Lionel Richie's Greatest Songs from the 1980s

Few Things Scream '80s Like These Songs

History of jeans - Lionel Richie 1980s
History of jeans - Lionel Richie 1980s. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As a consummate pop star of the '80s, Lionel Richie famously stacked up 13 consecutive Top 10 hits, a remarkable feat indeed. However, his propensity for pop singles inevitably meant that the three albums he released contained little else in terms of commercial or critical appeal, assuming, of course, that all of the hits were actually good. And that's a hefty assumption. This best-of list includes just over half of Richie's signature tunes. Here's a chronological look at a few of this smooth singer's best, the ones you might not have to be ashamed of enjoying.

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"Endless Love"

Lionel Richie

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This overwrought karaoke classic served as the primary catalyst for Richie's unsurprising departure from the Commodores after his duet with ex-Supremes frontwoman Diana Ross hit No. 1 on the pop charts in the summer of 1981 and stayed there for nine weeks. Associated appropriately with the successful 1981 Brooke Shields film of the same name, the song also manages the rare feat of transcending its status as soundtrack fodder pulled from cinematic melodrama. Best sung or lip-synched by the brave and self-assured with maximum facial contortions and gesticulation, the ballad boasts a memorable, gentle verse that explodes (if adult contemporary pop can do that) with a positively sublime bridge. 

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"You Are"

Although Richie eliminated almost all soul and R&B aspects of his sound (what few there ever were) after he left the Commodores and embarked on his successful solo career, he manages to find a nifty groove on this song nevertheless. As usual, the singer amps things up perhaps a bit too far for the chorus, but in the verses and bridge of this smash follow-up single to his first outright solo No. 1 hit, "Truly," Richie has probably never been more subtle and emotionally commanding. It's one of many sumptuous and delicate performances on Richie's self-titled 1982 debut album.

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"My Love"

Unabashedly big, rich hooks generally overcome the middle-of-the-road nature of Richie's style as a solo artist, mostly because this artist had a knack for taking all the darkness out of romance. A love ballad has rarely been this effervescent and sunny before or since, and yet somehow it never devolves into a cheese-fest.

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"Running with the Night"

While Richie the balladeer was never at his best on up-tempo numbers, this one is most definitely the lesser of evils and far less embarrassing than the artist's other two major pop hits of this ilk, "All Night Long" and, especially, "Dancing on the Ceiling." Luckily, on this tolerable selection from the singer's sophomore album release, 1983's Can't Slow Down, Richie refrains from attempting either a forced Latin/Caribbean vibe as he does on "All Night Long" or engaging in abject lyrical silliness involving ceilings. Instead, he delivers a solid, if somewhat vanilla, mainstream pop/rock tune that, for better or worse, many will always remember from their pre-teen Top 40 listening period.

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"Stuck on You"

Richie reveals a certain amount of eclecticism with this song (even if it's difficult to imagine he's earned anything near roots rock credibility here), and though it's not his only flirtation with country music, it is his best. The tune's success also stems from its almost clinical laid-back approach to the love ballad. Once again, Richie walks a dangerously thin line by downplaying passion's tempest in favor of a lived-in, tamed version of love. But somehow he invests the song with sufficient feeling anyway and handles his most important task effectively, to make his performance convincing. That's an impressive achievement, considering the crass attempt at crossover appeal otherwise displayed here.

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"Say You, Say Me"

Back when his show still contained the phrase "late night" in its title, David Letterman employed this tune to great effect for a comedy bit. In a general sense, Richie's music has always teetered right on the edge of unintentional comedy, but his melodic gifts cannot be stifled or contained. As always, it's best not to puzzle too much over the meaning of the lyrics or search for interesting layers. Even so, this latter-day Richie hit from the '80s captured something substantial about the decade. The hooky anthem made an appearance in the 1985 film and also prolonged it's No. 1 hit status as a track on Richie's 1986 album.

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"Ballerina Girl"

This lesser-known, but still somehow compelling, ballad perfectly captures Richie's extreme romanticism, which borders on pathological here. Nonetheless, his composer's gift for melody shines through as usual and results in a slow-dance special that epitomizes "easy listening." As Richie's final Top 10 pop hit of the decade as well as his entire career, it's a fitting if subtle swan song, a crystallization of the singer's soft vocals and smooth, edgeless pleasing arrangements.