The Top 5 Underrated Lionel Richie Ballads

In my attempts to get over being unable to attend last night’s Lionel Richie concert (and mini-Commodores reunion with bassist Ronald LaPread), I thought I’d bust out another one of my “underrated” lists.

A few days ago I wrote of Lionel Richie’s considerable funk credentials with a piece about the 10 best Commodores funk songs, so today I thought I’d do a companion piece with the other side of the Richie coin. With the benefit of owning every single Commodores and Lionel Richie LP, here are five of the most underrated, lesser-known Lionel Richie / Commodores ballads – only going for songs that weren’t top 40 hits:

Heroes (Commodores, 1980)
Can’t Get Over You (Lionel Richie, 1996)
Lucy (Commodores, 1981)
You’re Special (Commodores, 1979)
Love Oh Love (Lionel Richie, 1992)

Ronald LaPread and Lionel Richie, onstage in Auckland last night.

Not to mention the likes of first-rate material such as Say Yeah (Commodores, 1978), This Is Your Life (Commodores, 1975) and The Only One (Lionel Richie, 1983), as well as some of the hits which you frustratingly no longer hear on the radio anymore like Old Fashion Love (Commodores, 1980) and Wonderland (Commodores, 1979). But for now, here are those first five from one of the 20th Century’s finest singer / songwriters:

Heroes, 1980: The title track from the most overtly spiritual of Commodores LPs, this tribute to great leaders as well as “plain old people,” who are also heroes should be a staple of memorials, funerals and farewells. A poignant acoustic guitar-driven ballad with typical bass flourishes from Ronald LaPread at the end.

Can’t Get Over You, 1996: By 1996 it was 10 years since Lionel’s previous full studio LP and while Louder Than Words wasn’t a smash, it did contain some strong material in the form of the Just To Be Close To You update Don’t Wanna’ Lose You, the cinematic Climbing and in this simple, direct and sad ballad.

Lucy, 1981: In The Pocket gave the Commodores their first US top 10 hits in two years with Lady You Bring Me Up and Oh No, but it was always this country-tinged ballad about a “cajun Queen” that got me more. Like Heroes and Sail On before it, Lucy’s country sound is countered by the R&B of LaPread’s bass ad-libs towards the end of the song.

You’re Special, 1979: William King may not’ve been the Commodores MVP, but his top-ranked trio of songwriting contributions to the band are up there with any of the six members: Funky Situation, Lady You Bring Me Up and this late 70s slow-jam, You’re Special. Lionel delivers another stellar lead vocal and again it’s LaPread with a huge sliding bass-line who completes the song.

Love, Oh Love, 1992: After a six-year hiatus from his 80s glory days Lionel returned with a bestselling greatest hits – Back To Front – which against the odds included three new songs of uniformly high standard. Do It To Me was a US R&B #1, My Destiny a UK top 10 hit and while Love, Oh Love missed the top 40, it plays out as a gospel hymn in the same way as Lionel’s Commodores classic Jesus Is Love from 1980.

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