First Hit #1: November 15, 1980
I’ve said it a few times, but Lionel Richie knows his way around a love song, and he knows how to dance right up to the line that separates sentimental and cheesy and stay firmly on the right side of it. Turns out this isn’t a skill reserved just for his own work, since he penned and produced Lady for singer, songwriter and magnificent beard grower Kenny Rogers and manages the exact same trick.
Lady could easily go bad. Sing it too much, get too big in the arrangement, and you’ve crossed the line. But instead, frequently strips everything down to nothing. It’s just Rogers and a bit of piano, the odd drum fill and some ghostly guitar, and it actually manages to be absolutely crushing. Rogers sounds just so alone, and while he’s singing to the woman in the song there’s a feeling that he’s not sure he shares his feelings. When the strings finally burst in on the chorus, it reinforces the song’s theme rather than taking it too far – it actually provides a contrast to the potential for rejection and the feeling of isolation, as though confirming that Rogers’ proposals have been accepted. It makes big strings important, because it gives the song a certain levity.
Of course, like a recent Streisand song, there is no doubt who wrote this – it sounds like Lionel Richie no matter who is singing it, and Rogers just throws himself into the role above all other considerations – but considering Richie’s gifts, I have no problem with that.