"I wanted to do this live greatest hits collection for a very simple reason," explains Lionel Richie of his new album, Encore, slated for release on Island/Def Jam in late fall. "For the past thirty years I've been enjoying a show the crowd has never heard: the performance the audience puts on along with me."
On Encore Richie has assembled a collection of his best-known hits - from "Brick House" to "Dancing On The Ceiling" and "Three Times A Lady" to "Hello" - recorded over three nights at London's Wembley Arena. Also included on the album are two new studio tracks, "Goodbye" and "To Love A Woman," a duet with Enrique Iglesias.
From Richie's early success as The Commodores' soulful lead singer and saxophonist to his prosperous career as a solo artist in the 80s and 90s, he has earned his place in the highest echelons of superstardom. He has sold over 100 million albums worldwide, landed twenty Top Ten hits (nine consecutive #1 songs among them); won ten American Music Awards, five Grammys, a Golden Globe, six People's Choice Awards and a Best Original Song Oscar for "Say You (Say Me)."
True to form, Richie sought to go above and beyond what was expected of him with this new greatest hits collection: he wanted to do it live. "Playing live is my chance to be completely wild and crazy," he laughs. "It's like time disappears and I'm in my living room, playing with a bunch of friends who stopped by for the afternoon. And the larger the crowd, the more fun I have!
"The live experience is so universal," Richie continues. "The audience knows every lyric, every guitar solo, every drumbeat. It's like the most elaborate karaoke night you could ever imagine. But that is what's so amazing about performing: in every country around the world, regardless of their language, people sing my songs along with me."
Richie is also incredibly proud of Encore's new songs, his first since 2001's multi-platinum Renaissance. "To Love A Woman," which he co-wrote and performs with Enrique, sprang from the mutual admiration the two songwriters had for each other. "Enrique wanted to work with me and I was really honored and flattered by that - I have a lot of respect for him," he smiles. "'To Love A Woman' sounds like we've been singing together for years. We have our own styles but our voices really blend together."
Encore's other new track, "Goodbye," addresses the untimely departure of a loved one; Richie thinks of it as a bookend to his hit song "Hello." Comments Richie: "'Goodbye' addresses the unexpected reality that the word 'forever' can come to an end, and that is a very difficult feeling to put into words."
Richie explores many facets of life in his songs, but he's most at home when he's singing what he knows best: big, emotional love songs. He readily confesses luck has played a big role in his songwriting efforts. "Of all the topics in the world to write about, I got lucky and chose love...and it's the only thing that doesn't go out of style," Richie declares. "I don't care if you're twenty, fifty or one hundred. I don't care if you like grunge, metal, country, pop, gangsta rap or R&B. It doesn't matter; sooner or later you're going to say those three corny words to someone. And when you use those three words you've just stepped into my arena."
From his humble beginnings in Tuskegee, Alabama, to his current iconic international success, Richie maintains he's still a "country boy at heart" who genuinely loves life, music...and his fans. "Frank Sinatra told me: if you're lucky enough in this business to have one hit record and the fans ask you to play it over and over again, you've got yourself a career," he recalls. "And if you find yourself with more than one hit record, well, you're the luckiest man on the planet.
"Even after all this time it's not a job. It's the greatest hobby I've ever had, and it just happens to be the way I make my living. I love making music and it's wonderful to have the opportunity to share it with people...it's just phenomenal."