31
Jul 09

LIONEL RICHIE – “Hello”

FT + Popular46 comments • 4,399 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.

5

Comments

1 2 All
  1. 1
    Billy Smart on 31 Jul 2009 #

    That’s a great critique, Tom – and its hard to add much to it.

    Even at the early age of eleven, we all laughed with derision at the video of this, but I think that with any visuals I wouldn’t have liked the song then – soppy lovely-dovey gloop, with an irritating chorus.

    I like it well enough now, but my respones are always karaoke ones of enjoying the melodramatic construction. It’s hard to imagine myself ever feeling a very empathetic response to this, and it would caertainly only come if I wasn’t expecting to hear the song.

  2. 2
    Billy Smart on 31 Jul 2009 #

    Didn’t somebody choose this song on ‘Room 101’?

  3. 3
    Billy Smart on 31 Jul 2009 #

    A busy #2 Watch. A week of ‘Its Raining Men’ by the Weather Girls, 2 weeks of ‘A Love Worth Waiting For’ from Shakin’ Stevens, 2 weeks of ‘You Take Me Up’ from The Thompson Twins, and then the beginning of a three week reign for Phil Collins’ ‘Against All Odds’. Personally, The Thompson Twins is the only one of that quartet I can hear without displeasure.

  4. 4
    swanstep on 31 Jul 2009 #

    ‘….heaven knows he could write a hook at this point in his career.’
    Unfortunately *this* song’s hook is stolen wholesale from Handel, specifically from the last movement (the passacaglia) of his Harpsichord Suite in G minor (HWV 432) (which I first heard played on harp) but which is best known from an arrangement for violin and viola by Halvorsen…. which sounds *remarkably* like Hello, e.g.,

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14cYoJW-v-A

  5. 5
    Tom on 31 Jul 2009 #

    We’ll be meeting half those later on too!

    Incidentally, it’s Poptimism tonight – guest DJs include Marcello and Lena (and many others!) Horse Bar in Lambeth, that banner on the right hand side of the front page has more details.

  6. 6
    lex on 31 Jul 2009 #

    “Hello” is totally classic, c’mon. It’s just a really, really great song: I love the way the chorus rings out almost anthemically without ever losing the undertow of creepy menace, and it’s one of those rare songs which holds up as an actual thing to enjoy listening to despite being such a standard. Probably not my favourite L.Richie – that would be “Easy” – but definitely the best of all the more recent Popular entries! I’ve somehow seen Lionel Richie live twice this year and he was brilliant both times, such a showman.

    Must admit I hadn’t actually seen the video until this year, it made me go o_0 but it didn’t ruin the song at all. It’s terrible but in a hilarious sort of way, and it’s not as if the song doesn’t have an element of ridiculous camp to it anyway.

    This may be unfair but I’m always suspicious of the “soppy lovey-dovey gloop” criticism à la #1, because in my experience the people who bring it out are people who think all smooth adult soul ballads are lovey-dovey gloop.

  7. 7
    Rory on 31 Jul 2009 #

    Man, Lionel Ritchie. I had my fill of his songs in 1983-84, when this and “All Night Long” topped the Oz charts for nine weeks between them, and I’d be happy enough never to think about them again. They just oozed blandness, and put me off anything to do with soul and R&B for a long time.

    Not that anyone forgot this catchphrase in a hurry. Not if you had wise-cracking friends and siblings. Ring, ring. “Hello?” “Is it meeeee you’re looking forrrr…”

    It would be a few years before I could neutralize its heinous neural effect with a much better musical take on the word. I want a Mr Slater’s Parrot/Lionel Richie mash-up death-match, stat.

  8. 8
    lex on 31 Jul 2009 #

    Plus, of course 11-year-old boys would laugh at it. 11-year-old boys would laugh at anything that coded sincere or soppy. This is why their opinions on adult matters are of no consequence whatsoever.

  9. 9
    Tom on 31 Jul 2009 #

    #6 I’m glad that people can love the song!

  10. 10
    Rory on 31 Jul 2009 #

    Okay, in the interests of Science, and because Lex’s comment made me think “Yeah, what of it?” and then “Maybe I should give it another chance”, I just watched the video again. Hello? Inappropriate teacher-student relationships, anyone? Tom’s right that the video really didn’t help matters, and that the song is harmless enough; I quite like the guitar break. But it’s never going to be one I love. The benefit of the doubt would give it 5, but I must punish it for its crimes, I MUST. 4.

  11. 11
    lex on 31 Jul 2009 #

    #9 it’s hardly a rare thing! When he played the O2, I was pretty surprised by the levels of sheer genuine, uninhibited love for the man. Everyone sung along to “Hello”, of course, and they all looked like they were having a marvellous time doing so – doubt any of them were thinking about the video. Surely “Hello” is far from the only dodgy ’80s video offender around, anyway? I’m not defending it but I think Lionel gets singled out as “a line not to cross” (cf Mariah) quite unfairly.

