Lionel Richie: Dancing on the Ceiling Black Music Legends of the 1980s


Lionel Richie: Dancing on the Ceiling

Film showing how Lionel Richie achieved his dream of becoming 'as big as The Beatles' and how much of what he learnt from his years with The Commodores prepared him for success.


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Transcript


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It's 1974 and the predominantly white audience

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of American TV's Rock Concert dance to the sound of the Commodores'

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breakthrough single Machine Gun.

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Tucked at the back of the stage, sometimes playing keyboards,

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sometimes sax, often just dancing around, is Lionel Brockman Richie Junior.

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It had taken the band six years

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to make it into the US Billboard Top 100,

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joining the likes of Wings, Eric Clapton and John Denver.

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We were like a big melting pot. Tom was into rock 'n' roll,

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Walter was into more funk, I was more pop.

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Marlon was into jazz and blues.

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We had a slogan - we take our music form one end of the music spectrum to the other.

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This tight funk outfit wasn't from the urban ghettos of Detroit,

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Chicago, New York or even New Orleans.

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These were country boys out of Tuskegee, Alabama,

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right in the heart of the Bible Belt of America's Deep South.

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# Ow! She's a brick...house! #

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So how did the Commodores' backline sax player step into the spotlight

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and become one of the biggest singer songwriters of the 1980s?

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# When you feel you lost your way

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# You've got someone there to say

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# I'll show you

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# Say you Say me... #

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Lionel Richie was an overnight success after 12 years.

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His music transcends time.

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It transcends race.

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His music is an international music.

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He's had an amazing career and he's an immense songwriter.

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This world is shit sometimes but you put on one of his songs

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and think, "It's not all bad". He makes the sun shine.

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# Three times... #

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It's just so simple and you hear it and go, "Why didn't I think of that?"

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# Your once, twice

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# Three times a lady

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# And I love you... #

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He is a country boy at heart

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but I think he's found a place for himself now.

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# I love you... #

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From the late 1970s through the '80s,

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Lionel was rarely absent from the top of the charts.

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A master of the romantic ballad, he wrote a string of hits

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that packed the dance floor and had the world 'Dancing on the Ceiling'!

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My absolute joy is in what I do.

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# Southern trees

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# Bear a strange fruit

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# Blood on the leaves

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# And blood at the root... #

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When Lionel Richie was born on the 20th June 1949,

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the murder and oppression of black people

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was still commonplace in America's southern states,

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and his home town of Tuskegee, Alabama

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was at the heart of the struggle for Civil Rights.

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It was the birthplace of Rosa Parks,

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whose refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man in 1955

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sparked a revolution.

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The Tuskegee Airmen, the country's first black air squadron

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were based near the town, and as well as seeing action

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in Second World War, they led the fight against racism

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in the US armed forces.

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And in 1966, when Lionel was still at high school,

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a student from the Tuskegee Institute named Samuel Young Junior

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was murdered for using a whites only rest room

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following a civil rights march in neighbouring Montgomery.

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It would have been an incredible time to witness the kind of things

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that were going on with regard to race relations in the south.

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Tuskegee is unique because it's a place

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that had an unusually large number

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of African American professionals,

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and this allows educated black people

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to mobilise and actually offer an eloquent response

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to white oppression.

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Lionel was raised in the leafy surroundings

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of the Tuskegee Institute campus.

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His father was a retired army captain

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and his mother taught at the local school.

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Together they lived in this house

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along with Lionel's sister and grandmother.

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Being middle class most certainly effected Lionel Ritchie.

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His understanding of what he could be

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was going to be completely different than most black people in the south.

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Two great things happened in my life.

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Number one, I had a great family, great support group, lots of love.

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And secondly, I was born and raised on a university campus -

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Tuskegee University.

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Founded in 1881, shortly after the end of the American Civil War,

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Tuskegee Institute was built on the site of a former plantation,

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and established specifically for the education of African Americans.

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The most wonderful thing about being from Tuskegee,

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it was in the foremost of everything,

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that you had to have an education.

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In Lionel's position, his family could afford to send him to college.

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You had to have that want to go on to be a better person.

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You didn't stop, you had to go on.

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This university accomplished things

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that were not attainable at the time.

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Whatever you could dream, you could make that a reality.

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So reaching for the stars was not out of the realm,

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that was part of his being.

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When Lionel took the short walk down the road

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to the Institute in September 1968,

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it was to study economics - apparently on a tennis scholarship!

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Who told you that?

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If he got a tennis scholarship somebody bought it for him!

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I won't say anything!

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Whatever the extent of his sporting prowess,

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it wasn't tennis or economics that grabbed Lionel's attention

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it was music.

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Although his grandmother, a classically trained pianist,

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had tried to teach him to read music she'd long lost patience.

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It was just not in my realm,

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but I could listen to everything and play what I heard.

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Finally one day I played from beginning to end, and she said "You're not reading music."

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And I said "Yes I am." She says "No you're not, I didn't turn the page!"

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Undeterred, Lionel refused to let his lack of formal training

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stand as a barrier to the kind of music he wanted to make.

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He formed a band with five fellow students,

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swapped his racket for the sax and the Commodores were born.

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My mother had one idea in her mind - I was to become this great lawyer,

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settle down, get married, have kids, and be a respectable person.

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I showed up at my house with five guys with afros,

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and braids, and rollers in their hair,

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and they were talking some crazy nonsense about

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"We're going to take over the world."

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We had our eyes on the prize, and that was doing our music.

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Hoping one day that we would get a record deal.

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That's right.

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But we set out to do one thing that other bands weren't doing -

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they were not doing shows.

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With a set list of covers,

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the student band was soon picking up gigs off campus.

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During the summer we would leave Tuskegee and go up to New York.

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18-hour drive, I remember it like it was yesterday!

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And we would enjoy getting lost along the way.

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Especially if I was driving! We was bound to get lost. "Where are we? Texas!"

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We spent more hours in that van than anywhere else on God's earth!

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-Than any stage?

-Than any stage we ever played on!

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I could tell you moments of changing tyres

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on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike at around February.

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It's snowing outside! Oh my God the spare tyre is now flat!

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You know one thing, we were loving what we were doing.

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We were getting attention!

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We say we got together to meet girls!

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There's something about being 19-years-old, you can do anything.

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You can hop in a van, you can have all of your equipment,

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six guys, and you can drive anywhere in the world.

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Driven and ambitious, the band desperately needed a manager.

