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Pissing off the Taste Police with Lionel Richie

January 14th, 2008 17 comments

Before anyone presumes to judge me on basis of this thread, I ought to point out that most times, I’d gladly don a long leather coat and join the Taste Police in seeking to neutralise the influence of Lionel Richie. It is unfortunate that the man is still recording music. He was a scandal when every professional football player would list him, along with Phil Collins (an singer who will never feature in this series), as their favoured artist to bleat forth from their Fords XR6.

Much, then, as I would like to join the critical consensus on Lionel’s legacy, I feel I can do so only by stating a few caveats through the medium of Pissing Off The Taste Police. You see, Lionel was a funky cat back in the day. As a Commodore, he dressed brighter than many a member of Earth, Wind & Fire and was party to some songs that were almost good enough to compete with EW&F. Check out the disco-funk of the fantastic “Machine Gun”, a huge Motown hit.

Then it happened that the Commodores, who used to rule the joint with too hot ta trot badass funk, scored their biggest hits with Lionel in ballad mode. Don’t be fooled by a notion that these ballads were bad, though. They were damn good. Yes, even “Three Times A Lady”. It might have sounded terrible to people who thought, or wished, punk had won. But it is a fine song. It is nothing on the brilliant “Easy”, with its fuzz guitar solo and Richie’s excellent vocals though. “Still” is utterly lovely. Try to time the spoken “still” after that long pause after the line “I do love you…”. “Sail On” is a great slice of country, till the climax kicks in with Philly-type strings and horns, and a funky fade-out. Likewise, the gorgeous “Lucy”, from the final Commodores LP with Richie, builds up slowly to reach a dramatic conclusion.

Trouble is, with the ballads scoring big, Lionel decided he was not really a funkmeister but a black Barry Manilow. So he went solo, and released an album that didn’t so much scream as assault you with the message: “I ain’t got no funk no more.” And that was just the cover, on which our man looked like a new member of Sesame Street’s monster gang. Or like the accountant brother-in-law your once wild sister married for stability.

The fuzzy and green accountant came up with a few tracks that were better than the monster slices of cheese such as “Truly”. “You Are” is a glorious slice of pop-soul, and “Wandering Stranger” continues Lionel’s country ballad trajectory kickstarted by “Sail On” (and continued by his writing the hit “Lady” for Kenny Rogers).

The debut solo album was just the set-up for the biggie: Can’t Slow Down. On the cover, your brother-in-law shows that he now is a chartered accountant, and his vocational accomplishments have bought him an air of cool. See, he owns a chair now. And look at the back cover: no socks. Like Don Johnson. And a pastel jacket. Daddy Cool! The hair and ‘tache were stupid, even by the standards of the horrible ’80s.

I’d love to say that Can’t Slow Down merits our bile. “Hello” is a revolting song. “Penny Lover” (WTF is a “penny lover” anyway?) is cliché. But the mega-hit “All Night Long”…well, it’s fantastic. Hey jambo jambo, the tune rocks. Obviously. Better still is “Love Will Find A Way”. I cannot speak for people who don’t agree with me that Boz Scaggs is a bit of a genius, and if the esteemed reader found nothing in The Middle Of The Road, then I cannot promise they’ll like this song. But if one has regard for Boz and likes ’70s AOR, then one will concur with me that “Love Will Find A Way” is a glorious song. “Running With The Night” is, by the same token, pretty good.

And if one has to choose only one of Lionel’s post-Commodores ballads, surely it would have to be “The Only One”. And whisper it softly, the soft-country tones of “Stuck On You” don’t offend me at all. So, five good songs, a weak one, a revolting one, and one I can’t remember (the title track). That’s a pretty good strike rate.

The follow-up, however, was awful. I might give some kind of sympathy vote for “Dancing On The Ceiling” (if only for the video, which was said to be revolutionary — even if Fred Astaire did the same thing three decades earlier), and “Deep River Woman”, with the country band Alabama, was quite good. But whatever goodwill there might have remained for Lionel was nuked by “Ballerina Girl”, a self-conscious attempt to out-Hello “Hello”. Despicable. And then there was ”Say You, Say Me”, which had a slow part that was rubbish, and a fast part that wasn’t awful. Nothing there that I wish to inflict upon you.

After that, Lionel took off a decade before making a comeback. It was all rather poor stuff. You have to give credit to our man for his great Ice Cube impersonation on the cover of 2002’s Encore.

And so, to piss off the Taste Police, here’s Lionel Richie redeeming himself:

Commodores – Machine Gun (1975).mp3
Commodores – Easy (1977).mp3
Commodores – Sail On (1979).mp3

Commodores – Lucy (1981)
.mp3
Lionel Richie – You Are (1982).mp3

Lionel Richie – Love Will Find A Way (1983).mp3

Lionel Richie – All Night Long (All Night) (1983).mp3

Fiesta forever, muthafuckah!

Previously on Pissing off the Taste Police:

The Carpenters
Billy Joel
Neil Diamond
America