was received with lukewarm success. There (and in Canada), the album release was particularly notable as it was the first album released by the now-defunct DreamWorks Records. Despite leading singles "Jesus to a Child" and "Fastlove" reaching the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, debut sales for the album were disappointing. In the United States the album debuted and peaked at number six on the Billbaord 200 the week of 1 June 1996 with 99,000 units sold, the next week it dropped to number nine and remained on the chart for twenty four weeks, it was certified platinum by the RIAA on 21 August 1996 for shipments of one million units. As of October 2006 it has sold 881,000 copies in the US according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Older was particularly notable for the release of its six singles. All of them reached the UK top 3, hitting a record for the most singles in the British top 3 released from a single album. At the time of release of the fifth of them, "Star People '97", chart specialist James Masterson noted George Michael's success on the UK Singles Chart, writing: "Ironically enough denied by the very man who some say he is trying to emulate (Gary Barlow), George Michael nonetheless makes an impressive top 3 entry with this single. The Older album has now proved itself to be far and away his most commercially successful recording ever. Five singles now lifted and every single one has been a top 3 hit. Compare this with the two top 3 hits produced by Faith and Listen Without Prejudice's scant total of one top tenner and one single which missed the top 40 altogether. This sustained single success has, of course, been achieved with a little help from marketing tricks such as remixes – or in this case a new recording of the album track which gives it a much-needed transformation into a deserved commercial smash."
"Jesus to a Child". The song debuted at the MTV European Music Awards already in 1994, and was used to raise 50,000 pounds for the charity "Help a London Child" with George matching every listener's pledge on a pound for pound basis. It was first performed on Top of the Pops just four days before the release date of the single in the UK. After its official release, the song debuted at number one in the UK in January 1996 replacing Michael Jackson's "Earth Song" after six weeks at the top. "Jesus to a Child" was Michael's first number one single in the UK as a solo artist since "A Different Corner" reached the summit back in 1986. The single was certified Silver in the UK by the BPI, recognising over 200,000 copies sold. In the U.S. the song was a hit, reaching number 7 in the Billboard Hot 100. (The RIAA awarded the single with Gold status just as the follow-up, "Fastlove", was released.) Two formats of the single were released, both including an instrumental version of the track "Older" (the sung version wasn't revealed until the release of the album five months later). Also the music video for the song found Michael lip-synching lyrics in front of a camera for the first time since the video for "Kissing a Fool" from 1988.
"Fastlove". It was released in the UK on 22 April 1996 and debuted straight at number one, where it stayed for three weeks. It was certified Gold for over 400,000 copies sold. This was the first time that a George Michael included two singles released before the album itself. The song includes a riff from the 1982 hit "Forget Me Nots" by Patrice Rushen (in this case sung by Jo Bryant). The track earned Michael the Ivor Norvello Award for most performed work in 1996. The single was also released in two formats in the United Kingdom, and both included a revised dance version of "I'm Your Man" (entitled "I'm Your Man 96"), that was produced by George and Jon Douglas. The single also premiered a "Fastlove Part II", linking the original song and the new version of "I'm Your Man" into one mix. The video for the song was also one of Michael's most memorable, and won the MTV Europe International Viewers Choice Award at the MTV Music Video Awards in September 1996. Michael also performed the track on Top of the Tops, on 18 April 1996. The song reached number 8 in America, where it was certified Gold by the RIAA, and became his last single to appear on the Billboard charts to date.
"Spinning the Wheel". It was released in the UK on 19 August 1996. It debuted at number 2; the single was kept off the top spot by Spice Girls' "Wannabe". It reached also Silver status. Also released in two formats, it was particularly notable for including (and being promoted for) two brand-new studio recordings of previously unknown George Michael songs (namely "Safe" and "You Know That I Want To"), that were exclusive to the first CD. "Spinning the Wheel" was first performed on Top of the Pops on 16 August 1996.
