Sixties City presents a wide-ranging series of articles on all aspects of the Sixties, penned by the creator of the iconic 60s music paper  Mersey Beat

Dancing On The Ceiling - Lionel Ritchie

Dancing On The Ceiling - Motown ZD 72412, released in 1986 was Lionel Ritchie's third solo album and his previous one, 'Can't Slow Down' sold more than 15 million copies. His string of hit records extends back to the Commodores first single 'Machine Gun' in 1974. The band was formed by students attending Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Lionel was born in Tuskegee and his parents lived in a house once owned by the University's founder, Booker T. Washington. The Commodores toured with the Jackson Five before signing to Motown and benefited from the grooming that the label was renowned for. Lionel, especially, learned important lessons from writer/producer Norman Whitfield and Holland, Dozier and Holland who taught him the craft of song structure and of writing lyrics that grabbed and held the listener's attention.

The Commodores career moved steadily upward through the middle Seventies but found its greatest success when Lionel began to consciously write songs geared to the broadest possible pop acceptance. Among the hits he penned were: 'Easy', 'Sail On', 'Still' and 'Three Times a Lady' - a No.1 in Britain and America. Lionel's reputation as a formidable talent was beginning to percolate through the music industry when Kenny Rogers asked him to write a song. It was Lionel's first work outside the band he'd been with for a decade. He wrote and produced 'Lady', giving Rogers the biggest hit single of his career. A year later, in 1981, Lionel wrote, produced and sang (with Diana Ross) 'Endless Love'. This title song for Franco Zeffirelli's film was an American No.1 for nine weeks and was nominated for an Academy Award.

Inevitably, all events pointed towards Lionel pursuing a solo career. He made the break and in September 1982 his first solo album 'Lionel Ritchie' was released. The album was a worldwide smash selling more than five million copies. If Lionel's first solo album firmly established him in his new career, then the release of 'Can't Slow Down' lifted him right into the 'superstar' bracket. Five tracks were released as singles and all reached the Top 20. Lionel resumed his involvement in the world of cinema by writing 'Say You, Say Me' for the film 'White Night', for which he won an Academy Award for 'Best Song'.

Lionel discusses the album tracks:

"Making this album 'Dancing On The Ceiling' has taken a year and four months and there were times when even I was in doubt as to whether this album was going to make it. It's been hard work and, really, it's paid off. I really feel good about this album. This has been an interesting year and four months. It seems like, maybe, nine years crammed into one. I've learned a lot, I've grown a lot - and this album pretty much sums up the growth, my feelings, my anxieties, my fears; all of them on this album. I like to think of each album as growth. I mean, if I can keep two things going in my career then I think I can be happy: (1) I'm excited about doing something or coming out and (2) I feel that I've grown a bit more and I keep surprising myself. This album is pretty much a summation of getting a lot of Lionel Ritchie out, publicly. A lot of times I keep things back, holding things in a lot. But after the Olympics, after 'We Are The World' with the whole world singing and, of course, after Live Aid, it's very difficult for me to say I have not been affected, I have not been touched by something. A lot of my feelings opened up on this album to the point where I kind of wanted to express myself in a different way and when it comes down to the cross section of songs I decided to pull out my musical resume, if I may be so bold as to say, and just instead of staying in one particular vein, kind of open up now and show that there are other things I can do".

'Dancing On The Ceiling'
"Three o' clock in the morning and I was driving down Sunset and I decided to pull over to the side of the road because there was a lot of excitement happening around this one club area and as I was sitting in the car listening to the response of the people coming out, I heard this guy holler to his friend across the street. His friend said, "What's been going on?" The man said, "I've just finished dancing on the ceiling". I jotted it down immediately, thank you very much, and I drove home. From then I figured the excitement of that line could pretty much say everything that needed to be said about having a great time at a party".

'Se La'
"This has a reggae flavour and I found out that the Third World has a very powerful message. I didn't realise how powerful it was until I started experimenting with 'All Night Long.' But once I realised the impact of that I just couldn't let it go for this album. I had to go back and try to find another kind of song to match that power. 'Se La' has definitely taken the cake. Just to give you an idea of what it means: what it stands for in French, it's C'est la vie, obviously, that's the way it is. But my wife's grandmother had a very, very interesting interpretation of 'Se La'. When Brenda was growing up her grandmother would always say, 'Se La, Se La', which would mean: 'Listen, listen, I want you to listen to what I'm saying'. So I thought with a song of that much meaning and depth, what a great title to have as an opener".