  12. 12
    Tom on 31 Jul 2009 #

    Well I think I explain my reasons for this particular LOLvid being a spoiler rather than an enhancer of the song.

  13. 13
    Tom on 31 Jul 2009 #

    (& it’s no reflection on LR himself either really – he didn’t make any other vids like this and he made a bunch of awesome songs too.)

  14. 14
    Kat but logged out innit on 31 Jul 2009 #

    I love this song – esp how the verse kind of just trails off into wistful daydreaming and Lionel suddenly remembers that he’s meant to be saying something “…oh, bollocks, erm… HELLOOO?”

    Obv the video is one of my favourites as well, even just for the line “I think there’s something going on in the sculpture class!” I think I was first introduced to it about ten years ago on Graham Norton’s C4 chatshow (early funny stuff etc) but it’s been a staple on Hits!TV since Freeview came into existence. Just because it’s cheesy doesn’t mean it isn’t incredibly enjoyable.

  15. 15
    Steve Mannion on 31 Jul 2009 #

    Don’t mind the song now, try to disregard the video. I do prefer ‘Against All Odds’ but maybe that’s just because it’s passion is more overt (some might say overblown natch) and intense. I can sympathise with the criticism that Richie was too smooth, or just uninteresting, for his own good – it’s a bit unfair but I can think of numerous songs I’d rather have heard him trying to emulate (inc. things like ‘Hangin On A String’ but I must try not to mention that song in every Popular entry comments ha). And I prefer Vandross. But as romantic schmaltz this is still a cut above a few #1s in the mid 80s of similar stock, maybe just because it’s adherence to a Soul code I find more agreeable (and a few other reasons that are a bit murky).

  16. 16
    lonepilgrim on 31 Jul 2009 #

    I’m coming out as another ‘Hello’ fan – for the economic melancholy of it’s mood – I think if Anita Baker (for instance) had covered this it would be more highly rated.
    I’d bought the album the year before(?) on the strength of ‘All night long’ and wasn’t immediately taken by the ballads but have grown to like them – ‘Penny lover’ in particular.

    According to his Wikipedia entry LR is inexplicably popular in Iraq – Sunni soulboys, perhaps.

  17. 17
    Steve Mannion on 31 Jul 2009 #

    I’ve just remembered the MAD magazine parody, titled ‘Jello’ and it’s opening line “I love the way you wiggle in my bowl”.

  18. 18
    Tom on 31 Jul 2009 #

    #14 I’m aware that the review comes across as a bit fun-hating, and definitely I prefer a world with such an OMGWTF music video in it to a world where “Hello” is just a solid, well-put-together 80s soul ballad. ‘Snot meant to be a criticism of the video, more just a reflection that its strengths work against the song’s.

  19. 19
    MikeMCSG on 31 Jul 2009 #

    Not one of my favourites I must admit although Lionel is such a nice guy it’s hard to be really nasty about it. To damn with faint praise it’s better than another black superstar’s effort that’s coming shortly.

    Every Lionel Riichie album since 1978 had at least one attempt to rewrite “Three Times A Lady” and this was the most succesful (see also Truly and Say You Say Me).

  20. 20
    Kat but logged out innit on 31 Jul 2009 #

    Fair enough, but I guess I see it as the other way round – the strength of the song make an otherwise daft video into something really brilliant.

  21. 21
    Erithian on 31 Jul 2009 #

    Tom, you beat me to that idea! – I was going to say something similar, that it’s not at all a bad song but has been totally undermined by its own video. Thinking of the song now, it’s – hmmm – okay, not something that would divert me for long. Certainly not something that deserves SIX weeks at number one.

    Video presented a conundrum not just to soul acts (although probably not all of them) but to any act that preferred not to do videos if they could avoid it. Bruce Springsteen, whose first album of the MTV age was “Nebraska”, commented that every listener would have their own mental picture of the “Mansion on the Hill” or of ”My Father’s House”, so why should he want to impose a picture of his or a director’s own choosing over the listener’s? Hence the “Atlantic City” video simply compiled images of the city, and “Dancing in the Dark” was a straight performance video (apart from introducing us to Courtney Cox!)

  22. 22
    LondonLee on 31 Jul 2009 #

    It’s not ‘Easy’ or ‘Sweet Love’ is it? Which is my standard response to Richie’s post-‘Three Times A Lady’ output.

    I’m listening to ‘Turn Out The Lights’ by Teddy Pendergrass at the moment and wondering what on earth the video for that would have looked like.

