The battle for George Michael has begun.
Even though the English pop thoroughbred can't break free of his Sony Records contract for another nine months at the earliest, record labels are already courting him.
"Every major label executive has called me saying, 'Just want you to know we're interested and would offer a ton of money,' but there has been no discussion at all about a deal because we're not free," says Michael's manager Rob Kahane.
Many industry observers are placing their bets on Warner Bros. Records because the company will release a George Michael-produced album this fall.
Titled "Trojan Souls," the collection features versions of new Michael songs sung by such artists as Elton John, Aretha Franklin, Bryan Ferry and Seal.
But Kahane warns that the album is no guarantee that Michael is destined to end up with the Burbank-based company.
"People are absolutely jumping to the wrong conclusion if they think the 'Trojan Souls' album is something that will induce him into signing a major deal with Warners," Kahane says.
That statement won't stop the speculation, especially in view of the strong promotional push that the label is mounting for another Kahane client, pop-soul singer Louie Louie. An impressive showing by his upcoming album, "Let's Get Started," certainly wouldn't hurt the company's chances of eventually landing Michael.
Warner execs, meanwhile, are tight-lipped about the whole affair.
No one can sign the pop star, at any rate, until Michael's lawsuit against his current label, Sony, is resolved in London. In the case, which has an October court date, Michael is trying to void his Sony contract, claiming it unfairly gives the company too much control over his recorded output.
The contention is similar to that used by the English rock group the Stone Roses, which was freed from its Silvertone Records contract in 1991 after a British court voided the pact, claiming it constituted an unjustifiable restraint of trade for the band. A ruling in the Michael case is expected by Christmas.
While any album of original material recorded by Michael is on hold pending resolution of the suit, Sony was unable to prevent him from proceeding on the "Trojan Souls" album and a live mini-album due in April.
The latter package--which will be released by Hollywood Records in the U.S. and EMI in the rest of the world--is designed to raise funds for Phoenix Trust for AIDS awareness in honor of the late Freddie Mercury. The collection includes Michael's vocals on two Queen songs, "These Are the Days of Our Lives" and "Somebody to Love." Both tracks were recorded at last April's Mercury tribute concert in London's Wembley Stadium.
Hollywood Records has the rights to the mini-album because it owns the Queen song catalogue in the U.S., while EMI owns it in the rest of the world. A single--a medley of the Temptations' "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" and "Killer," a song originally done by techno performer Adamski--will be released from the collection on March 15.
Also in the works: a television special and home video based on a "Trojan Souls" concert in London plus a "Making of 'Trojan Souls' " video documentary.