These days, country is pop and pop is country. The two genres are virtually indistinguishable. To whom should we extend our gratuity for this cross-pollination? Garth? Nope. Faith? Nice try. Shania? Please.
Lionel Richie, thank you very much.
Back in the early '80s, Motown chief Berry Gordy sized up his chart-topping Commodores and plucked the charismatic, wide-pupiled Richie for a multiplatinum solo career. "Instead of playing it safe and sticking to soul and R&B for surefire hits, Richie found his inner straw hat and sought out Kenny Rogers and his Santa Claus beard to collaborate on the crossover hit "My Love.""
Not that our man Richie went all Charlie Pride on us an' shit. No sir -- Richie was also the man who donned turned-up collars, pink blazers and Capezios to churn out the stealth cocaine anthem "Dancing on the Ceiling," the irresistibly melodramatic "Say You, Say Me," the back-to-basics "Running With the Night" and the salsa-tinged "All Night Long (All Night)."
Naysayers like to dismiss Richie as a black Richard Marx. This comparison is cockamamie. Not only was Richie a unique and skilled vocalist, his fashion sense was always two steps ahead of the pack. To wit, the jacket art on his recently reissued package of three CD's -- Lionel Richie, Dancing on the Ceiling and Can't Slow Down -- reveals a man unafraid to sport an Afro mullet, white pants and that signature A-frame mustache. Richie was not just another cheesy pop soloist. He was a bad-ass chameleon who bottled the lightning that was '80s hedonism better than any other. We should celebrate his entire catalog, and this scintillating three-disc reissue is a great start.
Correction published 6/18/03:
The original version of this record review had Lionel Richie collaborating far too much with Kenny Rogers. Richie and Rogers dueted on "My Love"; Richie wrote "Lady" for Rogers. "Sail On" was not a post-Commodores hit; it was a hit for Richie and the Commodores in 1979. The above version reflects the corrected text.