“YOU HAVE TO UNDERSTAND, THE PRESSURE of that 24 hours was pretty incredible,” Lionel Richie recalls on the latest episode of the Billboard Chart Beat Podcast, hosted this week by Billboard associate chart manager Trevor Anderson.
The hectic span that Richie is recounting? The stressful recording session that resulted in his now-classic duet with Diana Ross, “Endless Love.”
On paper, the collaboration sounded like a no-brainer: Ross, then 37, the former leader of The Supremes who had scored five solo Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hits, and Richie, then 32 and the frontman of The Commodores, a band that had landed seven top 10 hits (including two No. 1s), would record the theme song for Franco Zeffirelli’s film Endless Love, starring Brooke Shields.
In reality, Ross and Richie were so busy with their respective schedules that finding studio time together proved nearly impossible, given the deadline for including the song on the soundtrack. The solution: When Ross played a gig in Lake Tahoe, Nev., Richie flew to nearby Reno, where a late-night session was booked. Ross drove there after her show, and recording began at 3 a.m.
There were “so many moving parts,” Richie says: The song needed to be turned around in just 12 hours, and “I’m holding up the movie. I have to get the whole song done tonight. Make or break, you follow me?”
“Endless Love” proved worth the strain. The ballad, which was written and produced by Richie, not only topped the Hot 100 for nine weeks starting on Aug. 15, 1981, it reigns as the Hot 100’s top duet of all-time. It was Ross’ sixth and (so far) final No. 1 hit as a solo artist and Richie’s first, which caused tension within The Commodores. He departed the band soon after and charted a dozen top 10 hits on his own.
Richie and Ross have performed “Endless Love” together live only once, at the 1982 Academy Awards, where it was nominated for best original song. Both singers continue to tour, and 34 years later, Richie, now 67, says he’s eager to collaborate with Ross again.
“Hey, Diana: Say yes to Lionel and let’s get this thing going!”
A sampling of previous episodes with host Gary Trust:
Chubby Checker on the Hot 100’s All-Time No. 1, “The Twist” / Perez Hilton / Dave Cobb & Jed Hill on Americana Music (hosted by Jim Asker) / Original MTV VJ Martha Quinn / RCA’s Joe Riccitelli on Britney Spears & Justin Timberlake / Hit Songs Deconstructed on Drake & Selena Gomez
Enjoy the entire latest Chart Beat Podcast and check back for more upcoming episodes with artists, label executives, radio programmers and personalities, songwriters, producers and more, all as we look at why what’s on the charts … is on the charts. And, to receive every episode automatically in your inbox, subscribe to (and rate) the Billboard Chart Beat Podcast on iTunes!