With his gift expressing emotion through music and his velvety smooth voice, Lionel Richie is one of the greatest singer/songwriters of his generation. In a career that spans five decades, his catalogue of songs are the playlists of generations of music lovers and have become classic standards for parties and weddings.
Richie rose to fame as singer and saxophonist with The Commodores, which formed in his hometown of Tuskegee, AL, and eventually contributed to writing some of their funky hits, such as “Brick House.” He later segued into and became known for writing ballads, such as “Easy” and the group’s first number one hit, “Three Times a Lady.”
During his time with the Commodores, Richie also found success writing hits for other artists, such as “Happy People” (as a co-writer) for The Temptations. In 1980, he and Kenny Rogers joined forces to cross pop and country, with Richie writing “Lady” for Rogers. This single charted on four “Billboard” charts, making it to number one on the Hot 100, Adult Contemporary and Country. The following year, Richie wrote another chart-topper, this time a duet he performed with Diana Ross. “Endless Love” would go on to become one of the most popular rock duets of all time, and lead to a successful solo career for Richie.
Throughout the 1980s, Richie became a music icon of that generation, at first with ballads reminiscent of his Commodore days, such as his first solo hit “Truly,” for which he won his first Grammy. As time passed, he crossed genres, and had hits across multiple charts, including pop, adult contemporary, R&B and even country. His 1983 album, “Can’t Slow Down,” features love ballads like “Hello,” upbeat dance tunes like “All Night Long” and his first country hit, “Stuck on You,” and won two Grammys, including Album of the Year. All three of his albums released in the 1980s have been certified multi-platinum, and five singles reached the number one spot on the Hot 100 chart.
In 1985, he and Michael Jackson co-wrote “We Are the World,” which was recorded by dozens of that era’s best-known artists as a charity to provide relief to famine-stricken areas of Africa. It’s gone on to become one of the top-ten best-selling singles of all time and won three overall Grammys, including one for Richie as Song of the Year.
Although he slowed down after his huge successes, Richie has continued to write and record, most recently and most successfully in 2012 with a country album called “Tuskegee,” named for his hometown. This album contains new versions of his previous hits, each recorded with a different country artist, including “Lady” with Rogers and “Easy” with Willie Nelson, and reached number one on the “Billboard” 200, eventually becoming another platinum album for the artist.
I have no doubt that if we could fast-forward 100 years, someone somewhere will be romancing a love with “My Love,” recovering from a breakup with “Easy” or “dancing on the ceiling” at a wedding. Richie’s timeless classics will live on, and he’s earned his spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Tour our gallery ranking his 15 best songs.
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