He has danced on the ceiling. Partied all night long. Asked if he was by chance the romantic prospect that you have been in search of. Now Lionel Richie is going next-level with All the Hits All Night Long, his first North American tour in a decade, complete with a special pit stop at Bonnaroo on June 14 alongside the likes of Kanye West and Jack White. Before kicking off this leg on May 29 in Vancouver, the Grammy-winning 64-year-old singer-songwriter, who has sold more than 100 million records, rang up EW for a revealing and riotous Q&A in which he dropped knowledge on songwriting, reality TV, the number of times someone can be a lady, and so much more. Truly.
Rounding off to the nearest hundred, how many times a week do your phone calls begin with someone asking, ”Hello? Is it me you’re looking for?”
Lionel Richie A hundred. No, I would say probably 80. Forget phone calls — on the street, friends I know… On my tombstone, it will be reading, ”Hello? Is it me you’re looking for?”
Why take so many years off the road here? Did you only just now finish counting how many hits you have?
Ten years ago, when rap came in really strongly, we took our music and went to Europe and the rest of the world. We kept saying, ”Well, when we get a new record, we’ll come back to America…” And one day I just walked in the door and said, ”The hell with it…” We got two and a half hours of show and we have another hour and a half of more songs, so there’s always someone that leaves the show going, ”I can’t believe you didn’t play that song!” That’s when I realized how many songs we actually had.
Are you worried that Bonnaroo is an outdoor festival and there is no ceiling?
No. We did Austin City Limits, we’ve done Hyde Park, we’ve done festivals in Germany. And I’m gonna tell you something, ”Dancing on the Ceiling” without the ceiling, that’s even more incredible! Are you kidding me? It’s the next level — come on, baby! ”Dancing on the Sky”!
Is three the maximum number of times that someone can be a lady? Ever seen a woman hit four or even five?
I can answer that question for you: any lady that has more than three kids. For example, I’ve been to places and she said, ”Lionel, I have eight children.” That’s eight times a lady, okay?
Characterize the chances of a Commodores reunion using only a Commodores song: ”Oh No,” ”Easy,” ”Turn Off the Lights,” ”Wide Open,” or ”I’m Ready.”
”Oh No” — only because everything was great until we lost Milan [Williams], the keyboard player. Which makes a reunion kind of strange. We’ll always get together as a band for off-and-on things. But I think I lost the spark of that fantasy of all of us crazy guys on stage.
You wrote ”Lady” for Kenny Rogers. Which seemed more unlikely at the time — that the song would go on to hit No. 1 or that he would go on to start Kenny Rogers Roasters?
Kenny Rogers Roasters was a bit out of the box, I must say. If someone had said to me, ”Kenny Rogers Chicken,” I would say that would have been more unlikely. I knew the song was going to be great, because when you’re 27 years old, I mean, gimme a break, everything is great.
Your first solo album, Lionel Richie, contains three top 5 hits, including ”You Are.” Were you too busy or too lazy to finish the song title?
If you go back and look at all of my songs, I don’t like long titles. ”Still.” ”Hello.” ”Easy.” ”You Are” was too long. It was going to be just ”You.” You follow me?
”All Night Long (All Night)” has a nice Caribbean vibe. How does it feel to be responsible for helping estranged couples rediscover each other at Sandals?
If you knew the ridicule I got — in the middle of funk, in the middle of whatever was out there at the time — ”Lionel Richie is coming out with a calypso song?” Even my own record company said to me, ”Are you out of your mind?” And I said, ”Guys, I’ve traveled the world. This is the rhythm that the whole world dances to on vacation.” And to answer your question: absolutely. I mean, I could take you to Ibiza, I could take you to places — you put that song on, and that song has created more babies after the song — are you kidding me? We have populated the world.
You share the record for the most consecutive years writing a No. 1 single. Let’s say I’d like to write a No. 1 hit. Gimme three can’t-miss tips.
All right, No. 1 can’t-miss tip: Make sure it’s about love. Don’t go political, okay? Make it anything that has to do with love. Love falls in a couple of categories — I want you, I need you, I lost you, you know? No. 2: Somewhere in the line, use the word forever. That’s No. 2. Forever is a great word, right? And then thirdly, make sure it can apply to a wedding or an engagement or something like that. Got it? Now, you got those three down, you’re at least going to have something that’s going to last for a while. For example, don’t do a title with ”2014” in it. Because it’s dead. As soon as 2015 comes, you’re over.
You’ve dealt with tragedy in your life. What was it like to find out that your daughter Nicole was going to star on a reality show with Paris Hilton?
Ugh. Just shoot me! Remember, now, she was the first. And so my expectation of that was going to be: disaster. My announcement to my father that I’m joining the Commodores — ”We’re the black Beatles and we’re gonna take over the world!” — it sounded just about that insane. Luckily enough, I told my father, ”I told you so,” and Nicole and Paris told me later, ”I told you so.” But I must tell you, at the time I thought, ”This is about the worst thing that could ever happen to a family.”
You’ve written so many timeless love songs. What romantic advice would you give someone? Follow your heart forever…but always get a prenup?
It takes a country preacher to get you in it — and a Beverly Hills lawyer to get you out of it. Or as I say, ”Every time I fall in love, I lose a house.” Those two songs will be coming out soon.
To read the full interview, including Richie’s account of the ”We Are the World” video shoot, go to ew.com/lionelrichie.