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Fabulous Flip Sides – Kennedy Center Honors – Lionel Richie and Gloria Estefan

Drummer Paul Leim shares the story behind Lionel Richie’s “Hello” recording. Suzi Carr discusses two her compositions on the Miami Sound Machine’s breakthrough album "Primitive Love." Buzz Cason highlights Gloria Estefan’s solo success with her cover of his "Everlasting Love."

By Warren Kurtz

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Courtesy of Getty Images

In early December, Lionel Richie and Gloria Estefan became Kennedy Center Honors recipients. The televised coverage of this event will be Tuesday, December 26 at 9 p.m. Eastern / 8 p.m. Central on CBS.

Lionel Richie

The Commodores met on Tuskegee’s campus with local Lionel Richie as a singer, pianist and saxophonist in the sextet. Their big break came when they opened for a Jackson 5 tour and, like that group, were signed to Motown records. A decade later, Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson would co-write the quadruple platinum selling number one charity single “We Are the World,” by USA for Africa.

From the mid-‘70s through the early ‘80s, the Commodores were in the Top 10 nine times with an overwhelming majority of the hit singles as compositions from Lionel Richie, on which he sang lead for the group.

In 1980, Lionel Richie began to venture out from the Commodores as the composer of the number one gold single “Lady,” for Kenny Rogers. The following year he wrote the song “Endless Love,” for the film of the same name. The duet of this song, which he recorded with fellow Motown singer Diana Ross, spent nine weeks at number one and went platinum.

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By 1982, Lionel Richie was confident enough to embark on a solo career with his self-titled album, which brought three singles to the Top 5. First was the number one gold single “Truly,” in line with his first number one single with the Commodores, “Three Times a Lady.” The next single was the mid-tempo hit, “You Are,” followed by the ballad “My Love.”

After “My Love” left the Top 100 in the summer, Lionel Richie’s next single, which has become a marching band favorite, “All Night Long (All Night),” debuted in mid-September of 1983 from his second album, “Can’t Slow Down.”

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“Running with the Night” followed as the next single from the album. The third of five Top 10 singles from the album was the ballad “Hello,” with a sound which seemed reminiscent of the first album. The flip side of “Hello” came from the first album and was very much in line with Lionel Richie’s other number one Commodores hit, “Still.” It was called “You Mean More to Me,” with a backdrop primarily of piano, orchestra and drums. Lionel Richie’s tender phrasing was similar to what Joe Cocker brought to “You Are So Beautiful.” There were also some powerful musical interludes on this flip side.

Lionel Richie

Flip side: You Mean More to Me

A side: Hello

Top 100 debut: February 25, 1984

Peak position: 1

Motown 1722MF

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A common ingredient on both sides of the “Hello” single and on Lionel Richie’s latest album, “Tuskegee,” where he has rerecorded “Hello” as a duet with Jennifer Nettles, is the steady beat of drummer Paul Leim. He told Goldmine, “We were finishing up Lionel’s second album ‘Can’t Slow Down’ in early 1983 at Oceanway Studios on Sunset Boulevard. Motown was screaming for the album to be finished. At the end of a long day of recording, Lionel, being the perfectionist he rightfully is, said to us, ‘Guys, we just don’t have that definitive ballad we need.’ Lionel is always inclusive with his musicians coming from a group, with a common goal mentality. Our second engineer, David, in his English accent said, ‘You know mates, we have that one in the archives we did two years ago over at A&M Studios. It is smashing!’ Lionel asked, ‘Which one? What song? Let’s hear it.’ David replied, ‘I’ll get it.’ David played it. It was ‘Hello’ recorded analog in ’81. We were recording digital tape by ’83. Lionel shot his hands to the ceiling and declared, ‘That’s it! That’s it! That’s what we needed! Boys, we’re done with this record!’ You will notice that ‘Hello’ sounds warmer than anything else on the ‘Can’t Slow Down’ album because it was recorded in ’81, sat in a vault for two years and was an analog recording, mixed with digital recordings, on the same album.”

Paul Leim concluded with warm thoughts on Lionel Richie, “What a joy to have worked so long with Lionel. He is an amazing human being and artist. My life has been better with him in it.”