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After meeting former Coca-Cola marketing executive Benny Ashburn

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at one of their New York gigs,

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they eventually persuaded him to take the band on.

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He wasn't simply a manager who had only grown up in the music business,

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he was someone who had experience outside the business,

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so he both understood, and would have understood even more,

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how to develop someone's career.

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He was really, really trying to get a recording deal for them.

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He had found work for them at Small's Paradise in Harlem.

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They drew all of the New York crowd.

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People would come from all over the east coast

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to hear this amazing group - the Commodores.

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He was an amazing guy.

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And was really responsible for making the transition

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from a small-time funk outfit

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to the very major American stars that they were.

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With Benny behind them,

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the band started securing work far beyond their established circuit.

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We played white colleges, black colleges. We played the clubs.

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We played for frat fraternities,

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and sororities, and private parties,

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and all of those things that were going on.

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Then it led into the year of,

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you know, The Jackson 5.

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In 1971 Benny convinced Motown that the Commodores should support

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the label's latest pop sensation, the Jackson 5, on their US tour.

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On the road for two-and-a-half years,

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they played everywhere from Hawaii to New York,

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including a sell-out concert at Madison Square Gardens.

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It wasn't until they saw the Jacksons

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that they realised what it took to be up on a big stage

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at Madison Square Garden, and what you needed to do,

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how you needed to respond to an audience,

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how you needed to communicate, handle yourself.

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But it wasn't the Jacksons the Commodores wanted to emulate

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instead they looked across the Atlantic to a white British band.

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# Get back, get back, get back to where you once belonged... #

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We studied The Beatles. We liked the concept of what they were doing,

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the harmonies that they were doing, they had their own sound.

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There were three things that they wanted to copy The Beatles for,

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and that was - friendship, music and creativity.

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But the stupid thing was that as the Commodores were getting successful,

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The Beatles were splitting up.

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Now a well-drilled live act,

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the Commodores were still performing covers,

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and still officially students.

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But now they were armed with a plan.

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Unfortunately for Lionel's parents,

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it wasn't the same plan they'd had in mind when they paid for him

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to study at the Tuskegee Institute.

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I'm quitting school in my senior year.

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I'm quitting school, I am joining the Commodores,

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we're going to be the black Beatles, we're going to take over the world!

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To choose it as a career-path, I mean, even then it was extraordinary.

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Even then he must have had the confidence in his own talents,

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and also, as many musicians say,

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to have something inside of you that is burning, and you have to do it.

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There is no way that you can't do it, you've gotta do this thing.

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In 1972 Benny finally signed a record deal with Motown.

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So far the band had been performing covers

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of the mainstream hits of the day, songs by artists like -

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Sly and the Family Stone and Glenn Campbell.

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But Benny realised that for the band

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to emulate the success of the label's big guns

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such as Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder,

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and more importantly their idols, The Beatles,

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they would have to start writing their own songs,

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not just accept those written by Motown's in-house songwriters.

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When you say "You're gonna write your own music"

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and we looked at each other and "Write what? We don't write music."

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He said "I don't care if it's nothing more than

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"'roses are red, violets are blue, something I love you'

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"you're going to learn to write your own music!" Gee whizz!

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As Motown artists, the Commodores were in good company

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to learn the songwriting craft.

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We went to Motown, and I found there's Marvin Gaye right there,

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so I asked him a very simple question -

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"What conservatory did you graduate from?"

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And he said "What?" End of discussion.

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I went to Smokey Robinson and said

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"What school of music did you graduate from?"

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"I didn't, I didn't graduate."

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"Well how do you write music?" He said "Can you hum?"

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I grabbed a tape recorder and have been humming ever since.

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All the band members were encouraged to write their own material,

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and each song was auditioned in front of the rest of the band.

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At that time, there were eight songs that were put on an album.

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There were six of us in the band.

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Who was going to be the most powerful writer

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to get the other two songs?

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And it had to catch them within five seconds of that tape being on.

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If it didn't catch them within five seconds, they'd start yawning.

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Start looking around, shuffling.

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It's over, but they'd just say,

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"That's enough, stop the tape. Next!"

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It was Lionel who soon emerged as the band's most prolific songwriter,

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demonstrating an early talent for writing catchy love songs,

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in contrast to the band's mainly funk sound.

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# Show me a mountain so high

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# I'll show you love that'll last forever

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# Flyin' high So high

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# Oh oh oh ohhh... #

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As time went on, they asked me to sing the songs,

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and asked me to be the vocalist, and one song after the next,

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I developed more confidence with that than the horn,

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so I put the horn down and picked up the microphone.

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# Ohhh

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# Wooo... #

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The reason that I asked Lionel to sing lead vocal,

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which was not really approved by everyone,

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was his feeling. That was the magic.

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# The world is filled with all the lonely people

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# Trying to find their way

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# All they need is a hand to guide them

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# To a brighter day... #

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The inspiration for many of Lionel's early love songs

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was childhood sweetheart Brenda Harvey.

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After marrying in 1975, they set up a second house in LA,

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but Tuskegee always remained their home.

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With the Commodores now established Motown artists,

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and their 1976 album Hot On The Tracks receiving favourable reviews,

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manager Benny Ashburn started looking to tour beyond the USA.

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In 1977, they reached the UK, with Brenda at Lionel's side.

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The tour was to promote their latest album, simply titled Commodores.

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But still without a big hit in the UK,

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where the charts featured acts like ABBA, Wings and Leo Sayer,

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the band struggled to get radio airplay.

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I still remember talking to a Radio One producer at the time

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who was reluctant to play the Commodores,

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and he said to me, "We're already playing Earth, Wind & Fire,

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"so that's going to be enough of that kind of music."

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And I couldn't really see a lot of similarity between the Commodores and Earth, Wind & Fire,

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except that it was more than three or four black people.

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So, I guess that probably puts it in context.

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Even without airplay, word was spreading about their live shows.

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What's happenin'?!

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APPLAUSE AND CHEERING

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When they came over in 1977 for their first tour,

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they had the big afros, but they also had brightly coloured clothes,

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they had sequins, they had plastic bits.

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And these outfits were so heavy

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that it used to take two or three of them to get them off

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and put them back on again and hang them up.

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I particularly remember Leeds. I just couldn't believe it.

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I'd never seen an act be that professional

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when it came to the fact they had no audience, no atmosphere.

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You honestly wouldn't tell whether they were playing

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in front of 100,000 or in front of 100, and it was amazing to me.

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It was really quite a spectacular show.

