Lionel Richie, by Teresa Koenig
This book suffers a bit because of the question of timing. When the book was written, Lionel Richie was one of the most popular artists in the music world, having moved from a successful career with the Commodores to a solo career that was based on massively popular quiet storm ballads. The peak period of his popularity, though, ended around the time that this book was written. Designed to make his career appear to be unstoppable, it is instead a sign of how he was viewed at his peak, and a lot of the material in this book has aged somewhat poorly as a result. All in all, Richie comes off a decent enough fellow in this book, which is definitely very brief, but the gap between the way that the book presents Richie’s career and life and the way things have ended up working out for him personally is certainly poignant. There is a good reason why history tends to be written after some time has passed, and why this book’s current affairs approach does not work well, and this book can serve as an object lesson to the hazards of trying to write history ahead of time.
This book is a short one at 32 pages and four chapters. The book’s introduction shows Lionel Richie’s failed attempts at athletic glory that pushed him to find an alternative way to fame. This is followed by an opening chapter that discusses the origins of the Commodores in Alabama and the break that allowed them success and popularity (1). After this there is a discussion of the gold and platinum albums that the Commodores had as well as the supposed strength of Richie’s marriage with his wife (2). At this point the book changes its tack when it looks at Richie’s fondness for a solo career that would allow for more creativity as well as a great deal of popular success for his ballads (3), as well as a discussion of his growing confidence as a songwriter. The final chapter of the book looks at Richie’s success as part of “We Are The World” as well as his plans to further his career after having moved into movie music and having success with “Dancing On The Ceiling” (4).
There are at least three areas where this book’s current affairs approach ended up looking bad in retrospect. One of them regards the chart success of Lionel Richie. While Lionel Richie did have a record of #1 hits over quite a few years in the first two thirds of the 1980’s, at that point his record of success stopped cold, and his success on the singles chart rapidly vanished as his approach to music was viewed as passe in light of shifts towards rap. Similarly, the statement that Lionel Richie’s career wasn’t going to slow down ended up looking particularly bad when increasingly long periods went by between studio albums. Interestingly enough, Richie is currently well-established in the legacy tour circuit and is doing better in his musical career than in a long time at present, but his career did at least slow down for a period of decades after this book was written. The third, and most poignant, aspect of this book that did not age well is the author’s discussion of the marriage of Lionel Richie, which did not long survive this book either. All of that combined suggests that the author of this book was a spectacularly unsuccessful example of prophetic speculation. Let others profit from the example.