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Lionel Richie and Paul Leim courtesy of Lionel Richie and Paul Leim

Gloria Estefan

The South Florida Cuban-American band Miami Sound Machine’s ninth album “Primitive Love,” was the crossover breakthrough for this nine person group fronted by vocalist Gloria Estefan and her percussionist, producer, group manager and husband Emilio Estefan.

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The album’s ten tracks were all performed in English and began with a dance number called “Body to Body.” It was written by Suzi Carr along with the album’s arrangers Larry Dermer and Joe Galdo. Suzi Carr told Goldmine, “’Body to Body’ was my first song that Gloria recorded. Larry and Joe played the track for me to see if I would be interested in writing the melody line and lyrics. I loved the track and immediately wrote about a guy I had a mad crush on that I had seen in a club, where I was singing. We were slow dancing and the chemistry was so intense that I felt hypnotized, being physically close to this guy. Every word was about that magical night. Gloria heard it and wanted to record it and I’m really proud that she did. My voice is on the introduction and all the background vocals.

The album’s breakthrough single was the Latin dance number “Conga.” This became the first of three Top 10 singles in a row from the album.

Miami Sound Machine

Flip side: Surrender Paradise

A side: Bad Boy

Top 100 debut: March 8, 1986

Peak position: 8

Epic 34-05805

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The next single was “Bad Boy,” also a dance number, more in the style of Hall and Oates, and featured the chorus of “bad, bad, bad, bad boy, you make me feel so good.” The flip side of this second gold single for the group was the slower, softer album closer “Surrender Paradise.” Like the album’s opener, this one was also co-written by Suzi Carr, and would later become part of the group Will to Power. She recalled, “Shortly after Gloria recorded ‘Body to Body,’ Joe called me and asked if I wanted to write another track for her. Joe and Larry had already recorded the music. I drove to Miami from Ft. Lauderdale to pick up the cassette and had the lyrics and melody written by the time I got home. The music was so tropical and beautiful, it sort of wrote itself. I drove to the studio the next morning and recorded the vocal to see if they liked what I had written. It was a magical session. I still have the cassette of it. Everyone loved it.” The opening lines were, “Tropical breeze caressing me, sweet fragrant air enticing me.” At the end of Miami Sound Machine’s recording, as it fades, listening carefully, one can hear Suzi Carr’s vocals. The album brought two more singles to the Top 40 including Gloria Estefan’s composition “Words Get in the Way,” which helped lead to a gradual change over the next two albums, to ultimately Gloria Estefan’s solo billing.

From the late ‘80s through the early ‘90s, Gloria Estefan had three number one singles, “Anything for You,” “Don’t Wanna Lose You” and “Coming Out of the Dark.”

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In 1994, Gloria Estefan released the album “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me,” comprised of a dozen cover songs. The first single, “Turn the Beat Around,” was a gold single. The second single was her version of “Everlasting Love,” making it the fourth time in four consecutive decades for this song to reach the Top 40. It was written by Buzz Cason and Mac Gayden. Buzz Cason told Goldmine, “What a break we got in the ‘90s when Gloria recorded it, as it went international in the Latin market too. The record had different dance remixes. There was Emilio’s mix and more. In the Estefan’s Broadway musical, ‘On Your Feet,’ there is a young girl who sings it, as part of the show’s finale. I’d sign her in a minute if I still had a record company.”

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Suzi Carr concluded with thoughts on Gloria Estefan. She shared, “Gloria was always lovely, kind and gracious to be around. She was a real professional and a joy to work with. She is very down to earth and became a superstar! She and Emilio were always special but I must admit, I had no idea that I was in the middle of history being made. We were hanging around the studio one night while they were recording ‘Conga.’ Emilio had about eight of us gather around the microphone and in the middle of ‘Conga’ he directed us to yell ‘ahhhhhhyahhhhh.’ I remember being in the audience at the filming of the ‘Conga’ video, having no idea what was about to happen to Gloria. I am so proud of her and so blessed to have been there in the beginning and to get to see her and Emilio become icons of the industry.”

Lionel Richie is in the Goldmine Hall of Fame

Gloria Estefan is in the Goldmine Hall of Fame

Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, known for “Fabulous Flip Sides” along with interviews, CD, DVD and book reviews. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, on WVCR radio as part of “Moments to Remember.”