Lionel Richie is riding high in the charts with his first US number one album since 1986’s Dancing On The Ceiling, Tuskegee. Richie’s album of countrified duets of 13 of his most famous songs is described as a return to his country roots, though any true fan knows those roots have always been pretty close to the surface, even in his Commodores days (think Sail On, Easy or Sweet Love).
Solo hits like My Love, Stuck On You and Deep River Woman kept the Alabama in him to the fore and when you couple this with his pop sensibilities and earlier funk and soul credentials, you realize why his place in the pantheon of great songwriters is without question.
Despite writing a record nine US number one hits in nine consecutive years and selling over 100 million albums, the success of Tuskegee has surprised even Richie himself. His previous album Just Go featured outside songwriters giving the master second-rate R&B ballads; the album before, Coming Home, was a mixture of outside mediocrity and Richie-led beauty. Both only sold about half a million copies, but reaffirmed to me that while it is flattering so many modern writers want to work with Lionel Richie, Lionel Richie is much more interesting when he is singing his own songs – invariably because his work is so vastly superior to what anyone could give him.
Tuskegee isn’t new material and it isn’t even a re-imagined Greatest Hits, but it has some of the best love songs of the last 40 years in duet-form with the likes of Kenny Rogers and Willie Nelson as well as newer country stars like Tim McGraw, Rascall Flatts and Darius Rucker. While what I really want for Richie is to rejoin the Commodores for a new album (and this 20-year-old rumour is still a distinct possibility), initially I might have to settle for second volume of Tuskegee. To contradict myself, the only time Richie has been as good as himself in the hands of other songwriters was when he was a Commodore so any time he wants to sing a Ronald La Pread song (Look What You’ve Done To Me, Zoom, Say Yeah) or Thomas McClary (Slippery When Wet, Girl I Think The World About You, Celebrate) he’s welcome.
But…..Tuskegee Volume Two is almost certainly his next project. So Lionel, if you are reading this, here is your track-list. Duet partners are up to you and I am sure they are lining up. So DO IT! And then get back with the Commodores.
Tonight Will Be Alright
Love Will Conquer All
Oh No (Commodores)
Just To Be Close To You (Commodores)
Sweet Love (Commodores)
Three Times A Lady (Commodores)
Old Fashion Love (Commodores)
Don’t Wanna’ Lose You
Love Oh Love
So there are 17 songs, some more country than others. Lionel you can cull four, but not Lucy. The best song from the Commodores 1981 album In The Pocket, here it is: