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Lionel Richie has freedom as a songwriter because he never stuck to the rules.

The 66-year-old singer has enjoyed huge hits with band The Commodores and as a solo artist. But his ability to pen tracks such as Endless Love and Hello came without him ever understanding the concept of music theory.

“I didn’t know I was a writer,” Lionel admitted during an interview with Billboard.com. “I thought you had to be able to read and write music and understand theory before you could write songs like that and then as I got into Motown, I realised probably half of the great writers there couldn’t read or write music. Once I got that permission, if you will, it set me free from the standpoint of technically trying to write the notes down.

“The beautiful thing about it was, I think by not knowing so much theory, it set me free from the rules. I didn’t know there was an R&B chart, and a classical chart and a pop chart. When I was writing I thought I was competing against the ‘music business’.”

Another of Lionel’s most famous songs is Three Times a Lady. There has been much speculation over the years about just what inspired the tune, with Lionel admitting that his father, also called Lionel, gave him the idea for the song during a toast he made to the singer’s mother, Alberta, in which he said: “She’s a great lady, she’s a great mother, and she’s a great friend.”

He explained that during an appearance on Johnny Carson’s TV show at the time, revealing he was unsure on how he would ever repay his parents for “all they’ve done” for him.

“My dad after that called me and said, ‘Son I saw your interview with Johnny Carson,’ and he said, ‘I was very touched by the fact that you said you can never repay your parents for all they’ve done for you. But let me ask you a question, would you try? Would you try to repay your parents as much as possible?’” Lionel laughed. “So when the royalty check came out he was looking for his check… I’ve spent the rest of my life trying to pay him off for Three Times a Lady.”

June 9, 2016
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