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Jul 09

LIONEL RICHIE – “Hello”

FT + Popular46 comments • 4,026 views

#533, 24th March 1984, video

So far in the video decade we’ve mostly met promo clips that enhance their records, at best bringing their imagined worlds to life, at worst providing a harmless bit of period diversion. Even when the video is absurd – Bonnie’s glowing choirboys, for instance – it’s been somehow responding to and enhancing an absurdity in the record. “Hello” is, I think, the first song to be destroyed by its video.

On record, Richie broods, obsessed by someone he hardly knows, imagining himself breaking his isolation and deadlock, aware he never will. Beneath the schmaltzy topsoil “Hello” is a grim, haunted record – melodramatic yes, but it’s the melodrama of a 19th century novel, dark and with a hint of tragedy. “Are you somewhere feeling lonely – or is someone loving you?”

And if you can listen to it without seeing that fantastic, stupid clay head, you’re a better man than I.

The “Hello” clip brings narrative where the record offers only paralysis. It turns the song into an awkward mini-episode of Fame, interrupts its intensity. Briefly it threatens to enhance what’s good in the song – Richie as teacher infatuated with student would be too specific, but rightly creepy. Instead, the student returns the infatuation. And is blind. But has a hidden gift for sculpture. And makes –

But you know already.

The length and professionalism of the clip – the intensity of Richie’s furrowed brow, the beauty of the girl – gives “Hello” a kitschy seriousness that overwrites and mocks its real emotions. Suddenly things which seemed strong in the song – from the chestbeating passion of its chorus to those witchy synth runs in the background – seem foolish, and weak elements like its closing flourish of strings jump out.

It makes me realise, listening to it now, making myself put the head out of my head, that video presented soul music with an awful dilemma. Adult soul music as it had evolved through the 70s was built on connection, on the performers mixing sincerity and skill to sell an emotion: it simply didn’t need the enhancement a video provides. Go abstract and you create a distraction; use the screen to tell a story and you risk breaking that precious connection. Performance clips were the safest – though dullest – option.

Forced to consider “Hello” only as a record, I like it well enough. It’s well arranged, Richie brings an appropriate note of crushed caution to the vocal, and heaven knows he could write a hook at this point in his career. But it’s half the story, and the other half is a silly old Fantastic Four plot point dressed up as drama.

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Comments

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  1. 31
    peter goodlaws on 1 Aug 2009 #

    Yep, that video certainly killed the radio star here. Dear me! Otherwise, this is a perfectly nice ballad, although how it spent so long at the top, I haven’t got a clue.

    That photie on the record sleeve is an absolute ripper, btw. Poor old Lionel looks as if somebody’s just rammed an electrode up his Merlene. That’s gotta hurt.

  2. 32
    Matthew K on 3 Aug 2009 #

    “Is it me you’re LOOKING for?” To a BLIND girl? Hanging’s too good for ‘im.

    I remember shopping for my first turntable in 1987 – salesman cued up “Dancin’ on the Ceiling” – no sale.

  3. 33
    intothefireuk on 5 Aug 2009 #

    I thought this was ok. Lionel sounds sincere the (borrowed) melody is suitably haunting and the overal feel is fine. Yes the video didn’t help matters but surely that’s just an arse of a director’s fault not poor old LR. Billy Ocean liked the song enough to remake it a few months later.

  4. 34
    DV on 12 Aug 2009 #

    I have surely mentioned this already on Facebook, but I feel the world needs to be made aware of popular Dublin floor covering supplier Lino Ritchie.

  5. 35
    culturecrammer on 17 Aug 2009 #

    The problem with the “Hello” video was that it imposed a very literal (and alienating) narrative – i.e. jheri-curled tele-stalker pestering a blind college girl – on a song that you needed to be able to emotionally relate to on your own terms.

    Lionel Richie’s crowning artistic achievement – and culled from the same album as ‘Hello’ – was without doubt the undulating, teflon-smooth funkathon ‘All Night Long’, a record I celebrate here:

    http://culturecrammer.com/2009/08/06/the-impossibility-of-an-island-reflections-on-lionel-richies-all-night-long/

  6. 36
    Billy Smart on 31 Aug 2009 #

    Light Entertainment Watch: Only infrequent UK TV appearances for Lionel;

    DES O’CONNOR TONIGHT: with Lionel Ritchie, Michelle Gayle, Eddie Izzard, Phil Cool (1997)

    LATER WITH JOOLS HOLLAND: with Sting, Tricky, Lionel Ritchie (1996)

    WOGAN: with Sue Cook, Bob Geldof, Metro (millionth), Courtney Pine, Lionel Ritchie (1986)

    WOGAN: with Imran Khan, Lionel Ritchie, Danny Aiiello (1992)

  7. 37
    lonepilgrim on 2 Sep 2009 #

    for another inappropriate(?) visual accompaniment to this toon check out ‘The 40 year old virgin’

  8. 38
    DV on 28 Dec 2009 #

    There is something heroically cheesey about Lionel Ritchie.

  9. 39
    seekenee on 1 Jan 2012 #

    I had erased the fact that it was 6 weeks at the top, I would have said 3 or 4. I am earworming it now and it’s going down well though it keeps morphing into Tubular Bells via the witchy synths.

    I am reflecting that All Night Long would have suitably replaced Uptown Girl in the Populist but therein lies madness.

  10. 40
    stand for phil on 31 Jan 2012 #

    I thought “Hello” was quite beautiful when it came out…but I heard it on R & B radio…it doesn’t sound as good in a top 40 context. I enjoy “All Night Long” now and then – minus the video.

  11. 41
    DanH on 10 Jan 2013 #


    I like the US #1 OTD a little more: Jump by Van Halen.

  12. 42
    punctum on 24 Mar 2014 #

    TPL looks, uneasily, at the album.

  13. 43
    hectorthebat on 30 Nov 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Theater van het Sentiment, Radio 2 (NL) – Top 40 Songs by Year 1969-2000 (2013) 17
    Face (UK) – Singles of the Year 41

  14. 44
    sbahnhof on 6 Oct 2015 #

    Re 34, “Lino Ritchie”? Bah. In Aberdeen there’s a Lionel Ritchie kebab shop. And it only plays his music. http://tomgoestoscotland.blogspot.com/2012/10/around-aberdeen-lionels-takeaway.html

  15. 45
    glue_factory on 6 Mar 2016 #

    A possibly even more troubling visual representation of Hello https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=X6WiiXUR3xM

  16. 46
    Abzolute on 9 Jan 2017 #

    Lionel Richie…..from his soulful voice to the quality of his music, I enjoy his back catalogue very much. To say I was 3 when this first was released I grew to love it as part of my mothers record collection. Sadly though, it brings me a lot of sadness as it reminds me of my mum and dads tumultuous relationship that I witnessed as a child so although I like it, it always moves me for different reasons so I can’t bear to listen to it.

    Still I won’t mark it down because it really is one his standout pieces. “All Night Long” was much more superior to this however.

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