By Dan Kloeffler and Mary-Rose Abraham | Newsmakers
When Lionel Richie released his second solo album “Can’t Slow Down” more than 30 years ago, it not only reached No. 1 on the Billboard chart and won a Grammy for album of the year. More remarkably, each of the eight tracks was a Top 10 hit. Every single song.
Now, it is those standards — “Hello,” “All Night Long” — with which audiences are so familiar that going to his concert is, according to Richie, like going to “karaoke on steroids.”
“You think you’re coming to hear me,” he explained. “I hope you like the people sitting around you because who you’re going to hear for most of the night is them singing. The show is in the audience.”
After wrapping international engagements, Richie is currently on tour for “All The Hits All Night Long” in the U.S. and Canada singing “every possible imaginable song I ever recorded.” Songs that he wrote or co-wrote over the decades despite not knowing how to read or write music. In fact, one of his most famous collaborations was with another musician who could not either: Michael Jackson.
“Neither one of us went near a piano,” Richie said of writing “We Are the World” in just a day and a half. “So the answer was, we hummed that song. That was a hummer. He writes his songs by humming the parts. The beautiful part with writing a song with a pro is the automatic understanding where not to go. There was no wavering. It was just our time of being connected to the universe is the best way I can say it. Because it was not a struggle to get that song. It was just divine guidance if you will.”
Richie’s songs have become known the world over and his music employed in some rather unusual ways. Richie said when U.S. troops rolled into Baghdad in 2003, they played “Dancing on the Ceiling” from loudspeakers atop their tanks, as merchants blared “All Night Long” in a friendly response. China’s minister of education told Richie that schools used his songs to teach their students English.
Perhaps the reason why “this music has seeped into the entire world,” as Richie described, is because the lyrics capture universal feelings which he admitted he didn’t experience until much later.
“I would go to a concert and see people crying in the front row,” he said. “I wrote about somebody’s hardship. I wasn’t going through that pain myself. Somebody else was going through that, I wrote it down. I wrote their story.”
He continued: “Then one day I was going through my own problems. I was going through my own divorce and the loss of my parents and stuff. A guy came to me one day and said, ‘I have some inspirational tapes I want you to listen to.’ And he sent me my albums. And here I am crying to my own music because I’d written the lyrics. It’s just that it didn’t happen to me until then. So I finally felt what those words really meant.”
Perhaps his greatest trials came with the troubles of his daughter Nicole Richie. She was a Hollywood wild child arrested twice for DUI and a reality show star with Paris Hilton. Now Nicole Richie Madden is a very settled wife, mother of two and fashion designer, who even counsels Richie about his two teenagers Miles and Sofia.
“Growing up in Hollywood, is there a counseling service for that? Because if there is, we need to plug into it,” Richie said. “And the only ones who can be the true counselors are the ones who survived it. So Nicole is the best at saying, ‘I know what you’re going through, let me handle it.’ And it’s perfect because she can say it in their language, in their terms.”
Her guidance will be especially helpful while Richie is away from home, on tour until early August. When he returns, he resumes working on two albums. One will be a follow-up to his country album “Tuskegee.” The other is a reworking of Richie melodies put to dance music.
Richie’s own playlist contains a fair amount of country music, along with standards of the R&B and pop world, including The Weeknd and Bruno Mars.
And just as many of those artists are constantly searching for new ways of expression in songwriting, Richie the master balladeer said he still faces his own challenge.
“I have tried, in my 900 years of being in this business, I have tried to find a different way to say ‘I love you,’” he said. “You know what? People don’t want to hear anything else but ‘I love you.’ Now if you’re single, that’s corny. If you’re in love, those are your words. So I have found over the years, it’s just going to be a part of the fiber of growing up. That love happens to be the only thing that doesn’t go out of style. Now if you can make it so it translates forever, in other words, it becomes our song, or becomes the family song, you’ve got show business.”
ABC News’ Brian Fudge contributed to this episode.
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2014 SONGWRITERS HALL OF FAME ANNUAL INDUCTION AND AWARDS GALA
New York, NY – June 3, 2014 -A Great Big World, Aloe Blacc, Jon Bon Jovi, Cam, Rosanne Cash, Chubby Checker, Jackie Evancho, Vince Gill, Candice Glover, Jimmy Iovine, Martina McBride, Miguel, Ralph Peer and Chita Rivera signed on to either be a presenter and/or performer at the 2014 Songwriters Hall of Fame Annual Induction and Awards Dinner. This year’s dinner was held Thursday, June 12th in New York City.
Inductees at this year’s event include Ray Davies, Donovan, Graham Gouldman, Mark James and Jim Weatherly. The prestigious Johnny Mercer Award will be presented to Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, Doug Morris will be honored with the Howie Richmond Hitmaker Award and Dan Reynolds (of Imagine Dragons) will receive the Hal David Starlight Award. Del Bryant will be presented with the Visionary Leadership Award. The 2014 Towering Song Award will be presented to “Over the Rainbow,” written by Songwriters Hall of Fame inductees Harold Arlen & E.Y. “Yip” Harburg, and published by EMI Feist Catalog, Inc.
About The Songwriters Hall of Fame:
The Songwriters Hall of Fame celebrates songwriters, educates the public with regard to their achievements, and produces a spectrum of professional programs devoted to the development of new songwriting talent through workshops, showcases and scholarships. Out of the tens of thousands of songwriters of our era, there are approximately 400 inductees who make up the impressive roster enshrined in the Hall of Fame. The list includes Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller, Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier & Brian Holland, Smokey Robinson, Albert Hammond, Desmond Child, Paul Williams, Hal David & Burt Bacharach, John Fogerty, Bob Dylan, Isaac Hayes & David Porter, Richard & Robert Sherman, Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Jon Bon Jovi & Richie Sambora, Sir Elton John & Bernie Taupin, Brian Wilson, James Taylor, Don Schlitz, Bruce Springsteen, Phil Collins, Alan & Marilyn Bergman, Loretta Lynn, Jimmy Webb, Van Morrison, Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton, Diane Warren, Paul Anka, Stevie Wonder, Bob Seger, Steven Tyler & Joe Perry and Leonard Cohen among many others.