Abundance of Richies

Is the soul balladeer Burt Bacharach or Michael Bolton?

Apr 28, 2004 at 4:00 am
We've got an open slot with Lionel available for you tomorrow at 4:20," said the sweet, accommodating voice on the other end of the line. "Would you be interested?"

Lionel Richie? Hell yes. And no irony there, you friggin' wiseacres: It's high time closeted Richie fans began to publicly praise the mustachioed troubadour, whose dewy, chart-topping ballads are synonymous with the Reagan-era halcyon days of sockless Capezios, high-water jeans, cocaine, straight men sipping chardonnay and pastel blazers with rolled-up sleeves.

Indie rockers are likely to say that it was music like Richie's -- lacquered, gooey, mass-appeal pandering -- that all but spawned punk. And this is a bad thing? All revolutionary music is essentially a reaction against a more room-temperature type of tunesmith. Hence, Lionel Richie could be viewed as the godfather of grunge. You're welcome, Eddie Vedder.

Fact is, with his fire hydrant-size daughter, Nicole, playing R2-D2 to Paris Hilton's C-3PO on The Simple Life, now is as good a time as any for the crooner to bolster his currently anemic hipster street cred. Yes, it's true that guys with mustaches generally have halitosis -- but you don't throw away a Rolls-Royce 'cause it's got a dent. In fact, judging from a recent interview with Sir Lionel, we're happy to report that the ex-Commodore's chassis is in fine working condition, just in time for an international tour.

RFT: I just listened to your new album, and I was expecting the collaborations with Lenny Kravitz to really rock. Instead they're vintage Lionel Richie -- not fancy, just fabulous. So was Lenny deferential in the studio, or were you guys just on the same vibe creatively?

Lionel Richie: I gotta tell you what happened to Lenny. It's really funny. We met about fifteen years ago; he was just getting started. When we were down in Miami, the producer [7 Aurelius] lived five houses down from Lenny. So I just went down and knocked on the door. Lenny said, "My first concert ever was at Madison Square Garden -- the Commodores with the opening act, Bob Marley." So was I expecting Lenny to be Lenny? No. I was expecting Lenny to give me Lionel Richie.

If I'm listening to "Easy," as I do most every Sunday morning, should I a) be reading the Sunday New York Times or b) getting it on in a major way with a honey-limbed lovely?

It's "b," man. Don't read the paper, babe. The idea of "Easy Like Sunday Morning" is it's your time, it's not the Sunday Times. Sunday morning is all about your time. You know two things right away: You don't have to go to work, and you don't have to get out of bed.

What young soloist, in your opinion, most closely fits the Lionel Richie mold for success and orchestral craftsmanship?

I think Maxwell. If I can just get him to put out a record every six or seven months, we might have something going. He's so talented. Wyclef Jean will take some amazing chances, but I want to hear more from his body of work.

Can friends listen to "Endless Love" in the dark?

If you're already in the dark, you've failed halfway. Most friends won't be in the dark together in the first place.

Did you have a dream last night, and was it an awesome dream?

Hell yeah. Let me tell you, man -- when I tour, I have the weirdest dreams. I'm in my house in LA, and I walk out the door, and I'm in Dubai. I cover the world in about five or six snaps now. I have what you call "global dreams."

Which line of footwear do you prefer: Capezio or Stacy Adams?

Oh man, Capezio.

Pop culture has clearly embraced veteran soloists such as Neil Diamond and Burt Bacharach. Why has it not embraced Lionel Richie in quite the same way, and are your collaborations with Lenny Kravitz at all an effort to garner such hipster credibility?

I love artists who wake up one morning and say, "I must be considered an artiste." My litmus test is if I'm still around after 29 years -- that is the test I've already passed. I don't need a publication telling me that I'm okay. I can name you people who were never critically acclaimed -- the Beatles, Elvis -- they've had careers that you wouldn't believe. Here's my test: record sales and box office.

What sort of food most frequently gets stuck in your famous mustache?

I love it. I'm a popcorn fanatic. The kernels in the mustache -- I'm a mess, man.

Hypothetically speaking, would it be creatively advantageous to write a smoky love ballad while completely naked on a cherry-wood piano bench, sipping a cold tumbler of Knob Creek on the rocks?

Absolutely not. Because when I get naked, I don't write love songs. I go find somebody to be naked with.