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I'd never seen confetti cannons, and that kind of stuff,

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which they were using at that time.

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CHEERING AND APPLAUSE

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Although their first UK tour failed to sell out,

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it helped gain the band their first UK top ten single.

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Taken from the album Commodores, and written by Lionel,

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the lyrics were his response to the pressures

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and expectations of touring.

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It's now one of his best-loved ballads.

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Someone had just given me a book with 366 pages in it,

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and it described where we were going to be for the next year.

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Every day for the next year, and I kept thinking,

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"Why would anybody put chains on me? I've paid my dues to make it.

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"Everybody wants me to be what they want me to be.

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"I'm not happy when I try to fake it. Leave me alone."

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And I thought for a moment,

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"Hmm, everything is great about this lyrically except 'leave me alone'."

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# Why in the world would anybody put chains on me?

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# Tell me why?

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# I've paid my dues to make it

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# Everybody wants me to be what they want me to be

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# I'm not happy when I try to fake it

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# No

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# Ooh, that's why I'm easy... #

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Surprisingly, Easy didn't make it to number one at the time.

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# I'm easy like Sunday morning... #

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30 years later, it's one of the most covered songs ever,

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from boy band Westlife to Californian rockers Faith No More,

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to hundreds of budding pop stars on YouTube.

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# ..Mo-o-orning. #

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# Why in the world would anybody put chains on me?

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# I've paid my dues to make it... #

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# Everybody wants me to be what they want me to be... #

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With the success of Easy,

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the band's international reputation was growing.

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They were now building a following in Europe, Africa and Japan.

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But they were still a long way from achieving superstardom.

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# I'm easy like Sunday morning... #

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They recognised there was a kind of missing ingredient.

0:21:370:21:40

They actually wanted to be a household name.

0:21:400:21:43

They were starting to talk about whether or not

0:21:430:21:46

they didn't need to push one person forward as the face of the band

0:21:460:21:50

so that people could kind of identify with,

0:21:500:21:53

and thought that might help them make that next step.

0:21:530:21:56

They wanted to be the black Beatles.

0:21:560:21:58

I always remember Lionel for being a charmer.

0:21:580:22:01

Even then, he knew how to work a room, he remembered everyone's name.

0:22:010:22:05

He was just, he was very, very effective

0:22:050:22:10

and very impressive in that sense.

0:22:100:22:12

Now the face of the band, it was Lionel's music,

0:22:130:22:17

and specifically his ability to write love songs,

0:22:170:22:20

that would take the Commodores to the top of the American charts.

0:22:200:22:23

# Lady

0:22:230:22:26

# Morning's just a moment away

0:22:280:22:34

# And I'm without you once again... #

0:22:340:22:41

They hadn't really crossed over.

0:22:410:22:44

They had been thought of as another funky band and not as,

0:22:440:22:48

necessarily, pop hit-makers.

0:22:480:22:50

What it took was some ballads, that's really what I think transformed that situation.

0:22:500:22:56

# I wonder if you need me now?

0:22:560:23:04

# We play the games that people play... #

0:23:050:23:11

'Corny, syrupy, sappy, schmaltzy.'

0:23:110:23:15

These words have covered my career forever.

0:23:150:23:19

But I have found that, over the years,

0:23:190:23:21

the only word that does not go out of style is love.

0:23:210:23:24

# I know deep in my heart... #

0:23:240:23:27

He writes honest stuff

0:23:270:23:30

about good people,

0:23:300:23:33

about honest situations and relationships.

0:23:330:23:37

# Remembering the pain if I must say... #

0:23:370:23:42

When people are writing songs sometimes,

0:23:420:23:44

say, the sun comes in front of the moon,

0:23:440:23:48

and when the star sparkles it hits the glow of the thing

0:23:480:23:51

and warms your face, you know?

0:23:510:23:52

Whereas sometimes it can be much easier, more direct,

0:23:520:23:55

and more of a connection when you say, "I love you."

0:23:550:23:58

# I do love you... #

0:23:580:24:01

'Love would fall in three categories.'

0:24:010:24:04

You lost someone, you found someone, or you're lonely. That's love.

0:24:040:24:08

# Still. #

0:24:080:24:11

He puts the ballad together.

0:24:170:24:20

He's like Smokey Robinson, he's a poet,

0:24:200:24:22

and the way he styles his phrases and his clever play of words.

0:24:220:24:29

# Somehow I know deep in my heart

0:24:290:24:37

# You needed me

0:24:370:24:43

# Cos I needed you so desperately

0:24:430:24:51

# But we were too blind to see

0:24:540:24:58

# But then most of all

0:25:000:25:06

# I do love you

0:25:060:25:12

# Still. #

0:25:180:25:20

How do you write a good song?

0:25:260:25:27

Well, first of all, it's where do you want to take it?

0:25:270:25:30

Do you want to take it from the heart,

0:25:300:25:33

or do you want to take it from the organic,

0:25:330:25:37

or do you just want to take it from safety?

0:25:370:25:41

And I think Lionel took it from the heart.

0:25:410:25:44

See, he's the master of conversational music.

0:25:440:25:50

He doesn't write glossy lyrics, he writes conversations,

0:25:500:25:54

and I think that's what makes his stuff so special.

0:25:540:25:57

# You're once, twice

0:25:570:26:02

# Three times a lady

0:26:040:26:09

# And I love you... #

0:26:090:26:16

My father got up and said, "I'd like to give a toast to your mother.

0:26:160:26:19

"She's a fantastic lady, she's an incredible mother

0:26:190:26:22

"and a wonderful friend, and I just want to say thank you

0:26:220:26:26

"for being there for me for all these years."

0:26:260:26:29

# And I love yo-o-ou

0:26:290:26:37

# I lo-o-o-ove you... #

0:26:390:26:44

I'd learned a lot about soul, as opposed to technique,

0:26:440:26:51

he possesses both.

0:26:510:26:53

But, for me, I learned that's it's got to come from here,

0:26:530:26:57

you've got to care what you're singing about,

0:26:570:26:59

and sing what you care about.

0:26:590:27:01

# With every beat of my heart... #

0:27:010:27:08

Released in 1978,

0:27:080:27:11

Three Times A Lady is the song

0:27:110:27:13

that made the Commodores international superstars.

0:27:130:27:17

A number one in the UK, and in the Billboard Hot 100,

0:27:170:27:21

it was a worldwide hit,

0:27:210:27:23

with the press now hailing them "the black Beatles."

