Lionel Richie is one of the most successful artists from the 80s music era, only to be eclipsed by Michael Jackson and Prince. Richie first gained recognition as one of the members of the R&B/soul group the Commodores. After he left the group during the early 80s he embarked on a successful solo career churning out several hits: “Truly,” “You Are,” “My Love,” “All Night Long (All Night),” “Running with the Night,” “Hello,” “Stuck on You,” “Penny Lover,” “Say You, Say Me,” “Dancing on the Ceiling,” “Love Will Conquer All,” “Ballerina Girl,” and many others, making Richie one of the most sought-after balladeers in his era. Of course, they have become not just oldies music favorites but have also become timeless ballads. Richie has sold over 100 million records worldwide. More on Lionel Richie in this article!
Early life and career
Lionel Richie was born Lionel Brockman Richie in Tuskegee, Alabama on June 20, 1949. Much of his formative years were spent in his birth town, but later graduated high school in Illinois. He was a tennis star during his high school days and was once considering entering the priesthood. However, he became totally enamored with music and decided to pursue it. Since then, Richie had been playing for various R&B groups during his school days.
Richie as member of the Commodores and his projects outside the band
(Click here for the full bio of the Commodores)
In 1968 Richie joined the Commodores as a saxophonist and singer. The group recorded on Atlantic for a time before moving to Motown. One of the group’s first official performances was opening for the Jackson 5. Soon though, the Commodores eventually gained fame on their own as a popular R&B and soul group. Their first records feature a funky, danceable style, as heard in their singles like “Machine Gun” and “Brick House.” However, Richie gradually wrote and sang more ballads, such as “Easy,” “Still,” “Three Times a Lady” and “Sail On,” all of which became Top 10 hits on the pop and R&B singles chart.
During the late 1970s Richie had begun to work outside the group. He wrote the song “Lady” for country singer Kenny Rogers; it became a worldwide hit. During the early 80s Richie scored one of his very first hits outside the Commodores — a duet with Diana Ross entitled “Endless Love,” the theme song for the soundtrack to the film of the same name. It went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 (aka pop chart) and sold over two million copies, making it one of the most successful records in Motown’s history.
Solo career and success
In 1982 Richie left the Commodores to concentrate further on his solo career. That same year he released his eponymous debut album which became an immediate and massive hit. Lionel Richie yielded several hits including his first number hit single “Truly” (#1 pop and adult contemporary, #2 R&B), “You Are” (#4 pop, #1 adult contemporary, #6 R&B), and “My Love” (#5 pop, #1 adult contemporary, #6 R&B). The album Lionel Richie reached its peak position at #3 on the Billboard 200 and rose to top of the of the R&B chart; it sold over four million copies. Needless to say, Richie’s hit debut album made him a star.
His second album Can’t Slow Down (1983) was even more successful; it became his first number album on the Billboard 200, and his second #1 R&B album. It spawned the hit singles the Caribbean-flavored dance number “All Night Long” (#1 pop, adult contemporary and R&B), “Running with the Night (#7 pop, #6 adult contemporary and R&B), “Hello” (#1 pop, adult contemporary and R&B; also #1 on the UK chart), “Stuck on You” (#3 pop, #1 pop, adult contemporary, #8 R&B), and “Penny Lover” (#8 pop and R&B, #1 adult contemporary). Can’t Slow Down eventually sold more than ten million copies, won two Grammy Awards (including “Album of the Year). This upped Lionel Richie’s rank as a legitimate superstar. His enviable status even led him to his historic performance at the closing ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Olympics in LA.
In 1985 Richie wrote “We Are the World” with Michael Jackson, as a charity single for the all-star group USA for Africa. The recording became an huge success, and helped to raise funds for famine relief.
Later that year Richie topped the charts again with “Say You, Say Me” (on all the pop, adult contemporary and R&B singles chart). The single was intended for the film White Nights but wasn’t included on its soundtrack. Its album, Dancing on the Ceiling, experienced delay in the recording and production before being finally released. It also spawned the singles “Love Will Conquer All” (#9 pop, #1 adult contemporary, #6 R&B), “Ballerina Girl” (#7 pop, #1 adult contemporary, #5 R&B) and minor hits “Se La” and “Deep River Woman”
After the streak
“Se La” (#20 pop) and “Deep River Woman” (#71 pop) was the first two singles that ended Lionel Richie’s Top 10 streak on the Billboard pop chart. After, Richie virtually vanished from the music business, reaching to a burnout point after about a decade of recording and touring. He was also focused on taking care of his ill father, Lionel Sr.
Not long after the death of his father in 1990, Richie returned to recording and performing. He also released his “best-of” album Back to Front in 1992. The new album contained his solo hits as well some hits from his former band the Commodores. It also included a new single “Do It to Me” which barely missed the Top 20 pop.
In addition to his father’s death, Richie also faced his failing marriage to his first wife Brenda, his childhood sweetheart and the muse behind all of his ballads. They divorced in 1993. His albums during the decade Louder Than Words and Time failed to match the success of his earlier albums.
Richie in the new millennium
After his attempt to update his sound to appeal to a new breed of music listeners (in case of Louder Than Words), he was back to his familiar balladeer territory with Renaissance in 2000. The album was a modest success in the US, but it was a massive hit in Europe, especially in the UK. His next album Just for You (2004) also became a big hit in the UK, while the follow-up Coming Home (2006) was a big hit in the Middle East, as well as made to the #6 and #3 of the Billboard 200 and R&B album charts, respectively. His next album Just Go (2009) presented a more modern style.
His latest album Tuskegee (2012) features re-interpretations of his earlier hits, with each track performed by a different guest artist (such as “Easy” with Willie Nelson and “Dancing on the Ceiling” with Rascal Flatts. It reached #1 on the Billboard 200, over twenty years after he had his last #1 album on that chart.