Friday, 1 May 2009

1984 Lionel Richie: Hello

Prior to 'Hello', Lionel Richie was best known as songwriter and vocalist with The Commodores who had UK hits with ballads like 'Three Times A Lady', 'Still' and 'Sail On' in the seventies. 'Hello' was his first and last UK number one to date.

'Hello' is probably best remembered for a sickly and overly long promotional video that were so popular in the eighties and cast Richie as a college lecturer behaving in a highly inappropriate way toward a blind female student by stalking her in school and making silent phone calls while she was in bed. I'm sure his intentions were nothing but honourable, but viewing it with modern eyes it's more than a bit creepy; if he tried anything like that these days then at best he would surely have been in receipt of an ASBO. At worst he'd be signing the register, though watching it again, I'm not sure if his attempts at acting aren't the biggest crime on display.

And it's a shame, because while some videos that are
inextricably linked to the songs they promoted (think A-ha's 'Take On Me' or Michael Jackson's 'Thriller') in a way that compliments and creates a whole package, the nonsense dreamed up for 'Hello' only serves to detract from what is after all quite an emotive ballad that has nothing much to do with an orange clay head (watch the video if you don't know what I'm on about). The end result is that it's now hard to hear Richie singing 'Hello, is it me you're looking for?' without visualising his over the top, bug eyed mugging in the video.

And, once again, it's a shame because 'Hello' is a charming and perceptive song about loving from afar and wanting to talk to the person of your dreams but forgetting how to speak.
Because this person could be anywhere - the person who catches your train every morning, the person you live across the way from, the person who crosses your path but never enters your world - just someone you would love to get to know better but secretly know that inertia or shyness simply won't let it happen. We've all been there, and Richie captures the emotion with economy and perceptiveness:

"Because I wonder where you are,
And I wonder what you do

Are you somewhere feeling lonely,
Or is someone loving you?

Tell me how to win your heart

For I haven't got a clue"

And yet what spoils the song is a case of too much 'too'. For a tender paean to unrequited love it's too over egged; the production is too fussy and too dramatic with too many plodding minor chords, too many guitar solos, too much echo in the vocal and too many heavy handed drum interludes etc.

I could go on, but in short it comes across like Nick Drake as produced by Jim Steinman and it's a partnership that should have been annulled before it ever got going. There is probably a cracking demo of 'Hello' somewhere in Richie's vaults that would wipe the floor with the overpolished final version which is essentially a thin person struggling to get out of a fat body.

Not that there's anything wrong with fat bodies per se you understand, and even in this form I wouldn't regard 'Hello' as obese, but had Richie told his producer (James Anthony Carmichael) to 'do it like you did 'Three Times A Lady', then 'Hello' could have rightfully taken it's place on the podium with the best of Motown. As it stands, it's by no means a disaster, but it's just about par when it could so easily have been a hole in one.

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