'Ballerina Girl'
"Well, I can only say that there are people who want to hear Lionel Ritchie only in the love songs/ballads and they don't want to hear anything different - and I wanted to make sure that I did not let those people down. As far as the song is concerned it really can be a multitude of things. I just happen to relate it to a child. The innocence of a little girl and the factor of having the innocence betrayed and the love that I feel towards that little girl. We have a little girl in nour lives, so naturally when I started writing the song I kind of aimed everything and all of my feelings towards her, so that's the little personal note. But it is a love story in Lionel Ritchie flavour".

'Don't Stop'

"Far away from Lionel Ritchie flavour I wanted to do something extremely different and when I say that I wanted to get back to street level, I wanted to finally get back to the old days of brick house and when you started playing a two and four beat it would go all the way to the back of the room. Street level with a melody - and 'Don't Stop' is probably the best I could possibly come up with. Assisted by the master of the keyboards John Barnes who, to me, has just captured the power of a back beat on the snare drum. I just think that 'Don't Stop' is going to do great things".

'Deep River Woman'
"It started out as a simple love song, a ballad, and all of a sudden I got this crazy idea: what I'd like, since it had such a country flavour and I've been playing around with country music for so long (or should I say the flavouring of country music), why not go all the way? So I thought about the group Alabama. Could I get this group? Could I try to find out if they would sing with me? Alabama have never done a duet, they've never done any kind of background vocal for anyone, so naturally when I mentioned the name people said they don't do this kind of stuff. I made the phone call and Randy said: "Sure Lionel, love to do it!" So I ran down to Nashville as fast as I could and, really, those guys did an amazing job. It took us about a day and a half and all the breakfast, lunch and dinner Southern style that I could eat. It was good to be back home".

'Love Will Conquer All'
"Well now, we're moving into a vein where I always like to leave a little bit of my experiences on record and 'Love Will Conquer All' kind of has that experience that when you start dealing with the power of the Olympics and 2.6 billion people watching and that same year almost, do 'We Are The World' and you turn on your television set and see the whole world singing the song and when you go and do 'Live Aid' and it's 1.8 billion people watching - you cannot say that you are not affected in some way, you have not been touched in some way. 'Love Will Conquer All' is basically my insides coming out and I said "Let me just write this down for the sake of documenting my feelings at the time". To get it out of me all the way I got the help of Cynthia Weill, an excellent writer and Greg Phillanges, an excellent keyboard player who's written with me on such songs as 'Serves You Right'. And, of course, with the help of another female voice, Marva King. I really think I brought the message forth more so than anything else. It's a mid-tempo song but it really has more of the meaning, more of the message of the insides of Lionel Ritchie".

'Tonight Will Be Alright'
"Let me give you a little background to this one, it's kind of interesting. 'Live Aid' backstage. I arrive about 4 or 5 in the afternoon and they usher me off to a trailer. I open up the door and every legendary guitar player in the world is sitting in there talking about what key and "How we going to play this thing, who's going to pick a solo, what am I supposed to do?". What really knocked me out, I've been a fan of his for a long, long time, is Eric Clapton. We had a great introduction and he said, "Lionel, I've been studying all your stuff and I love all your music", and I said, "Eric, you're reading my cue card, buddy. I just want to say the same thing to you". He said, "Maybe in the future we could get together and do something". I said, "You know, Eric, one day in the future we will". I went home and wrote a song so fast you'd have never seen anyone write a song any faster".

'Night Train (Smooth Alligator)'
"Well, every once in a while I just break down and say, "I like that song from beginning to end, it does everything I want it to do for me" and the relief of it is, I didn't write it. It's the brainchild of Narada Michael Walden and he wrote it, arranged it, played on it, played drums on it, we even wrestled a while to figure out who was going to sing on it! But the fact is he did a great, great job and I'm really glad he could join me on this album".

'Say Me'
"The last cut on the album, side two, is 'Say Me', and I can't say enough about it, except thank you".

Mersey Beat Magazine Bill Harry attended the Liverpool College of Art with Stuart Sutcliffe and John Lennon and made the arrangements for Brian Epstein to visit The Cavern, where he saw The Beatles for the first time. Bill was a member of 'The Dissenters' and the founder and editor of 'Mersey Beat', the iconic weekly music newspaper that documented the early Sixties music scene in the Liverpool area and is possibly best known for being the first periodical to feature a local band called 'The Beatles'. He has worked as a high powered publicist, doing PR for acts such as Suzi Quatro, Free, The Arrows and Hot Chocolate and has managed press campaigns for record labels such as CBS, EMI, Polydor. Bill is the critically acclaimed author of a large number of books about The Beatles and the 60s era including 'The Beatles Who's Who', 'The Best Years of the Beatles' and the Fab Four's 'Encyclopedia' series. He has appeared on 'Good Morning America' and has received a Gold Award from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.

Article Text Bill Harry               Original Graphics SixtiesCity     Other individual owner copyrights may apply to Photographic Images

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