Remember when Lionel Richie hosted the 1986 American Music Awards? That night, he single-handedly attempted to pimp the use of the word “Outrageous!” into our everyday lexicon. Instead, I think the American public cringed and slowly backed away from Lionel. And, unfortunately for us, the man who was on the hottest songwriting and production streak since Barry Gibb masterminded the rise of the late-Seventies Bee Gees empire. It seems that after that fateful night, we basically stopped hearing new music made by Richie while he tried to push the reset button on his life by dealing with those dreaded demons of success.
It seems that over the years, many people have forgotten just how good Lionel Richie was not only as a solo artist, but also as a member with the great funk/soul band Commodores. At one time, the Commodores were mentioned with George Clinton’s “P-Funk” Family, Earth, Wind & Fire and the Ohio Players as the greatest funk band of the Seventies. FYI: My wife and I have a “song”, which is the Style Council’s “You’re the Best Thing”. Unfortunately, we did not dance to that song at our wedding reception 32 years ago today. Instead, bowing to external pressures that we don’t have “weird” music played at our Southern Indiana wedding reception, and danced to Lionel Richie’s “Truly”. To this day, we always dance to the Style Council first, followed by “Truly”. So, here it is, to my man Lionel Richie, My Top Twenty Favorite Songs by Lionel Richie and the Commodores.
20. “We Are the World” – USA for Africa (1985 – We Are the World). Yep, Lionel co-wrote the song with Michael Jackson. ‘Nuff said.
19. “Endless Love” – duet with Diana Ross (1981 – Endless Love OST). I wish I could have ranked this one higher, but honestly, Lionel has a bunch of better songs that he did without Diana Ross.
18. “Penny Lover” (1984 – Can’t Slow Down). Okay, so this song’s not really better than “Endless Love”, but if Richie had big enough balls to know it was going to be a hit song, then you’ve got to give the song some props.
17. “Say You, Say Me” (1985 – Dancing on the Ceiling). This song was technically included on the soundtrack of some long forgotten movie, but that movie’s soundtrack had TWO number one hit songs: this one and “Separate Lives” by Phil Collins & Marilyn Martin. The movie? White Knights.
16. “Hello” (1984 – Can’t Slow Down). Yes, the video is stalker-creepy, but the song isn’t that bad. Still, it’s so difficult to separate the two…
15. “Oh No” – Commodores (1981 – In the Pocket). This song proves that Lionel’s songwriting talent is so great that this ballad, without a chorus or hook, could go Top 10 AND cause emotional responses.
14. “Sweet Love” – Commodores (1975 – Movin’ On). This is the song that started me down the whole Commodores/Richie path.
13. “My Love” (1983 – Lionel Richie). C’mon! This song is so heartfelt and not saccharine! I will fight you about this song.
12. “Dancing on the Ceiling” (1986 – Dancing on the Ceiling). See, Lionel CAN have fun. We almost forgot by 1986.
11. “Just to Be Close to You” – Commodores (1976 – Hot on the Tracks). I love the lyrics of this song! And, then, there’s what I call the Earth, Wind & Fire hook: “Yeow!” Hmmm! I so dig that when Lionel unleashes it!
10. “You Are” (1983 – Lionel Richie). Pound for pound, this song my be Lionel’s finest love song. The downside, if there is one, is that the song is a mid-tempo song and not a slow jam. Still, those lyrics describe every guy’s true love.
9. “Sail On” – Commodores (1979 – Midnight Magic). This is my favorite country song that wasn’t really a country song. Or is it? This is a very underrated song.
8. “Still” – Commodores (1979 – Midnight Magic). This is another great love song from the brokenhearted point of view. And when Lionel whispers “Still!” at the end of the song, man, you feel the pain.
7. “Three Times a Lady” – Commodores (1978 – Natural High). This was a great ballad, until Eddie Murphy stole it for a classic Buckwheat bit on Saturday Night Live, back when SNL rarely had anything that was funny.
6. “Nightshift” – Commodores (1985 – Nightshift). This is the post-Lionel Commodores’ last hit that was in honor of their late Motown brother Marvin Gaye. I still love this song.
5. “Brick House” – Commodores (1977 – Commodores). This song taught me so much when I was young. Who knew that 36-24-36 was a Brick House? And, I never forgot it either.
4. “All Night Long” (1983 – Can’t Slow Down). I remember the dance floors at dance parties I DJ’ed back in the day would fill up when this song would come on. By the way, the African-sounding chant in the song is nonsensical words that only sound African. Lionel invented a language on this song but didn’t tell us what it meant.
3. “Truly” (1982 – Lionel Richie). I rank my wedding dance third on this list? Yes, because Lionel really did write a couple of better songs.
2. “Stuck on You” (1984 – Can’t Slow Down). I can remember vividly the moment when I noticed that I was in love with my wife. We were together when this song came on the radio, and I said this song reminds me of her. And, she laughed, because she thought I was being my usually sarcastic self. Boy, did she feel sheepish when you finally figured out that I was being sincere. When laugh about it to this day.
1. “Easy” – Commodores (1977 – Commodores). This is such a Seventies song. It could have been sung by the Eagles or Jackson Browne, but Lionel gives it a touch of soul to the song that makes it jump above the country rock/west coast stuff that was popular at the time.
At this point, I want to give special mention to Kenny Rogers’ 1980 hit “Lady”, which was written and produced by Lionel Richie. I often wonder how great that song would have been if Lionel would have recorded it. As is, the song was the finest one recorded by Mr. Rogers.
So, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame voters: Put Lionel Richie, with OR without the Commodores, in the RRHOF! This man helped define the music from 1974 to 1981 with the Commodores and 1981 to 1987 as a solo artist. That’s 14 years of radio domination of songs mainly written by one main – Lionel Richie.