"Older" / "I Can't Make You Love Me". It was released in the UK on 20 January 1997. Due to its only-one-format release, it was the poorest-seller of all the Older singles, and also the one with the lowest chart position (number 3) (this poor commercial performance was despite being released after the post-Christmas session and the inclusion of new material). It stayed in the top 10 for one week, and slipped out the UK top 40 just three weeks later. The single was promoted as a double A-side with a previously unreleased recording of "I Can't Make You Love Me", and was counted that was in the UK Singles Chart. The song received airplay and was also available as a promo CD issued to British radios and clubs. The track was recorded live at Michael's MTV Unplugged performance at Three Mills Island Studios in London, on 11 October 1996 (the applause was edited out of the track, apparenting to be a studio recording). The single also included a live version of "The Strangest Thing", recorded live at the BBCRadio Theatre on 8 October 1996. The song, "Older", was performed on Top of the Pops on 31 January 1997.
"Star People '97". It was released in the UK on 28 April 1997. It reached number 2 there, kept off the top spot by Gary Barlow's "Love Won't Wait". "Star People '97" was a re-recording and remixed version of the album version of "Star People". The vocals were recorded soon after George Michael lost his mother. The new recording incorporates extensive sampling from "Burn Rubber on Me" by The Gap Band. The single was released in two formats, including MTV Unplugged performances of Wham's "Everything She Wants" and "Star People". The single is noted for being the last official George Michael single to be released in the US, but it did not reach the charts there. "Star People '97" was performed on Top of the Pops on 9 May 1997.
"You Have Been Loved" / "The Strangest Thing '97". It was released in the UK on 8 September 1997. The final single issued from Older, it reached number 2 in the UK, where it was kept off the summit by Elton John's blockbuster charity single "Candle in the Wind '97". It was also released as a double-A sided single, with a remixed version of "The Strangest Thing". The song, "You Have Been Loved" was a tribute to Anselmo Feleppa, Michael's lover who died from AIDS in 1993. The song was first performed on Top of the Pops on 5 September 1997. Michael dedicated Older to both Feleppa "who changed the way I look at my life" and Jobim "who changed the way I listened to music."
Awards and live shows
In 1996, George was voted 'Best British Male', at the MTV Europe Awards and the BRITs; and at The Ivor Novello Awards, he was awarded the prestigious title of 'Songwriter of The Year' for the third time.
At the beginning of October 1996, George performed his first live shows for five years with a gig for Radio 1 FM followed by an Unplugged Session for MTV. The Radio 1FM audience consisted of just 200 people and the MTV Unplugged session slightly larger at 500. Both audiences included competition winners, some of whom had flown to London from all over the world, as well as various specially invited guests.
The album was re-released on 1 December 1997 in a box package including two discs: The original album and an extra CD entitled Upper in a cardboard sleeve with the same cover as the box (which was a close-up of Michael's green eye from the original Older album). The set was issued as Older & Upper, with both compact discs printed in gold (instead of the original black from Older.) Upper includes six tracks previously released on the different singles from the album. The most notable of them is "Fastlove (Part II)", which is in fact a rare version of the track. It is not the same as the "Fully Extended Mix" on the "Fastlove" single (which runs at 9 minutes 27 seconds) nor the edit version (4 minutes 39 seconds) of the song on the first "Fastlove" promo. It can only be found on the second "Fastlove" promo single which is credited as the "Fully Extended Mix – edit". The Upper CD also includes interactive elements. When released, Older & Upper was not listed in the UK charts as a different album than the original Older, and helped the album to jump from number 65 to number 36 during the competitive Christmas season.
^Jones, Alan (11 January 2017). "George Michael on the charts". Music Week. Retrieved 3 January 2018. Released over a period of 16 months, they helped Older to spend longer in the Top 10 (35 weeks) than any of his other albums, while also racking up sales in excess of 1.8m copies, to become his best-selling studio release in the UK.