By JAY ROBERTS
The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.
LIONEL RICHIE – CAN’T SLOW DOWN (1983)
It’s time for another curveball folks! Yes, this series mostly focuses on rock and metal releases but I do have a love of 80’s pop music in my background as well and occasionally I pull out an album from that time that struck a nerve with me back then and still resonates with me to this day.
I’m not sure if I remember much about Lionel Richie’s time with The Commodores. At least not before I became as fan of his solo work. But while I probably learned more about his time with that group after he hit it big with Can’t Slow Down, it has definitely been more about his solo music that has had me hooked all these years.
And boy did he hit it big with this album! Can’t Slow Down has reportedly sold over 20 million copies, got a 20th anniversary 2-disc reissue release, won the Grammy for Album of the Year and had five top ten singles. Realistically, most artists would take a lengthy career to receive the kind of success he enjoyed with this album alone.
I’ve had this cassette in my collection for a long time, probably pretty much since it was released. But while I’m very familiar with the five classic tracks, it isn’t like I play the album a whole lot.
So, it was a bit of a surprise to me to realize that the album opening title track seems to be a huge missed opportunity. While certainly not a rule, I’ve kind of felt that a title track should generally serve as a way to sum up an album as a whole. Well, if you judged the album by this one’s title track, you’d dismiss it out of hand. The song is totally undersold and Richie’s vocals are barely above a whisper as if they were “accidentally” recorded and added to the musical score. It completely throws off the song and any hope for the track to be a more memorable one.
But the great thing is that the album rebounds strongly from that point. As I said, it had five top ten singles and given that Can’t Slow Down only had eight tracks on the original release, this makes for an almost hilarious level of great music to listen to.
Two songs made it all the way to #1 on the singles chart. The first one was “All Night Long (All Night)” an uptempo track with a party-slash-celebratory vibe to it. Truth be told, from the first notes of the song, I am always drawn into the song. It makes you feel great and sweeps you up into the party atmosphere.
The other #1 hit is the ballad “Hello” which closes the album. In 1983, MTV was actually still playing music videos and I remember the video for this song vividly. It is one of the better storyline videos I’ve seen and unlike most 80’s rock power ballads, I find the ballads on this album to be of a superior quality. Now I love this song but you know what kind of amused me as I listened to it for this article? If you combine the song with the video, it actually comes off as a little bit stalker-like in this day and age. I suppose it is all how you look at the song as an individual but in the right light (or perhaps a more sinister light), I’d say The Police song “Every Breath You Take” might just have a companion piece. I know, way to ruin a song for you, right? Feel free to ignore all that because if you love the song, I’m right there with you.
If every song has its fanbase, I’d like to ask those who like the song “Love Will Find A Way” what makes it work for them? The midtempo pacing makes the song feel like it is just wandering around the musical landscape looking for some kind of meaning.
Eh, but enough about that. Let’s get back to the hits, shall we?
The last two songs on the first side of the album are both rather successful ballads. “Penny Lover” was a #8 single and “Stuck On You” went to #3. These are also great songs and intriguingly enough, as I listened to them I could actually sing (okay, lip-synch) the entire set of lyrics for each one. I don’t know if that loses me points with metalheads, but I don’t really care. I feel not a bit of shame for enjoying the non-cloying sentimentality each of these songs conjures up. It must be true…I’m not always a cold and heartless SOB!
While it wasn’t released as a single, the song “The Only One” is actually a pretty decent song. The main lyrical verses are good but I found that the chorus has a great hook to it. I read online that the song is still played during Lionel Richie’s concerts to this day.
Perhaps the song that resonates with the part of me that loves mysteries is the #7 hit “Running With The Night”. It’s got a real uptempo pace to it but at the same time, there’s an edgy sense of atmosphere in regards to how the song is presented. Listening to the lyrics, I got the feeling that if Richie had been writing a crime novel, he’d have a keen grasp of noir conventions.
While he is probably more noted the last few years for being a judge partly responsible for foisting mediocre at best “talent” on the unsuspecting general public via the American Idol TV show, Richie’s place in music history is secure. Turning out a wide array of successful pop songs, love ballads and just get up and dance numbers (No, I didn’t actually do that), the Can’t Slow Down album is likely the masterwork of his catalog and shows that regardless of genre, greatness always shines through.
NOTES OF INTEREST: Singer Richard Marx sang backup vocals on four tracks on the album: “All Night Long (All Night)”, “Love Will Find A Way”, “The Only One” and “Running With The Night”.
Also providing backing vocals on “All Night Long (All Night)” was singer-songwriter Kin Vassy, who was a member of Kenny Rogers and the First Edition in the 1960’s. The video for the song was produced by ex-Monkee Michael Nesmith.
Toto members Jeff Porcaro and Steve Lukather featured on Can’t Slow Down. Porcaro played drums on “Running With The Night” while that song featured a guitar solo from Lukather. Lukather also played guitar on the song “The Only One”. The video for “Running With The Night” features singer-percussionist Sheila E. as a bridesmaid.