In the 1970s, as lead singer of The Commodores, Lionel Richie helped usher in the disco era. In the 1980s, he gained success as a one-man hit factory. The man was, next to Michael Jackson, the biggest pop star of the decade. He matched Irving Berlin for No. 1 tunes, and his songs of soulful balladeering (one critic dubbed him "the modern king of elegant schmaltz") have gotten him everything from Grammys to an Oscar. But on American shores Lionel Richie still carries the unfortunate burden of being known as the celebrity who got his ass beat down by his ex-wife after she caught him creepin'.
Yes, it is pitiful that we cannot forget that tumultuous incident from the late '80s that kinda put a dent in Richie's public image. (In my opinion, the Oscar-winning "Say You, Say Me" did more harm to the dude -- but that's a whole other article.) But we shouldn't forget the eclectic dents he has put in pop music over the past 25 years. During his mighty stint with The Commodores, the group's musical taste flowed from the vigorously kinetic ("Brick House," "Machine Gun") to the eloquently baroque ("Easy," "Three Times a Lady," "Sail On"). As soon as the '80s hit, Richie went solo and launched a platinum-plated career that the vein-popping, adult-contemporary singers of today (you hear that, Michael Bolton?) are still straining their vocal chords to achieve. Nasal-twanged songs such as "Truly," "All Night Long" and the synonymous "Hello" became pop hits. His duet with Diana Ross, "Endless Love," is probably the only song in history that has been used as both an obligatory wedding song and an object of humor, as in the Adam Sandler movie Happy Gilmore. In 1984, the singer/songwriter attempted to add "saint" to his credits by co-writing "We Are the World" with Michael Jackson. However, unlike the title of his 1983 album, Can't Slow Down, that is exactly what he did as the decade wound to a close. After many personal setbacks in the early '90s, Richie bounced back with 1996's Louder Than Words and last year's Time. Although those albums didn't hit the record-selling spots of his previous work, they showed that he is back creating the diverse songs that have made him a pop-music icon. Now, since he is in the process of working on yet another album, we can expect him to perform his lyrical pop stylings right into the next millennium.
But if that cat makes another damn "Dancing on the Ceiling"-esque number, we gonna have to beat him down and boot his ass out of the country.
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Lionel Richie performs at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo on Friday, March 5, at 7 p.m. at the Astrodome, 8400 Kirby. $10, $18. For info call (713)629-3700.