0:27:230:27:27

By that point, Lionel had been very much pushed as the front person.

0:27:280:27:32

He was very much the key writer, especially on those ballads.

0:27:320:27:37

You know, Three Times A Lady, Sail On, Still,

0:27:370:27:40

which was very much the vein that the Commodores had started to move into.

0:27:400:27:45

So, I think you could see that Lionel was going to be

0:27:450:27:49

kind of spun off from the band.

0:27:490:27:51

# Sail on

0:27:530:27:56

# Honey

0:27:560:27:59

# Good times never felt so good

0:28:010:28:06

# Sail on

0:28:060:28:09

# Honey

0:28:090:28:12

# Good times never felt so good

0:28:140:28:19

# Sail on... #

0:28:190:28:21

With seven top ten hits, including three number ones,

0:28:210:28:25

the Commodores were now the top black act in the USA.

0:28:250:28:29

But their 1980 album Heroes received a cool reception

0:28:300:28:35

from critics and public alike.

0:28:350:28:37

They did a tour in America,

0:28:370:28:40

and it was the first time a Commodores tour was not successful.

0:28:400:28:43

And, of course, with any band,

0:28:430:28:46

when they've been as big as they were,

0:28:460:28:49

the first time there's a lack of success,

0:28:490:28:52

that's when you tend to get strife.

0:28:520:28:54

There's a group dynamic, having been in about six groups,

0:28:540:28:59

that you really have about five or six good years

0:28:590:29:03

before one guy starts saying, "My wife doesn't want me to travel anymore,"

0:29:030:29:07

and another says, "How come you get to stay in a better room than I am?

0:29:070:29:11

"The group's paying for mine..."

0:29:110:29:13

And it just starts falling apart, piece by piece.

0:29:130:29:17

# Lady

0:29:170:29:20

# You bring me up when I'm down

0:29:200:29:24

# And maybe... #

0:29:250:29:27

With the band keen to try out different ideas

0:29:270:29:30

and find their sound for the new decade,

0:29:300:29:32

there was little room for Lionel's ballads.

0:29:320:29:35

I became this elephant...

0:29:350:29:38

in the middle of this house of cards, if you will.

0:29:380:29:42

It...It was...I was just not...

0:29:420:29:46

I tried to fit in in every possible way.

0:29:460:29:49

I even bought, "Here's another hit record,"

0:29:490:29:51

and it got to the point, "We don't want the hit record."

0:29:510:29:54

In a group like that, you audition your songs.

0:29:540:29:57

You come in and you say, "Do you like this song?"

0:29:570:30:00

They say, "No." That song's gone. A little part of your heart is gone

0:30:000:30:04

because there must have been some reason to start writing that

0:30:040:30:07

and I think that's what bothered him most.

0:30:070:30:10

With the Commodores turning away his music,

0:30:100:30:14

an approach from country superstar Kenny Rogers asking Lionel

0:30:140:30:17

to write a song for him to record,

0:30:170:30:19

could hardly have come at a better time.

0:30:190:30:22

# Lady

0:30:260:30:29

# I'm your knight in shining armour

0:30:290:30:33

# And I love you

0:30:330:30:36

# You have made me what I am

0:30:360:30:40

# And I am yours

0:30:400:30:45

# In my eyes

0:30:450:30:49

# I see no-one else but you

0:30:490:30:53

# There's no other love like our love

0:30:540:31:00

# And yes

0:31:000:31:03

# Oh yes

0:31:030:31:04

# I'll always want you with me

0:31:040:31:08

# I've waited for you

0:31:080:31:10

# For so long... #

0:31:100:31:15

When he produced Lady, he said he made more money

0:31:160:31:19

off of producing, writing and publishing

0:31:190:31:22

than he had made with the Commodores the whole ten years he'd been there

0:31:220:31:26

cos it was a whole new world.

0:31:260:31:28

As well as reaching number one on America's Country Music Chart,

0:31:280:31:32

Lady also topped the Adult Contemporary Chart,

0:31:320:31:35

the Billboard Hot 100 and the Black Singles Chart.

0:31:350:31:39

With members of the Commodores making up the backing band,

0:31:390:31:42

the song received two Grammy Award nominations.

0:31:420:31:45

# Cos my love

0:31:460:31:48

# There's something

0:31:510:31:53

# I want you to know... #

0:31:530:31:58

Following the success of Lady,

0:31:580:32:00

Lionel was asked to write the theme song

0:32:000:32:02

for a new Franco Zeffirelli film starring Brooke Shields.

0:32:020:32:06

He offered a song which had been rejected by the Commodores.

0:32:060:32:09

The song was Endless Love.

0:32:090:32:13

# You know I don't mind...

0:32:130:32:16

# You know I don't mind... #

0:32:160:32:21

His duet with Motown stablemate Diana Ross

0:32:230:32:26

became the label's biggest selling single,

0:32:260:32:29

staying at number one on the Billboard Hot 100

0:32:290:32:32

for nine weeks.

0:32:320:32:35

# This love I have inside

0:32:350:32:40

# And I'll give it all to you... #

0:32:400:32:44

One morning I woke up to the radio station in Tuskegee, Alabama,

0:32:440:32:49

listening to Endless Love, Lionel Richie and Diana Ross. Who?!

0:32:490:32:54

Lionel Richie and who?!

0:32:570:32:59

Benny always understood that Lionel would go forward.

0:32:590:33:03

But wouldn't it be nice if you could stay together as a unit?

0:33:050:33:10

In an attempt to keep Lionel on board, the Commodores' manager,

0:33:110:33:15

Benny Ashburn, offered him the chance to record a solo album

0:33:150:33:19

while remaining in the band.

0:33:190:33:21

# Girl

0:33:240:33:26

# Tell me only this

0:33:260:33:28

# That I have your heart

0:33:290:33:32

# For always... #

0:33:340:33:37

In 1982, Motown released Truly,

0:33:380:33:41

the first single from Lionel's self-titled debut album,

0:33:410:33:45

the label delaying the release of the next Commodores album

0:33:450:33:49

to launch him as a solo act.

0:33:490:33:51

# And forever

0:33:540:33:58

# I will be your lover

0:34:000:34:06

# And I feel if you... #

0:34:070:34:12

By the time Lionel had finished recording the album in August 1982,

0:34:120:34:16

Benny Ashburn, the father of the Commodores, had died.

0:34:160:34:21

Lionel dedicated the album to Benny and the Commodores.

