Sure, the name “Lionel Richie” is practically synonymous with the word “corny”.
Corny as the man may be, no one sustains a forty-plus year career as an artist without significant talent and substance. The Alabama product has shown those qualities in spades since he emerged as the saxophonist/pianist/part-time lead singer of The Commodores in the early Seventies. Despite many peaks and valleys, Lionel’s never really gone away (barring a period in the late ’80s in which he went into exile following a series of domestic/family issues.)
The sound of the Commodores moved from hard funk (with a serious country flavor-check out the Southern-fried sermonizing Lionel does on “Just To Be Close To You”) to piano-based balladry occasionally cut with smoother pop/soul. Those changes increased the band’s viability, and they scored #1 pop and easy listening hits with “Three Times A Lady” in 1978 and “Still” in 1979.
In 1980, Lionel wrote and produced “Lady”, which became a massive crossover hit for Kenny Rogers. Less than a year later, the Diana Ross duet “Endless Love” spent 2 1/2 months atop the pop and soul charts. Lionel’s success overshadowed the band’s by this point, and it was an inevitability that a solo performing career would happen.
Shedding all funky pretense, Lionel’s solo work since breaking from The Commodores has gone straight for the middle of the road. For half a decade, he was a mainstay at the top of the pop charts with catchy (if cheesy) hits like “Hello” and “All Night Long”. He took home an Album Of The Year Grammy in 1985 for Can’t Slow Down (amidst the most qualitatively impressive field of nominees in recent memory.) A deeper dive into those solo albums reveals quality material that’s held up a lot more strongly than the hits, even though those hits are what’s been putting asses in seats for thirty years. The masses tuned out following 1986’s Dancing On The Ceiling, but there are many gems to be found in Lionel’s post-imperial work.
Most of the songs included below are available via digital storefronts and streaming services. However, for some reason, his 1996 comeback effort Louder Than Words is nowhere to be found, despite the fact that it’s (in my opinion) his second best solo effort. If all you know of Lionel is the Ja-faican accent and the “Hello” memes, check out the music below.
1. “You Are” (from Lionel Richie, 1982)
2. “Easy” (from Commodores, 1977)*
3. “Love Will Find A Way” (from Can’t Slow Down, 1983)
4. “Running With The Night” (from Can’t Slow Down)
5. “Love Will Conquer All” (from Dancing On The Ceiling, 1986)**
6. “Zoom” (from Commodores)*
7. “Time” (from Time, 1998)
8. “Ordinary Girl” (from Louder Than Words, 1996)***
9. “Sail On” (from Midnight Magic, 1979)*
10. “Sweet Love” (from Movin’ On, 1975)*
11. “I Like What You Do” (from Natural High, 1978)*
12. “Say I Do” (from Louder Than Words)****
13. “Do It To Me” (from Back To Front, 1992)
14. “Wandering Stranger” (from Lionel Richie)
15. “Heroes” (from Heroes, 1980)*
16. “Just To Be Close To You” (from Hot On The Tracks, 1976)*
17. “Lady (You Bring Me Up)” (from In The Pocket, 1981)*
18. “My Destiny” (from Back To Front)
19. “Girl, I Think The World About You” (from Hot On The Tracks)
20. “Say Yeah” (from Natural High)
21. “Oh No” (from In The Pocket)
22. “Still” (from Midnight Magic)
23. “Endless Love” (from the original soundtrack to the motion picture Endless Love, 1981)**
24. “Funky Situation” (from Commodores)*
25. “The Only One” (from Can’t Slow Down)
**-Bonus points for the 12″ remix, prominently featuring background singer Marva King.
***-background vocals by Babyface and Peter Gabriel (!)
****-this isn’t even on YouTube. What the f…?
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