The finalists for the Grammy for album of the year in 1985 included Prince’s landmark “Purple Rain,” Bruce Springsteen’s blockbuster “Born in the U.S.A.,” Tina Turner’s remarkable comeback “Private Dancer” and Cyndi Lauper’s striking debut “She’s So Unusual.”
And the prize went to Lionel Richie for “Can’t Slow Down.”
He eventually overcame that old Grammy gaffe, returning to the spotlight in 2000 opening for, coincidentally, Turner on her farewell tour. He hasn’t slowed down since, singing at Michael Jackson’s memorial service, recording five albums (including one of duets with country stars) and serving as a judge on “American Idol,” among other things.
After recently wrapping up a successful Las Vegas residency, the recipient of four Grammys, one Oscar and a Kennedy Center Honors headlined the sold-out State Fair grandstand on Friday.
At 70, Richie was a highly entertaining combination of shtick and schmaltz, hamminess and hits, energy and enthusiasm.
On the last night of his current North American tour, Richie was perhaps extra chatty. He joked about his cranberry juice being spiked with vodka as a tour finale prank. He had a playful and spontaneous exchange with a 7-year-old fan (from “American Idol,” no doubt) and her two grandmothers. And he laid on his Alabama accent extra thick, at least compared to the way he talks on “Idol.”
Perhaps “Idol” has gotten him deeper into shtick. Because he sure engaged in it more than last time in town in 2017 at Mystic Lake Casino amphitheater — before he became an “Idol” judge.
For example, Richie read a menu of State Fair foods, including big fat bacon, cheese curds and — his favorite — deep-fried candy bars. “There’s a medical group to the left that can help y’all,” he pointed out. “This menu will not work in California.”
Richie mentioned being in the Twin Cities once at Prince’s request, and the Purple One played an evening of Richie’s hits “without me.” Flattered, Richie asked for a tape of the performance. “No,” Prince said. “I can’t give it to you.” But Richie toasted Prince anyway at the State Fair with that spiked cranberry juice.
The jokes continued throughout the 1¾-hour performance. Not all the songs were thrillers, but there was no musical filler. It was hit after hit after hit. Five selections came from “Can’t Slow Down” and nine were from the Commodores, Richie’s band before he went solo in ’82.
As he is wont to do, Richie invited the 12,632 fans to sing along on the choruses of many hits, not because he or his voice was tired, no, because these songs, especially those love songs, mean so much to them.
Even the Commodores tunes, whether ballads — “Three Times a Lady,” “Just To Be Close to You” — or party pieces — “Lady (You Bring Me Up),” “Brick House” — had people thinking this was an evening of karaoke.
Richie did a credible job with his own singing, milking schmaltzy piano ballads like “Easy,” “Hello” and “Stuck on You.” Maybe he couldn’t hit all his notes of old, but he can still sell a song. His emotions and instincts were spot on.
Backed by a tight five-man band, the man in the orange satin-and-sequined jacket brought the energy by chatting with practiced comic timing and by turning his up-tempo hits into fun mashups — grafting Van Halen’s “Jump” onto his own “Dancing on the Ceiling” and the Ohio Players’ funky “Fire” onto “Brick House.”
So what if “We Are the World,” which he wrote with Michael Jackson, got a little preachy, or the fans had to be a surrogate for Diana Ross on the duet “Endless Love,” or the Oscar-winning “Say You, Say Me” sounded too much like Paul McCartney, or the closing “All Night Long” was marred by the grandstand fireworks being ignited too early?
There was just no way to slow down Richie on Friday at the fair.