0:34:210:34:24

# Truly

0:34:240:34:29

# Truly in love

0:34:290:34:32

# With you girl

0:34:320:34:36

# I'm truly

0:34:360:34:43

# Head over heels with your love

0:34:430:34:49

# I need you

0:34:510:34:57

# And with your love

0:34:580:35:00

# I am free

0:35:000:35:05

# And truly

0:35:050:35:11

# You know you're all right

0:35:110:35:16

# With me... #

0:35:180:35:26

APPLAUSE AND CHEERING

0:35:270:35:30

With his first solo release, Lionel was back at the top of the charts.

0:35:300:35:34

But his time with the Commodores was at an end.

0:35:340:35:37

He made an exit in front of 22,000 people out in Texas.

0:35:370:35:42

After the third or the fourth song in the show,

0:35:420:35:45

he couldn't sing any more.

0:35:450:35:48

And the next night, we're in Miami, Florida,

0:35:480:35:53

and he didn't perform. Then I knew something was up.

0:35:530:35:58

And it turned out that Richie wanted to pursue his own career.

0:35:580:36:02

It was a very difficult decision for Lionel. These were his friends.

0:36:020:36:06

They weren't very happy about him leaving.

0:36:060:36:09

He had a manager already that was a lovely guy

0:36:090:36:15

and Lionel was very reluctant about leaving.

0:36:150:36:18

Lionel and the Commodores would never share a stage again.

0:36:180:36:23

Like their role models, The Beatles, the band's ideals of friendship,

0:36:230:36:27

music and creativity seemed long forgotten.

0:36:270:36:30

The band continues to this day

0:36:300:36:32

but it's never achieved the success of those early years with Lionel.

0:36:320:36:38

# Well my friends

0:36:380:36:39

# The time has come... #

0:36:390:36:42

He decided that he really had to leave the Commodores.

0:36:420:36:47

He wanted a solo career.

0:36:470:36:48

I immediately started to facilitate that. We had very quick success.

0:36:480:36:54

Lionel's first solo album was a hit worldwide

0:36:550:36:58

and confirmed his status as a solo artist.

0:36:580:37:02

His second album was even bigger, selling over eight million copies

0:37:020:37:05

and receiving favourable critical reviews

0:37:050:37:08

for its blend of up-tempo numbers and ballads.

0:37:080:37:12

Can't Slow Down, released in 1983, reached number one

0:37:120:37:16

on both sides of the Atlantic and won two Grammy awards.

0:37:160:37:21

# All night long

0:37:210:37:23

# All night

0:37:230:37:25

# All night long

0:37:250:37:28

# All night

0:37:280:37:30

# All night long... #

0:37:300:37:32

Lionel was now up there with the superstars of the '80s...

0:37:320:37:36

Michael Jackson, his sister, Janet, Madonna,

0:37:360:37:39

Bruce Springsteen and Prince.

0:37:390:37:41

# Once you get started

0:37:410:37:43

# You can't sit down

0:37:430:37:45

# Come join the fun

0:37:480:37:50

# It's a merry-go-round

0:37:500:37:52

# Everyone's dancing

0:37:560:37:58

# Their troubles away... #

0:37:580:38:01

Launched in 1981, MTV was now the shop window for pop music.

0:38:010:38:07

The music video channel had access to a huge audience.

0:38:070:38:10

But at first, it was aimed primarily at white rock music fans.

0:38:100:38:14

We had broken the barrier.

0:38:140:38:16

Michael Jackson, Beat It

0:38:160:38:19

and Billie Jean, two videos thrown down in front of MTV

0:38:190:38:23

and say, "Go ahead, put them in. Play this. Look at this.

0:38:230:38:28

Tell us you're going to keep this station for white, suburban kids

0:38:280:38:31

and they're not going to get a chance to listen or see this music.

0:38:310:38:34

# Playing in the shadows

0:38:340:38:39

# Just you and I

0:38:390:38:42

# Till the morning light... #

0:38:420:38:45

Following in Michael's footsteps,

0:38:510:38:54

Lionel was one of the first black artists

0:38:540:38:56

to gain airplay on the channel.

0:38:560:38:58

# So in love

0:39:000:39:02

# You and me

0:39:020:39:04

# On the boulevard

0:39:040:39:06

# Wild and free

0:39:060:39:07

# Giving all we got

0:39:070:39:09

# We laid it down

0:39:090:39:12

# Taken every shot

0:39:120:39:13

# Took the town... #

0:39:130:39:16

With the MTV age, we have

0:39:160:39:20

a very limited category, a very limited number of black artists

0:39:200:39:24

that are standing in for black music.

0:39:240:39:26

But then, also, as Lionel Richie develops his own style,

0:39:260:39:30

MTV and also promoters and the corporations

0:39:300:39:33

that are running these labels also whiten up his music a little.

0:39:330:39:38

My favourite Lionel Richie songs are favourites of mine

0:39:380:39:42

more because of what we did with them

0:39:420:39:44

than maybe the songs themselves.

0:39:440:39:47

# I've been alone with you

0:39:470:39:49

# Inside my mind... #

0:39:490:39:54

When the video to his 1984 single Hello was first shown on MTV,

0:39:540:39:59

the storyline provoked different reactions.

0:39:590:40:02

It remains one of the most memorable videos from the '80s

0:40:020:40:06

and still gets people talking.

0:40:060:40:08

# Hello

0:40:080:40:12

# Is it me you're looking for?

0:40:120:40:17

Bob Giraldi came to me and said,

0:40:170:40:20

"We have a lovely actress and she's a teacher student.

0:40:200:40:23

"Oh my God, she loves you. and my God, what a great story.

0:40:230:40:27

"We're going to make her blind."

0:40:270:40:29

'I thought that was the worst suggestion ever on the planet.'

0:40:290:40:33

# Cos you know just what to say... #

0:40:330:40:36

I had this vision coming from the lyrics,

0:40:360:40:39

"Hello, is it me you are looking for?",

0:40:390:40:42

that it was a love story between an instructor and a blind girl.

0:40:420:40:47

# I love you... #

0:40:470:40:50

Hello is one of the most beautiful recordings of all time.

0:40:500:40:54

I love the way that song is written, the way it's produced,

0:40:540:40:57

the way he sings out with such emotion.

0:40:570:40:59

I remember the video with the blind girl.

0:40:590:41:02

It's just really incredible.

0:41:020:41:04

The promo video for Hello was appalling. Absolutely appalling.

