What’s Hot: You started with the Commodores; then you went solo after that and had your great line of hits.
Do you ever miss singing with a group?
Lionel Richie: What I do miss is not the on-stage antics – it’s the off-stage; it’s a brotherhood. We do everything together, so if you’re all right or all wrong, you have somebody to back you up and say “Yeah, well we all meant to do that!” I think that’s what I miss the most – the family feel of it.
Another important part, which you have to remember, is that if there’s ever something that is wrong, there’s no one else to blame it on. Now whatever it is, it’s my fault.
WH: So, what you miss is being able to blame others?
LR: [Laughs] Yes, blame others – do you understand? If the song was not a hit record, it was their fault.
WH: What instruments do you play?
LR: I play piano. That’s my drug or instrument of choice. And now that we’ve got computers, I can play guitar, I can play strings … because now, I can plug it in and I can play all the other instruments. But my actual playing abilities are on piano and saxophone.
WH: How old were you when you started playing piano?
LR: I would say 14/15, but you know, I can’t read or write music. I can just play what I hear.
WH: Which is fantastic – to be able to play by ear.
LR: Yeah, and I’ve been finding out that [Paul] McCartney, Smokey [Robinson], all of them … that’s their thing. Once I found out that I didn’t have to be a Juilliard school of music graduate, I was off to the races.
WH: Many of your numbers are easy listening ones about love. There are very romantic themes to your songs. Why is that your ‘go to’? Do you just gravitate towards that theme?
LR: I just kind of came up with [songs] saying “love” at one point or the other. “I need you,” “I want you,” “don’t leave me,” “I miss you,” and the other word is “forever.” And then, as time went on, I realized I had now selected a theme that will never go out of style. Love will never go out of style.
WH: You’ve written for a number of other artists, such as Kenny Rogers. Have you ever thought afterwards “Ah – I wish I’d kept that song for me”?
LR: Not afterwards; I did it while I was writing it! [Laughs] My attorney, Jay Cooper, God bless him, messed the whole equation up. I went back to him and said, “Oh my God, Jay, I sound better than Kenny on this. I’m not going to give that record away!”
Jay said, “Lionel, give that record to him. It’ll be five times bigger than anything else you’ve ever done because it’ll shine the light on you after it shines the light on Kenny.” At that time, Kenny was humongous.
Sure enough, up until finally putting him on there, I’m moaning the whole time, saying, “I hope he messes it up, so I can say ‘Kenny, you can’t sing it, so I’ll have to take it back’.” But of course, he sang it like a champ, did it perfectly…
WH: How annoying.
LR: [Laughs] Just so annoying, but we sold 21 million copies, and I did not complain a day after that.
WH: Anyone that you would like to write a song for that you haven’t yet?
LR: It’s not even “write for” so much as “write with.” What I love is the collaboration part of it. For example, Bruno Mars – he’s a songwriter – I’d love to [write something with him]. Beyonce – she’s a proper writer – and again, the voice is just crazy. Ed Sheeran, that would be fantastic. To get him in a room for two days … in that time, we will have hit records.
There are some people, you know it’s going to happen.
WH: What is the highlight of your career?
LR: To sum it up in a phrase: it’s the longevity of the career, not so much the hit record. To have a record go all the way through your lifetime. If I had to go in and say what were some of the [specific] highlights, winning the Oscar and [performing at] the Olympics. The whole world’s watching!
WH: What is your favorite song of your collection?
LR: With the Commodores, it would be “Easy.” And the solo thing is tough. “All Night Long” has everybody smiling, and “Hello,” everybody’s singing. [Laughs]
WH: “Hello” is arguably your most recognized song, and then there’s “Hello” by Adele. There are mashups already on the Web – clearly she’s trying to match your level of success. She’s coming after you. What are you doing about it?
LR: [Laughs] Know what I’m doing right now? I’m enjoying the fact that every time there’s a kid that’s five years old or six years old to 20, that maybe didn’t quite know Lionel Richie [before], they do now! [Laughs]