The Weekly interview: Lionel Richie

Lionel Richie returns to his All the Hits residency at the Axis at World Hollywood tonight, November 29, and continues with 6 shows in December. Las Vegas Weekly overtook the music legend as quickly as he touched down on the Strip today to discuss exactly what sets his Vegas show apart– the songs.

The other headliners at the Axis have built these big, magnificent productions around a smaller quantity of material. Your show is different since you have all the material. My biggest problem is it’s ensured somebody is going to leave saying, “I can’t believe they didn’t play …” You understand, there’s the best Hits tour, then there’s the All the Songs I Ever Played in My Life tour (laughs), We are actually blessed. There was a point in my life when all we had to do was worry if we had sufficient music to play one hour of our tunes only. If you’ve got that, you have actually obtained an opportunity to have a career. Then you enter into two hours, or two and a half, and you’ve got a problem. They offer you a time slot so you have to suffice down, and exactly what do you want to exclude? I’m in that blessed category since I don’t require the dancers and all the stuff between, I just need the next tune.

But having many hits should make it difficult to construct your program and make those choices. Absolutely. It’s always an issue. When we’re in England, we have three more albums that they have actually never ever heard in America. And individuals from England are coming here, and individuals from China and Germany. Every night we try to make the perfect set. I like Vegas since that’s a great issue to have here. Even if we’re aiming to experiment, it still comes out to a fantastic show. You know you’re doing “Easy” and “Brick House” and “Hello” and “Really” and “Dancing on the Ceiling,” since it resembles Springsteen and “Born in the U.S.A.”– you can’t stroll off without doing those songs. However then you get to fill in the blanks. I also like it here since I get to hear what they’re stating. When you plan an arena, all you hear is [the holler of a crowd] then it’s the next tune, then [the holler] Here, I put the mic down and they’re singing every word with me, which’s so essential to me.

I was an ’80s kid, and the three records I remember repeating then until they were broken were Thriller, Purple Rain and Cannot Decrease. Yep. Oh yeah.

I didn’t understand at the time, but Cannot Slow Down seemed to have numerous various sort of tunes, yet there were just 8 tracks on that album. Isn’t really that insane? When I turned the album in, the record business stated, “Are you kidding me?” Here’s the joke: Seven of the 8 were hits. The entire album was a greatest hits bundle.

But the principle at that time– which I like, to go a little traditional– was that there was a record store. You wish to come out with your album at the same time as Michael and Prince and Springsteen and Madonna. Why? Since when you walk to the front of the store, there was always the most recent releases, so you go to pick up Thriller and there’s Can’t Slow Down. You’re not going to walk out with simply one. So I wanted to make sure I was with that group due to the fact that as much as we were competition, we were good friends with a healthy regard for each other. We all had our lane, but it was all called pop and R&B music, and each of those records had their own identity.

You’ve constantly played with your musical identity. From that record, you had “Stuck on You,” which was actually a nation song. Were you aiming to dabble in various genres or just doing what came naturally? I was doing what I was doing. I was not at Sony, or Columbia, or Atlantic Records. I was at Motown. It’s a black business. So we didn’t have an R&B department; we just had the records. I didn’t understand to break with R&B and cross over, I felt in one’s bones to put the record out.

I had [former Motown president] Skip Miller, a dear friend and the gentleman I give all the credit to for providing me that consent, who saw me wrestling with this thing and said, “Don’t attempt to figure out all that; simply compose what you want to write and I’ll get it to the right people.” So when I wrote “Cruise On,” I wasn’t considering all that. I was going after Billy Joel and Elton John and James Taylor. I didn’t get that we had classifications. The sparkle of Motown was they never pigeonholed us. I didn’t really get scared up until most likely “Three Times a Lady,” when I understood I dropped a waltz in the middle of disco and funk (llaughs). That’s when I recognized I might want to call it back a bit.

Are there any new artists out there you see doing that today, pushing through those various genres? An excellent song is a terrific tune– let’s begin there. What has actually always maimed the artist is record companies and radio and now the streaming world having actually these things called categories. It’s like saying to an actor you can just play this character for the rest of your career. If you begin a funkster, you’re always gon na be a funkster. So I guess I defied the laws of gravity.

Today, I would say Bruno Mars has that left and right thing going on. He gets it. Chris Stapleton– ignore it. He’s a writer, male. But on top of that he gets onstage and he’s simply a badass.

That’s what it has to do with. You do not go to see Dylan with dancers; he’s gon na inform you a story. You’re trying to find the character and the flavor. Everything doesn’t have to be boom-bam-boom. Why are you weeping in the middle of that tune? Since that’s a badass tune. Melody is king. I’m a writer first and a performer second.

Lionel Richie November 29 & & December 6, 8, 9, 13 & & 15, 8 p.m., $44-$300. The Axis, 702-777-2782.

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