0:41:040:41:08

My God, you've never seen anything so gross. Anyway...

0:41:080:41:12

I mean, that sculpture was so dire.

0:41:130:41:16

I said, "Bob, the bust looks nothing like me, it's kind of off."

0:41:160:41:24

He says, "Lionel, she's blind."

0:41:240:41:26

To this day, people will not remember the name of the song.

0:41:260:41:29

They'll say, "What's the song with the blind girl in it?"

0:41:290:41:33

And that's the hook.

0:41:330:41:34

# Cos I wonder where you are

0:41:340:41:38

# And I wonder what you do

0:41:380:41:41

# Are you somewhere feeling lonely

0:41:410:41:45

# Or is someone loving you?

0:41:450:41:48

# Tell me how to win your heart

0:41:480:41:52

# For I haven't got a clue

0:41:520:41:57

# But let me start by saying

0:41:570:42:02

# I love you. #

0:42:020:42:04

Although the video for Hello divided opinion,

0:42:040:42:07

the track is regarded by many as Lionel's signature song.

0:42:070:42:10

While a long way from his funk and soul roots, it shares the approach

0:42:100:42:14

to song writing he'd developed with the Commodores.

0:42:140:42:18

Emotive lyrics and simple, unforgettable melodies.

0:42:180:42:23

I could take the blame for co-writing one of the only songs

0:42:230:42:26

on the album that wasn't a hit.

0:42:260:42:27

I have written songs that are so damn complicated

0:42:270:42:30

that even I can't sing them and I wrote them.

0:42:300:42:33

He just, I guess...

0:42:330:42:37

He's kind of like Neil Diamond, he made the most out of three chords.

0:42:370:42:41

Literally, Lionel's songs are so simple.

0:42:410:42:44

That song that I wrote with Lionel...

0:42:440:42:46

It's very complicated

0:42:520:42:53

and probably not the easiest song to sing along with. As opposed to...

0:42:530:42:58

# Hello. #

0:42:580:42:59

Jeez, Lionel. Or...

0:42:590:43:02

# You're once

0:43:020:43:04

# Twice

0:43:040:43:06

# Three times a lady. #

0:43:060:43:09

I mean, it's just so simple

0:43:090:43:10

and you hear it and you go, why didn't I think of that?

0:43:100:43:13

# All night long

0:43:130:43:16

# All night... #

0:43:160:43:18

Lionel's status as a pop superstar was confirmed in 1984

0:43:180:43:22

when he was invited to perform

0:43:220:43:24

at the closing ceremony of the Los Angeles Olympic Games.

0:43:240:43:29

My name changed from Lionel Richie to Lionel Richie All Night Long

0:43:290:43:33

in every country in the world just because of that one song.

0:43:330:43:37

Six months later, Lionel Richie hosted the American Music Awards.

0:43:400:43:44

He was on the cover of TV Guide that week.

0:43:440:43:48

He won six American Music Awards

0:43:480:43:50

and about three weeks later, he won three Grammy awards

0:43:500:43:53

and was on the Grammys. Those multiple exposures

0:43:530:43:56

in that concentrated period of time exploded Lionel's career.

0:43:560:44:02

Later the same year,

0:44:020:44:03

when Harry Belafonte called for an African American response

0:44:030:44:07

to the famine in Ethiopia, Lionel was the first person he approached.

0:44:070:44:12

Now in a position to make things happen,

0:44:120:44:14

Lionel co-wrote We Are The World with Michael Jackson.

0:44:140:44:18

The single, produced by Quincy Jones,

0:44:180:44:21

was recorded in January 1985

0:44:210:44:24

on the night of the American Music Awards which Lionel was hosting.

0:44:240:44:27

# We'll make a better day

0:44:270:44:29

# Just you and me

0:44:290:44:31

# We are the world... #

0:44:310:44:35

Quincy was in charge, there was no question about that,

0:44:350:44:38

but the person you saw everywhere that night, moving people around,

0:44:380:44:42

making suggestions, just in control, was Lionel.

0:44:420:44:46

When the other person comes in, when you duet with someone,

0:44:460:44:49

when your part comes up, lean in.

0:44:490:44:51

'It was organised chaos.'

0:44:510:44:53

We had five different groups all together trying to work on...

0:44:530:44:57

Some over here in Swahili, some with the gospel version...

0:44:570:45:00

My job was to, kind of, keep it policed.

0:45:020:45:06

I thought it'll never happen tonight but surely, it came together.

0:45:100:45:16

# There comes a time

0:45:160:45:18

# When we heed a certain call

0:45:190:45:22

-# When the world Must come together as one.

-#

0:45:220:45:27

It was very significant for black America

0:45:270:45:30

but it was also significant for white America

0:45:300:45:33

to see all of those artists together on the stage

0:45:330:45:37

and to see people who previously you felt like had only got their just do

0:45:370:45:43

in black circuits, but here they are on a worldwide stage.

0:45:430:45:47

This meant so much to us as a people.

0:45:470:45:49

# It's true We'll make a better day

0:45:490:45:51

# Just you and me

0:45:510:45:54

# Hooo!

0:45:540:45:55

# We are the world

0:45:550:45:58

# We are the children

0:45:580:46:02

To date, We Are The World, the single and subsequent album,

0:46:020:46:05

has raised more than 60 million for charity.

0:46:050:46:09

Hot on its heels,

0:46:100:46:12

Lionel was asked to write the theme song for Hollywood blockbuster White Nights.

0:46:120:46:16

# Say you Say me

0:46:220:46:25

# Say it for always

0:46:280:46:31

# That's the way it should be. #

0:46:320:46:35

Say You Say Me delivered Lionel his ninth US number one.

0:46:350:46:38

But for some long-time fans,

0:46:380:46:40

his music was heading in the wrong direction.

0:46:400:46:43

I lost interest in him.

0:46:430:46:44

I think the song that did it was Say You Say Me.

0:46:440:46:48

When I heard that I was like, you know what,

0:46:480:46:50

this is a little too middle of the road for me!

0:46:500:46:53

# Say you Say me

0:46:530:46:55

# Say it together... #

0:46:570:47:00

For all the talk of selling out,

0:47:000:47:03

Lionel walked away with an Oscar for Best Original Song.

0:47:030:47:08

He followed it up with a dance floor filler from the same album.

0:47:080:47:11

# Oh, what a feeling

0:47:110:47:15

# When you're dancing on the ceiling... #

0:47:150:47:18

Inspired by a Fred Astaire dance routine,

0:47:180:47:21

the video became an instant MTV classic.

