An insightful e-mail came in last week (to [email protected]) from avid chart-watcher Garrett Godbey of Tampa, Fla.
Godbey wrote, "With Lionel Richie debuting at No. 1 with Tuskegee on Top Country Albums, he's earned No. 1s on the Top Country Albums and Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts. In the history of Billboard, how many other artists have accomplished this feat during their careers?"
First, a recap of Richie's No. 1s on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. His self-titled first solo set spent a week at the summit (Nov. 27, 1982). Follow-up Can't Slow Down led for 23 weeks in 1983-84 - the fourth-longest reign since the chart premiered the week of Jan. 30, 1965.
Richie also made four trips to the top of Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums as a member of the Commodores. The group, from Tuskegee, Ala. (ah, that explains it …), ruled with Hot on the Tracks (six weeks, 1976), Commodores (eight, 1977), Natural High (eight, 1978) and Midnight Magic (three, 1979) before Richie's departure to go solo in 1982.
Tuskegee does not appear on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums due to its country arrangements and guests, including Jason Aldean, Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, Blake Shelton and Shania Twain, all of whom duet with Richie on several of his beloved R&B hits.
Tuskegee is, however, Richie's first No. 1 on Top Country Albums. He appeared on the chart once before, with Can't Slow Down, which reached No. 55.
Getting to Godbey's question: how many artists have topped both surveys? Richie has become just the second artist to have reached No. 1 on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and Top Country Albums.
The first? Ray Charles.
Perhaps surprisingly, given his status as a cornerstone in the progression of soul music, Charles tallied only one No. 1 on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums: 1966's Crying Time.
On Top Country Albums, the late legend crossed over in a similar manner as Richie: with an all-star collaboration project. His Friendship reached No. 1 the week of March 23, 1985. The set sports duets with such country icons as Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Willie Nelson and the Oak Ridge Boys.
(Like Tuskegee, Friendship did not appear on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums, due to the album's sonic nature and lineup of featured core country artists.)
Richie told Billboard for the magazine's recent cover story that despite his status as one of the most heralded artists in R&B history, a country album has long been in the works.
"I always knew I was going to do a country album with maybe one or two duets," Richie said. Notably, he penned Kenny Rogers' 1980 Hot Country Songs No. 1 "Lady" and teamed with Alabama for the 1987 Hot Country Songs top 10 "Deep River Woman." In between, Richie's own "Stuck on You" had crossed over to become a No. 24 hit on the survey in 1984.
As for covering his classics with current country stars, Richie says that, ultimately, music fans appreciate a well-crafted song, regardless of genre or production style. "( Tuskegee) shows just how far these songs have come.
"Once a song is embraced, people don't care who the hell did it. They love the song."
(And, in terms of the topic of shared country/R&B success, please feel free to revisit this recent column about how Dolly Parton and Whitney Houston helped make "I Will Always Love You" a standard in both genres, if not one of the most enduring songs of the entire rock era.)