Wednesday, 30 July, 2014

 
Published March 21, 2014
Entertainment
Finding levity in love
Lionel Ritchie hits all the high notes from writing songs for legendary R&B funk band The Commodores to striking out on his own, writes DYLAN TAN
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'When I first started writing songs, my friends would say they are the sappiest, stickiest, gummiest songs they've ever heard and then one by one they started falling in love and my songs were the ones they played at their weddings.'
- Singer-songwriter Ritchie

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AT 64, multi-platinum selling artist and music icon Lionel Richie is still living up to the title of his bestselling 1983 album, Can't Slow Down. While his studio output is more sporadic, the five-time Grammy winner hasn't stopped performing around the world and his current All The Hits All Night Long tour comes to Singapore next month.

"I go to what I call the World gym," chuckles Richie cheekily, over the phone from Melbourne where he's playing a series of Australian shows, when asked what gives him the energy to keep going. "It consists of one world tour a year; that will keep you fit forever."

The veteran chart-topper rose from humble beginnings in Tuskegee, Alabama, where he got his start in the music business with legendary R&B funk band, The Commodores. As singer and songwriter, he penned and performed many of their classic ballads including Easy, Sail On and Three Times A Lady.

Easy was recently featured on his last album, Tuskegee, a career-spanning compilation of his hits re-recorded as duets. On the song's famous "I wanna get high" line, Willie Nelson asked Richie who would get to sing it. "I told him, 'It's all yours'," he laughed, in reference to the country superstar's many infamous brushes with the law over marijuana possession.

Tuskegee also includes Lady which he performs together with Kenny Rogers for the first time. Even though Richie wrote the song, it was the former who turned it into a big hit in 1980. Asked if he had any regrets about giving away the smash single - which Richie reveals was inspired by Rogers' marriage and relationship with his wife - he says, "Not at all because not only did I gain a big hit, I also got a lifelong friend."

The 1980s also saw Richie going solo and finding even bigger success on his own, dominating the decade as one of pop music's biggest stars with hits such as All Night Long, Hello, Penny Lover, Stuck On You,Running With the Night - all from the album Can't Slow Down - plus more such as Say You Say Me and Dancing on the Ceiling.

Richie adds he doesn't mind being known for his mushy ballads. That's because he professes to be "a hopeless romantic whose problem is being in love with love" in real-life.

"When I first started writing songs, my friends would say they are the sappiest, stickiest, gummiest songs they've ever heard and then one by one they started falling in love and my songs were the ones they played at their weddings," he says. "Now their kids are getting married and using my songs as well, so how about that!"

Growing up, he was "painfully shy" and did not have the confidence to talk to girls until he joined The Commodores. "One night, I walked out on stage and some girl screamed and rushed to the stage; I came out of my shyness pretty fast after that," he laughs, adding it was at that point he knew he wanted to be a singer and not a lawyer or a tennis player, which he could have chosen to be because he was offered a scholarship to turn pro.

He even has some advice on how anybody can be a ladies man. "Be funny," he says. "I remember asking my mum and looking at my dad because I couldn't get the connection as to how they could be together; I said, 'Mum, what did dad say to convince you he would be the one?' and she said, 'He always made me laugh.'"

With a hearty chuckle once again, he adds, "So forget about muscles; muscles don't last, go find yourself some funny lines instead."

Lionel Richie's All The Hits All Night Long comes to the Singapore Indoor Stadium on 14th April. Tickets from $98 - $248 (excluding $4 booking fee) available for sale via Sports Hub Tix (tel: 6333 5000 or log on to www.sportshubtix.sg) and at the Singapore Indoor Stadium Box Office and all SingPost outlets. For more information, visit www.lionelrichie.com or www.unusual.com.sg.