0:47:210:47:23

# Oh, oh, what a feeling

0:47:270:47:30

# When you're dancing on the ceiling. #

0:47:300:47:32

We used techniques that had been used back in the '30s and '40s

0:47:320:47:37

to film Fred Astaire and others

0:47:370:47:39

coming up and dancing around a room.

0:47:390:47:42

We had Stanley Donen direct the video.

0:47:420:47:45

He was one of the great directors of all time.

0:47:450:47:48

In 1986, Lionel embarked on a world tour,

0:47:480:47:51

which would keep him on the road for more than a year,

0:47:510:47:54

playing to over 1.5 million people in the United States alone.

0:47:540:47:59

His three solo albums had sold more than 20 million copies worldwide.

0:47:590:48:03

But despite his commercial success, Lionel craved more.

0:48:030:48:07

It's hard for artists as they get really successful

0:48:070:48:10

not to yearningly look to be something else.

0:48:100:48:14

He was a great songwriter, a great live performer,

0:48:140:48:19

and a straight commercial pop artist.

0:48:190:48:22

And after a while, I think he became a little unhappy with that.

0:48:220:48:28

He had it and he wanted more.

0:48:280:48:29

The three top acts at the charts in the early '80s

0:48:310:48:34

were Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie and Prince.

0:48:340:48:37

And they were very competitive with each other

0:48:370:48:39

and they worried about what the other one was doing

0:48:390:48:43

and there was a certain jealousy of the cachet that Prince had

0:48:430:48:48

to be more of a hipper artist, that his music was harder edged

0:48:480:48:52

and that he was doing experimental kind of things.

0:48:520:48:56

MUSIC: "When Doves Cry" by Prince

0:48:560:48:57

Lionel, edgy? That's not possible.

0:48:570:49:01

If I was producing him now, I would say, just put that away.

0:49:010:49:05

You have the thing that everybody wants.

0:49:050:49:08

Everybody wants what Lionel Richie has.

0:49:080:49:11

Like I said, he wrote songs that the whole world sings.

0:49:110:49:14

After five lucrative years together,

0:49:140:49:17

Lionel ditched his manager, Ken Kragen.

0:49:170:49:20

He left me to go to Madonna's manager, Freddy DeMann.

0:49:200:49:25

The only problem was he had some other issues in his life

0:49:250:49:30

and he kind of disappeared from the scene.

0:49:300:49:32

It made me look kind of good.

0:49:320:49:34

Everybody thought, "He's no longer with you, he's not..."

0:49:340:49:37

but there were a lot of other factors involved.

0:49:370:49:40

# All the walls are falling down. #

0:49:410:49:44

It was Lionel's private life, which he'd always been at pains to protect,

0:49:450:49:49

that now became the focus of his attention.

0:49:490:49:52

I received a phonecall from my father and he said,

0:49:530:49:57

"Son, I'm going to see the doctor. I want you to come with me."

0:49:570:50:01

This is a military man, who - you have to understand -

0:50:010:50:04

I've never seen my father sick a day in his life.

0:50:040:50:07

This is a man that would always say to me, "Shake it off, boy. Shake it off."

0:50:070:50:11

I've never had him ever lean on me.

0:50:110:50:16

The record company called and said, "It's time to go back to work."

0:50:160:50:19

I couldn't do it.

0:50:190:50:21

In 1987, Lionel took time out from his career

0:50:210:50:24

to look after his father in Tuskegee.

0:50:240:50:27

SONG: "Love Oh Love"

0:50:310:50:32

The following year, his private life hit the headlines

0:50:340:50:37

with tabloid revelations of an affair.

0:50:370:50:40

His marriage to his childhood sweetheart Brenda fell apart.

0:50:400:50:44

It was a time to take stock.

0:50:440:50:46

How many Christmases did I miss? Wow. How many Thanksgivings did I miss?

0:50:470:50:54

And now you start thinking back 17 years in a row,

0:50:540:50:58

from the time I was with the Commodores

0:50:580:51:00

to this wonderful All Night Long, Dancing on the Ceiling.

0:51:000:51:04

Hmmm.

0:51:040:51:05

And I'd never really stopped to take a look over my shoulder to see that.

0:51:050:51:10

# Make it clear today. #

0:51:100:51:15

After five years out of the spotlight,

0:51:180:51:21

Lionel returned to the public eye in 1992.

0:51:210:51:24

CHEERING AND APPLAUSE

0:51:240:51:25

-Thank you.

-Thank you for coming.

0:51:250:51:27

Where have you been for the last five years?

0:51:320:51:35

It's been five years of... I started out with a vacation.

0:51:350:51:38

The greatest feeling in the world is after 14 years of album, tour, album, tour,

0:51:380:51:43

it's time for a vacation.

0:51:430:51:45

Well, I took maybe a six-week vacation. My father became very ill.

0:51:450:51:50

I had about two and half years of his life before he died.

0:51:500:51:53

Nothing... It was just gradual, nothing serious,

0:51:530:51:56

other than just dying - I guess that's pretty heavy.

0:51:560:51:58

From there, we went to throat surgery for a while. That scared me to death.

0:51:580:52:03

When someone walks up to you and says,

0:52:030:52:05

"Lionel, it's very minor surgery but you may never be able to sing again."

0:52:050:52:10

And then a divorce, the end of my marriage.

0:52:100:52:12

So I'm so happy to be back here with you.

0:52:120:52:15

# Times are hard

0:52:170:52:19

# Spirit's weak

0:52:190:52:21

# Oh yeah

0:52:210:52:23

# Everything seems to be going wrong

0:52:230:52:27

# Outlook's bleak

0:52:270:52:29

# You know, I fooled around

0:52:310:52:34

# Playing the field... #

0:52:340:52:37

My absolute joy is in what I do.

0:52:370:52:42

I'm now doing this because I like to do it.

0:52:420:52:45

# Hold on to the love We have together. #

0:52:450:52:49

In 1993, he signed to Mercury Records,

0:52:490:52:52

ending a 20-year association with Motown, the label he'd started with,

0:52:520:52:56

as a backline sax player in the Commodores.

0:52:560:53:00

Two years later, he married second wife Diane

0:53:000:53:04

and they had two children together, but the marriage failed in 2003.

0:53:040:53:09

Meanwhile Nicole, his adopted daughter from his first marriage,

0:53:100:53:14

found her own fame and a very public drug problem.

0:53:140:53:17

Kids don't come with manuals.

