AHHA: You have so many hits through the years. You have favorite, can you nail it down to one?
Lionel Richie: Well, let me go this route. You have to break it down into I call them just segments of my life. From the Commodore side I would probably say Easy and Zoom. And I can probably go right in there. Okay, now I just left out Brick House and everything else, but I think Easy and Zoom place basically for me that was, those were major. And then I went solo, probably Hello and All Night Long.
AHHA: Speaking of Hello I have to ask you because, in retrospect that video is kind of funny. What were you guys thinking at the time? I mean Im not trying to make fun or anything, but
Lionel Richie: No, no, youre not making fun. I have to laugh. Let me tell you the joke of this thing so youll know. I spent the entire video, Bob Giraldi was the director, I spent the entire video telling Bob, Bob the [clay sculpture] face that the ladys doing it doesnt look like me. And Bob kept saying to me, Lionel shes blind. It aint supposed to look like you.
AHHA: Okay. [laughs]
Lionel Richie: Thats number one. Number two, I was so nervous because once he decided to make her blind, I kept thinking how is that gonna be for the rest of the video, I mean you know is that the right thing – what is that gonna do? Come to find out thats the thing that people remember the most, that she was blind. I wasnt quite sure where that was gonna go – that was one of the most successful songs Ive ever done in my life.
AHHA: You also made a lot of fun music, you mention All Night Long. I mean R&B and Hip-Hop is very boxed-in and formatted these days.
Lionel Richie: Yeah, Ive always liked to go left and right. Let me tell you what I think I had to prove: And that was that if Bach [Johann Sebastian Bach, the prolific German composer/ organist] were Black, would he be Bach? The answer is no. You know why, because we wouldnt have played him on R&B radio. You follow me?
Lionel Richie: I was trying to force the issue that Black people are versatile. We have the Bachs, we have the country artists – weve got all kinds of people. The biggest happening in the world when I was talking to Nelly, when he told me that when he did the thing with Tim McGraw, he was inspired from Sail On and Stuck on You. That told him he could do this. It gave him the right to do this. You follow me.
To me, we as a people, we are so gifted in so many different areas to be able to be put in one, the word I hate the most is the word called format. Format means box, okay. It works great for marketing. It works horrible if your name happens to be country, or if you name happens to be classical – and the way you go with your talent, you go nowhere. So thats what I try to do. I tried to break these walls down and say, ladies and gentlemen, let us not write in the box. Lets write outside the box.
AHHA: I agree. I think a lot of others do as well.
Lionel Richie: Yeah, but I mean, I get the comment every day that when I bump into every imaginable artist on the planet and you know theyll say to me, Hey yo, Mr. Richie, the whole reason I did songs was because you did this record. That makes all the difference in the world, because thats what Im trying to do is show them that we are absolutely so fricking versatile.
AHHA: Yeah, its funny because Im looking right now at a write up on you, and it says you performed with Kenny Rogers last year.
Lionel Richie: Im a member of the County Music Association.
AHHA: Wow. I didnt even realize that some of those songs were country songs. Like I didnt even think of it like that.
Lionel Richie: I mean Three Times a Lady was covered by Conway Twitty, which is country, and André Kostelanetz, which is head of the Boston Pops Orchestra. You follow me? What I tried to explain to the guys when we did this album, theres a great thing called record of the year and song of the year at the Grammys. Record of the year means its the hottest tune today. Song of the year means it will play for the rest of your life.
AHHA: Thats a definite distinction.
Lionel Richie: So in other words now you can take your publishing company and 80 million people around the world will do various covers on your song, thats the difference. All you want is them to play it in as many different versions as you can.
AHHA: Who do you, what do you listen to these days?
Lionel Richie: Man, I got, my iPod is completely confused. Just for example, Ne-Yo is right there. To me hes got the versatility, but hes also got the sound. I actually saw him about two months ago and he actually has the performing ability – he just needs grooming. In other words, he just needs more time to do it. The biggest thing to us right now is we get hit records so fast that by the time the second hit record comes weve already burnt out. Theres no time to practice, and its almost like the American Idol syndrome – you have to be a superstar today. Instead of saying, Okay thats your first record, by your fifth album now youre doing Madison Square Garden – you dont last that long.
AHHA: Yeah, exactly.
Lionel Richie: So really, I think this guy has a ton of potential.
AHHA: Okay, anybody else?
Lionel Richie: Yeah, on the other hand, I go from that extreme to Green Day. I go left and right because theres really a fine line between country, rock and R&B. They all, especially in R&B, they tell the truth. Oh Baby Dont Leave Me and Take This Job and Shove It are both real lives. And so I love listening to the hybrids in there, so actually turn back around, because the story has to sound real, like today. So I listen to all kinds of music.
AHHA: In your experience what would you put your finger on one career defining moment?
Lionel Richie: Well, that oh gee. All right let me think about that. Probably when I knew it had gone to another level, is when I, because I had planned on retiring as a Commodore and would have been very happy and great run and been done. When I knew it was seriously a career change and the rocket took off, we did the Olympics, 2.6 billion people watching. I mean the entire world was watching. And then from there we came back and did We Are The World. Over and out, forget about it. The rocket took off and never came back.
AHHA: Right, speaking of We Are The World do you, are you a part of this litigation I guess, if Im correct or somebody suing Michael Jackson or something —
Lionel Richie: Let me tell you something so youll understand. We had 11 lawsuits for We Are The World. Now what happens in our business – so youll understand, and I had to get used to this. A guy told me one day, in fact it was Quincy [Jones], You can always tell when you have a smash record. You get sued. So right now if its another lawsuit for We Are The World – I havent heard about it yet by the way. Theres always somebody who wakes up one morning, You know what, they stole my song. And you literally have to go through and deal with it. Its we had 11 at one time all together.
AHHA: Yeah, Im not sure of all the details myself, but I noticed it was centered around Michael Jackson.
Lionel Richie: Yeah, yeah. No, Im not familiar with whats happening, but I do know that its pretty common. But Michael right now is a magnet to anything that lawsuit written on it right now.
AHHA: What do you think of Nicole being such a tabloid face? I couldnt imagine you know from a personal point of view much less a parent point of view.
Lionel Richie: Remember now, this little girl grew up in a house where she referred to her uncles as Uncle Michael and Uncle Prince and Uncle Kenny Rogers and Uncle Lenny Kravitz – and you know this is uncles and stuff, right. So she kind of grew up into the show business thing. Whats shocking all of us is that shes emerging this little unscathed little girl off her tabloid power – which normally would have unnerved me if I had only two years in the business and had this kind of press.
What Im very happy about is that shes weathered the amazing storms of her life. What youre getting right now is a very proud papa, who is sitting right now kind of watching this unfold. She is taking on a great deal of, I mean really a lot of pressure, but she seems to be handling it like its no big deal. So Im kind of a big fan of hers just watching her go through this, although she will call me two or three times a week with one more major crisis – which makes me feel good as a dad. Because dads always like to have things that they can solve with the kids.
AHHA: Right. You know Ive been checking you out for a while, you kind of look almost the same as you did in the 80s, if not younger. Whats the secret to maintaining that youthful look?
Lionel Richie: As long as you keep your hair on your head, [because] there are no bald headed love song singers – basketball players, yeah, football players, yeah – no love song singers. Thats number one. Number two is all genetics. Really and truly, you know I would love to tell you its yoga or its like vegetarian diet. My grandmother lived to be 104. I am banking strictly on those genes coming through to save me. And the other half of it is, is that if Nicole Richie doesnt kill me, nothing will.