  23. 23
    TomLane on 31 Jul 2009 #

    Can’t Slow Down was like Lionel Richie’s Thriller. In the U.S. “Hello” and “All Night Long” were #1’s. And 3 others went Top 10. Too bad they didn’t release the title track which I’ve always loved or “Love Will Find A Way” which got airplay on R&B stations. Not bad for an album with only 8 songs. The album topped the U.S. charts and is over 10 million sold. Richie never topped it artistically. The followup, Dancing On The Ceiling came up short. “Hello” is quite simply one of his best ballads. I agree that it’s not an “Easy” but it’s better than “Truly” or “My Love” or “Oh No” for sure. The video is one of the iconic ones of the first part of the MTV era. Right, you can’t hear the song without the video. But it doesn’t diminish one of Richie’s best post-Commodores ballads. If you want to give the video a 5, that’s fine. But the song? A solid 9.

  24. 24
    wichita lineman on 31 Jul 2009 #

    I’d venture this isn’t a soul record at all. It was indisputably a number one the first time you heard it, but covers similar ground to Barry Manilow’s Mandy (“shadows of a man, a face through a window” likewise conjuring up Brontean imagery) rather than touching the hem of Luther Vandross’s garment, let alone Sam Cooke’s. It also reminds me of Arsenio Hall’s take on such issues:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jTM4ZOa69U

    Stuck On You was a cuter late single from Can’t Slow Down, heavily indebted to Gordon Lightfoot (weird bunch of influences!). As for LR ballads, I’d say Still is the least gooey and most affecting. Say You Say Me has my most hated lyric in all pop, aside from a Bunny-embargoed hit from Dec ’84 (have a bleedin guess). It is insanely bad!

    Showing my age, I’d forgotten the video til you mentioned it!

    Have fun tonight, sorry I can’t make it and see Marcello in action.

  25. 25
    Jonathan Bogart on 31 Jul 2009 #

    Showing my age, I’ve never seen the video and am only passingly familiar with the song. In all the markets I’m familiar with, “80s music” mostly leaves out Lionel Richie (or any black singers outside of MJ, SW and P.)

  26. 26
    AndyPandy on 31 Jul 2009 #

    Always enjoyed this track – actually think its way superior to the ‘Three Times A Lady’, ‘Truly’,’Still’ ‘Endless Love’/ Roberta Flack and Peabo Bryson, Billy Preston and Syreeta generic slow dance at the 80s disco stuff – Lionel more or less invented it (and maybe if I’d been old enough to remember ‘Three Times A Lady’- which was the daddy of them- as a new record I’d feel different about it) but after a bit you could have made a computer programme to write the stuff.
    ‘Hello’ was always a bit different though – a Midnight and 1.45AM slow dance staple for a bit but not as omnipresent as the rest and possibly because it did have a slightly gothic melodramatic tinge to it…I’m sure Wilkie Collins would have caned it…

    Jonathan @ 25 : no what you mean about “80s” compilations including the same few records – Lionel might be an omission but not half as glaring as the vast majority of 80s compilation’s absence of house music. And we’re hardly talking a minority music here from as early as 1986 and encompassing loads of top ten hits in 1987/88/89 and a Number One as early as the start of 1987 but from those compilations it might as well as never existed…

    ps not that I’ve ever owned an “Eighties” cd myself but have unfortunately had to ordeal quite a few courtesy of my ex-missus and her friends!

  27. 27
    Jonathan Bogart on 31 Jul 2009 #

    I was thinking of airplay, club play, and video clip shows rather than CD comps in talking about current 80s-music markets, but the “same few records” applies across the board.

    Not to get into bunny territory, but house never did anything here until 1990. Anyway I’d think that the same reasoning applies as with 70s compilations that don’t include punk or New Pop; those genres bridge the decades and don’t fit into the easy discrete-period narratives that comps like to provide.

  28. 28
    Mark M on 1 Aug 2009 #

    Re 4: Very much enjoying the Handel!

  29. 29
    Weej on 1 Aug 2009 #

    Hm… no. Still hate it. Good article though, but it’ll take more than that to change my mind about this crawling sentimental horror. The best I can say is that it’s not as bad as “Three Times A Lady”.
    Also, I can’t hear it without thinking about this now:
    http://i5.photobucket.com/albums/y160/weejay/lionel_ritchie_02.jpg

  30. 30
    JonnyB on 1 Aug 2009 #

    I’d never thought about it like that. So taking a huge, huge step back and… er… closing my eyes:

    Very nice slushy ballad, not too overproduced, and not with all the things that other singers would have done to ruin it, mainly wailing into the stratosphere on the last chorus.

    So on reflection I rather like it. I wonder what the story was behind the video – who came up with it, and who convinced themselves that it would be a good idea…

1 2 All

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)


If this was number 1 when you were born paste [stork-boy] or [stork-girl] into the start of your comment :)

Required

Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page