0:53:200:53:22

Marriage does not come with an instruction manual.

0:53:220:53:25

You want to get it right,

0:53:250:53:27

but you keep failing miserably at certain areas.

0:53:270:53:30

# I don't want to lose you now. #

0:53:300:53:33

Lionel's professional success has, it seems, come at a price.

0:53:330:53:38

When I'm into an album or if I'm into a tour, I either have to focus all the way or I can't do it.

0:53:390:53:44

You can always tell when I'm putting full force back into my career.

0:53:440:53:48

My personal life goes straight to hell.

0:53:480:53:51

Since his come-back, Lionel has released eight studio albums,

0:53:520:53:56

performed sell-out tours and remains a regular guest on chat shows.

0:53:560:54:01

But to date, he's not made it back to the top of the charts.

0:54:010:54:04

# I love you so

0:54:040:54:06

# And I don't wanna lose you baby

0:54:060:54:10

# Don't wanna lose you

0:54:100:54:12

# Don't wanna lose you baby... #

0:54:120:54:15

He will have influenced others.

0:54:150:54:17

You talk about how the Commodores watched The Beatles

0:54:170:54:20

but there will be plenty of young artists who watched the Commodores

0:54:200:54:24

and who watched Lionel and who wanted to be him

0:54:240:54:27

or wanted to learn lessons from how they succeeded.

0:54:270:54:30

More recently, he's been happy to share his experience

0:54:300:54:33

and his songs with a new generation of singers.

0:54:330:54:36

Back over to Lionel.

0:54:360:54:38

# That's why I'm easy

0:54:380:54:41

# Ah, ah, ah

0:54:410:54:44

# I'm easy like Sunday morning. #

0:54:440:54:48

Over to Lemar.

0:54:490:54:51

# I wanna be high...#

0:54:510:54:54

Lemar was absolutely electrifying from day one.

0:54:540:54:59

And as I told him, I don't really care whether you win or lose.

0:54:590:55:04

# I wanna be free

0:55:040:55:07

# Just me...#

0:55:070:55:10

He said, just don't win. And I was like, huh?

0:55:100:55:13

He said, if you win, the pressure's on you. You have to deliver.

0:55:130:55:17

But if you forget about winning, just enjoy the experience,

0:55:170:55:21

learn something from it and when you come out,

0:55:210:55:24

just focus on the music and try and find an identity.

0:55:240:55:26

Find who you are and what you're about.

0:55:260:55:30

# I know it sounds funny But I just can't stand the pain

0:55:300:55:34

CHEERING AND APPLAUSE

0:55:340:55:35

The air of confidence, you know, the relaxed manner, you know,

0:55:350:55:39

was for me the biggest thing that I took from that performance.

0:55:390:55:43

I was like, wow!

0:55:430:55:44

I'm there slogging along and he's just like, "This is easy".

0:55:440:55:47

# Yes, I begged, stole And I borrowed

0:55:490:55:55

# Yeah, ooh

0:55:550:55:57

# That's why I'm easy. #

0:55:570:55:59

He's grown so much in his music and he's in such a better place

0:56:010:56:06

than he's been for a long time.

0:56:060:56:09

His marriage and his divorce was bringing him down,

0:56:090:56:11

his mom dying, his dad passing away.

0:56:110:56:14

All that stuff weighs heavy on a country boy.

0:56:150:56:19

And he is a country boy at heart.

0:56:190:56:21

But I think he's kind of found a place for himself now.

0:56:210:56:24

# Why in the world would anybody put chains on me? #

0:56:240:56:29

Four decades after his parents paid for him to go to Tuskegee Institute,

0:56:320:56:36

Lionel still hasn't made it as a lawyer.

0:56:360:56:39

Nor is he writing number one hits anymore.

0:56:390:56:42

But there's no doubting his place in the history of popular music.

0:56:420:56:46

The classic songs he wrote in the '70s and '80s have

0:56:470:56:50

and still serve him well.

0:56:500:56:53

# That's why I'm easy

0:56:530:56:56

# I'm easy like Sunday morning. #

0:56:580:57:03

He's always had this need to go back to his roots

0:57:030:57:07

cos I think that's what he's all about.

0:57:070:57:09

It is not about money to him.

0:57:090:57:11

It's about having this stuff pent up inside him

0:57:110:57:14

that must have happened in Tuskegee.

0:57:140:57:17

Over four decades after starting out with the Commodores,

0:57:170:57:21

Lionel's been back in the studio re-visiting his classic songs.

0:57:210:57:24

He's recorded duets with some of country music's biggest stars,

0:57:240:57:28

including Shania Twain, Willie Nelson and close friend, Kenny Rogers.

0:57:280:57:33

The album's title - quite simply, Tuskegee.

0:57:330:57:37

# My endless love. #

0:57:390:57:42

I was in the bank a little while ago

0:57:430:57:45

and a lady I thought was daydreaming but she wasn't,

0:57:450:57:48

she was following the lyrics of Three Times A Lady,

0:57:480:57:51

a classic Lionel song,

0:57:510:57:53

so you've got to be impressed with the way his music transcends time.

0:57:530:57:58

His music transcends generations, it transcends race,

0:57:580:58:03

it transcends nationalities.

0:58:030:58:05

His music is an international music.

0:58:050:58:07

# What a feeling

0:58:090:58:13

# Dancing on the ceiling. #

0:58:130:58:14

Someone asks, "In your next life, who do you want to come back as?"

0:58:140:58:18

My answer - Lionel Richie.

0:58:180:58:20

# Oh, what a feeling

0:58:260:58:29

# When you're dancing on the ceiling... #

0:58:290:58:32

Subtitling by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:360:58:40

E-mail [email protected]

0:58:400:58:44

Documentary showing how Lionel Richie achieved his dream of becoming 'as big as The Beatles' and how much of what he learnt from his years with The Commodores prepared him for that success. After 15 years of soaring success with the band, Lionel left the group to go solo in what many considered to be a risky move. His first solo album, Lionel Richie, grabbed the world's attention, whilst the follow-up, Can't Slow Down, turned him into a global superstar. But could he maintain sustained popularity without the group he'd known as brothers behind him?

Contributors include: Billboard Magazine editor Adam White, Motown songwriter and producer Gloria Jones, Kenny Rogers, video director Bob Giraldi, songwriter and producer David Foster, general manager at Motown in 1978 Keith Harris, UK soul singer Lemar and Pearly Gates of The Flirtations.


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