"Hello" may be among Lionel Richie's signature No. 1 songs, but for more than 30 years, the singer-songwriter hasn't so much as paused for a "bye for now."
The five-time Grammy Award recipient and Academy Award winner has been a fixture on the pop, R&B, adult contemporary and dance charts beginning in 1974 as a founding member of the Commodores, then as a solo artist and producer from 1981 on with a consistency seldom seem in the music business.
A quick count: six R&B chart-toppers with the group, then five No. 1s on the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and on the adult contemporary (AC) list, 11 No. 1s that have spent a staggering total of 51 weeks riding the chart's crest, including "Endless Love" (with Diana Ross), "Truly," "All Night Long (All Night)" and "Say You, Say Me."
Now, the title track and first single from Richie's new album, "Just Go," due May 19 on Island, has catapulted into the AC top 20 in only three weeks, a rare feat for a radio format that is not known for chart momentum. The song is also gaining on the adult R&B tally, where it is No. 31 for the week ended February 22.
"What freaking year is this?" asks Richie with a laugh. "This opens up a wonderful feeling of 'I remember this.' Times like these make it all the more exciting. In a way, this feels better than the days when everything was still ahead, with 'Brick House,'" the Commodores' top-five 1977 hit.
Collaborating with Richie on the new album are contemporary hitmakers The-Dream, Tricky Stewart and, on the playful reggae-splashed single, Akon.
"You never know how these things are going to go, but we could have recorded a whole side of the album," Richie says of hip-hop singer-songwriter Akon. "I am used to being the control guy the writer, producer, arranger and singer. But Akon understands melody, he's a storyteller. We wrote this song in two and a half hours. It was a love fest. I told him, 'You are Lionel Richie 2009.'"
Richie's recipe for longevity? "If you've got a good tune, you've got a couple of years to work it. If you've got a song, you can have a career. Songs stick," he says. "Somewhere along the line, parents played my records over and over again for their children. Now their kids are showing up. It's college time all over again, which is amazing."
In addition, long-term success requires adapting to an ever evolving industry. "There's a difference between the music business and the business of music. You can go to bed tonight with a No. 1 record and wake up tomorrow ice cold. Survival is about taking time to make record labels and radio understand who you are your brand. This is a business of relationships, and it's still my responsibility to go meet the DJs. A lot of artists forget that."
Richie will extend his hand to audiences with a 100-date European tour launching in March in Dublin and wrapping in May in Belgium. Stops in the United States and Australia follow.
"I'm kind of laughing at getting to go through this whole process again," Richie says. "It's been an unbelievable journey. In my head, I'm just getting started. Call me in 20 years and we'll talk about the next chapter."