This one’s a rather obvious choice, so let’s get it out of the way.
To anyone over the age of 40, this particular song means one thing and one thing only: Lionel Richie pretending to be a drama teacher while his blind girlfriend makes a big clay Lionel head. Yes, it’s ‘Hello’ – the cheesiest, most superbly, cloyingly awful schlock that Richie ever produced.
Well, apart from ‘Say You, Say Me’, ‘Stuck On You’, ‘Penny Lover’, ‘Truly’, ‘You Are, My Love’… hold on a second… Lionel made hundreds of these monstrosities! But ‘Hello’ pips them all, if only because of that video. You want to see it now, don’t you?
Let’s get to the nub of the matter: ‘Hello’ is not actually the very worst thing LR’s ever done. The thing is, by this point (1984) he’d been around the business for years. His industrial grade funk with The Commodores had proven that he had the requisite soul chops, but the gigantic success of ‘Easy’ and the knowledge that he had a very particular talent for the kind of records that Simon Bates used to dredge up every other day on his Our Tune slot on daytime Radio One meant that our Lionel was destined to follow his star (and maybe his agent’s advice) and literally churn out the tooth-rottingest pop imaginable. Ma Richie obviously didn’t raise no idiots – the cash registers rang merrily for most of the ’80s, by which time Lionel had gained his apotheosis.
And don’t get me wrong – I actually like Lionel Richie. ‘Machine Gun’ and ‘Brick House’ are solid gold classics on any planet. And ‘Hello’?: well, it’s terrible, but no worse than later Stevie Wonder dross (and let’s face it, his golden period was over by about 1979). No, we have the video to blame for the reputation of the song. And Lionel obviously never really took himself seriously. Watch this little clip and see if I’m not wrong:
Anyhow, this doesn’t get us to the main point: that ‘Hello’ may contain more E numbers than Sunny Delight, but it has at its heart a truly awesome guitar solo.
Popping in at around the 2’48” mark – this jazzy little confection is the cherry on top of Lionel’s sticky creation. It’s in no way flashy, but it’s perfect for the setting – a little supper club, a little yearning too.
The solo is played by Louis ‘Louie’ Shelton – a legend among session players whose career crossed paths with just about every late ’60s and early ’70s MOR act that scored a hit. He also plays the rather more complex flamenco style solo that appears in the 1968 Monkees’ hit ‘Valleri’. It’s worth revisiting that on video as well, just to watch Mike Nesmith attempt (and heroically fail) to mime the solo. You also have a levitating Davey Jones in there. Good times!
But to return to this particular lousy song – Shelton’s solo exudes the kind of Grant Green-in-a-sweet-shop vibe that always got my attention, even though I knew that the place it resided was forbidden territory. It was this solo that I was looking for…