Thursday, June 03, 2004

In Defense of Lionel Richie

So, last night I was watching yet another one of those "We love/hate the 80s/90s" on VH1, where smarmy members of the pop culture literati (who did their agent have to blow to get these nobodies their gigs) comment on the wackness of 80s/90s music, fads, trends, etc. Last night, on "50 Crappy Songs" or whatever that show is called, the anonymous cabal of "commentators" eviscerated Lionel Richie's "Dancing on the Ceiling." It is a crappy song, to be sure, but they made it seem like it was the kind of typical tripe put out by Richie.

Richie was actually pretty talented (yes, you read that correctly), and penned some nice songs when he was a member of the Commodores (Easy, Zoom, Machine Gun, Sweet Love, etc.). Granted, I am genetically presdisposed to being a Lionel Richie supporter (that is another post for another day), but it is sad that Richie's legacy is being judged by a bunch of commentators who probably have no clue about his musical background. In fact, none of these commentators or rock/pop/soul historians, their only
qualification appears to be sass and hip haircuts. They know more about the vacuity of Richie pipehead daughter Nicole who is paid by Fox to patronize rural people with that slutty Hilton girl, than the Richie discography.

In any event, the VH1 crappy song show missed perhaps the worst song of the 1980s, that "Do They Know Its Christmastime?" song put out by a misfit bunch of British stars the winter of 1985 to benefit starving Ethiopian kids. The country is half-Muslim, so the song's prosletyzing pro-Christmas message(who wrote it, Billy Graham?), was probably befuddling to those for whom the lyrics were translated. Who was the song speaking to? Were these kids supposed to respond, "Hey, Bananarama says its Christmas time. Now that I know that I don't feel so hungry anymore. Hope is on the way."

Remember this line from that song: "Well tonight, Thank God it's them, instead of you." Touching. As I was sitting in my dining room on Christmas night 1985, my face covered in grease from all the turkey I ate, I was definitely thinking, "I was hungry about 20
minutes ago, but thank God that -- unlike some starving kid in Africa with a distended belly -- I am full now. I barely have room for dessert!" Granted, because of the song, had there been a starving African kid sitting next to me, I would have definitely shared a couple of bites. Sure, I had a little bit of money I could have sent, but I was trying to save up to buy the latest ABC album.

In any event, I guess that song was better than "We Are The World," where a Reagan-era motley group of fading American pop stars (the afore-mentioned Richie, Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, Steve Van Zandt (?!?)) sang about giving food aid to starving African in exchange for political and cultural influence over their countries, and ultimately world domination. In the original cut of the song, the "We" was emphasized in the chorus, but that part -- like Meatloaf's verses, which reduced the song from 17 minutes to about 5 minutes -- eventually landed on the cutting room floor.


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