20 ESSENTIAL ALBUMS
Who: Lionel Richie.
What: The singer/songwriter’s second solo album, Can’t Slow Down was also his most successful, with certified US sales of 10 million copies. Out of a total 160 weeks on the Billboard charts, it spent three weeks at Number One and 59 weeks in the Top 10. On the R&B charts, it was Number One for 23 weeks. All five singles from the long-player reached the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, beginning with “All Night Long (All Night)” and ending with “Penny Lover.”
When: Lionel began work on the album in May 1983, and continued recording it over the next six months. One track, “Hello,” had been demo’ed in the summer of ’82, but was held over from his first solo album. Motown released Can’t Slow Down on October 14, 1983, and it rose to the top of the charts before the year’s end. The single, “All Night Long (All Night),” was certified gold on December 12, and the album was certified platinum. The latter’s 10x platinum certification occurred exactly two years later. (For more about Lionel’s career, read here.)
Where: Can’t Slow Down was recorded at two Los Angeles studios, Sunset Sound and Ocean Way, while the demos had been mostly done at the latter site and Lion Share, also in Los Angeles. “That session was absolutely insane,” Lionel said of cutting “All Night Long (All Night)” at Ocean Way. “Bob Rafelson, who was going to direct the video, had break dancers in one room listening to the track. We had the choir learning their background vocals in another room. I was across the street, rehearsing the song for a concert in Tahoe that was the warm-up date for my tour.”
Why: Everything save for one track was produced by Lionel and the Commodores’ longtime studio wizard, James Anthony Carmichael. “I tape my idea with just the piano,” the star explained to Steven Ivory for liner notes of the 2003 expanded edition of Can’t Slow Down. “Then Carmichael takes that tape and says, ‘I hear it. Meet me at the studio.’ He puts the rhythm and the music around that piano. His job is to make it sound like a ‘record’ without destroying the innocence or sensitivity of the original thought.”
What else: Can’t Slow Down won a Grammy© for Album of the Year in 1984, while “Hello” was nominated for Song of the Year, competing with Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called To Say I Love You.” Lionel beat out album contenders by Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Prince & the Revolution (Purple Rain) and Cyndi Lauper. In 1983, “All Night Long (All Night)” ran against former Motown artist Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” for Record of the Year – a timing anomaly because Lionel’s single was released ahead of Can’t Slow Down and fell into that year’s eligibility period. “Beat It” won. In 1985, Lionel and Michael took Grammy© honors together for their song, “We Are The World,” recognized as Record of the Year and Song of the Year.
What are the 20 most essential Motown albums? It’s a difficult choice, but this is ours, picked and presented through the course of this 60th anniversary year. Each album is featured with its background story, keyed to a relevant date in its history. This is not a countdown, leading to a “winner.” It’s just a way to showcase some of the finest music ever made. After all, isn’t that why you’re here?