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Lionel Ritchie – Dancing On The Ceiling (Album Review)

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Lionel Ritchie – Dancing On The Ceiling (Album Review)

The 80s were in full swing by the time Lionel Richie’s third solo album, following his exceptional Can’t Slow Down, was released in 1986, yet nothing about Dancing On The Ceiling sounds locked to the era as the album remains as fresh today as the day it was released. 

Dancing On The Ceiling is a great opener, although I would have preferred it without the non-musical intro as the song gets straight into the synthesised beat that is incredibly addictive. Without a doubt, you’ll find me dancing and singing along to this track when no one is watching. If only I could somehow manage to dance on the ceiling! 

Released as the first single from the album, Dancing On The Ceiling performed well in the charts, reaching the Top 10 in most regions, and while the music video is delivered in a classic cringeworthy 80s-style, there’s something strangely compelling about it that makes you want to watch it over and over again. 

Se La has a killer reggae style and you would be forgiven if you hear a little Bob Marley in this track. That said, it is perfectly suited to Richie and is a very enjoyable song to listen to, especially if you enjoy reggae music. It’s certainly one of my favourite songs on the album.

Ballerina Girl is one of Richie’s most beautiful songs. Penned by himself, for his adopted daughter Nicole, you can’t help but be moved as you listen to Richie’s smooth tones and the love he has in his heart. This is one time when the literal meaning of a song comes to the forefront of consciousness and captivates my soul. It’s one of my favourite Lionel Richie songs by far. I’d love to see him do a concert with a symphony orchestra backing as this song, in particular, would be extraordinary. 

Don’t Stop has a great rhythm, once you get over the shock from the smooth and relaxing Ballerina Girl of course. Seriously, it is perhaps one of the worst cases of bad tracking I’ve ever come across. Especially considering it is the last song on Side A of the vinyl release. All I can think is that Deep River Woman would have been the perfect closer for the first side and would have flowed beautifully from Ballerina Girl. While Don’t Stop isn’t necessarily bad, it isn’t good either as it’s too long and just doesn’t fit, sonically, well on Dancing On The Ceiling. As a song on its own, I can see the appeal. Perhaps it should have been a B-side to one of the singles or left off the album completely. Nevertheless, it is part of the album and while I have mixed feelings about it, I also acknowledge that Dancing On The Ceiling wouldn’t sound the same without it. 

Deep River Woman is a gorgeous tune that really strips down the musicality and allows Richie’s extraordinary vocal presentation to be the focus of the song. I also find the inclusion of the country and southern rock band, Alabama, on backing vocals is the ultimate addition to the album and truly makes the song something greater than the sum of its parts. Similar, in many cases, to the interweaving harmony that made the Eagles so successful. Sadly, however, Deep River Woman failed to chart successfully. That, alone, perplexes me and makes me think that I’ll never truly understand the likes and dislikes of mainstream music audiences. 

Richie would later re-record the song with Little Big Town on his reimagined country-styled compilation album Tuskegee. It’s a great rendition, but nothing beats the original in my opinion.   

Love Will Conquer All is an incredible song. That intermingling vocal harmony in the chorus. That rhythm. It really is the complete package and Marva King takes Love Will Conquer All to another level with some absolutely gorgeous backing vocals. Absolutely brilliant!

Tonight Will Be Alright is a solid B-side. Nothing to write home about, but enjoyable. I would like to have heard this sung in a Neil Diamond style; in fact, I’d love to hear Neil Diamond cover it. That said, I just feel it needed a little more spit and polish in order to really blow my mind.  

Say You, Say Me is the song. It needs no introduction and nothing really needs to be said about it other than it’s utterly perfect. 

The reimagined version, as found on Tuskegee, doesn’t have the vocal or musical prowess as heard in the original and while it is good, the original is beyond reproach. 

Night Train (Smooth Alligator) gives me a feeling of déjà vu. Oh, that’s right, Side A had a questionable closing song as well. That said, the original vinyl releases omitted this song with it only appearing on the cassette and CD releases. Unfortunately, the latest vinyl reissues do include this ninth song and it has ruined the ending of Dancing On The Ceiling in my opinion. Hence, as much as I’d like to pick up a vinyl reissue of the album, I won’t be as long as they continue putting Night Train (Smooth Alligator) on the vinyl pressing. Look, it isn’t a bad song but Say You, Say Me was the perfect closer and if this song was to be included, it should have been done so before Say You, Say Me. Unfortunately, adding additional tracks was a thing that was done at the time. The only time I’ve come across a bonus track, that I wished was on the original cassette or vinyl release, was Michael Jackson’s Leave Me Alone; a song only initially available on the CD release of Bad

Despite this questionable closer, Dancing On The Ceiling is, without a doubt, one of the greatest R&B/Soul/Pop albums of the 80s and is arguably the very best work of Richie’s career. Yes, I love Can’t Slow Down as well, but I find Dancing On The Ceiling to be more fulfilling as a piece of musical art. I also find that I gravitate towards it more frequently and when I play Dancing On The Ceiling, it’s guaranteed to be played on repeat for hours.

Dancing On The Ceiling thankfully remains easily accessible, being available on Apple Music (Original | 2003 Reissue) and the iTunes Store (Original | 2003 Reissue). If you prefer physical media, you can pick up the 2003 extended reissue on CD or the standard nine-track vinyl reissue.

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