Thursday, February 12, 2015

Why Lionel Richie’s HELLO should be on your Halloween playlist not Valentine’s Day!!

When most people think of, or hear Lionel Richie’s iconic song, “Hello,” they hear a love song.  A pop song about a man experiencing love at first sight. A man experiencing true love.  A sweet romantic ballad perfectly constructed to appear on a Greatest Love Songs collection or your Valentine’s Day playlist.

I am not one of those people.


Hello has always sounded less like a power love ballad and more secret admirer/stalker song to me. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love Lionel Richie, I love his writing, his singing, and I love Hello.  I consider Hello to be one of the best pop songs of all time.  I just don’t think it should be celebrated as a love song.  At least not a traditional one.  As I have written before, I have always been struck by the song’s darker but clear message.  A message underneath the beautiful and simple love song lyrics.  Underneath the beautifully and richly sung notes.  There is something darker, something sinister underneath that simplicity.  It's there in the music too.  Listen for it.  Something stalking.  A repetitive "drumming" of the piano.  A repetitive note.  Like torture.  Even Lionel's voice has a whisper to it, a haunting feel and a clear desperation.

My fascination with this song and it’s darker intentions has in no way diminished it’s power as a pop song for me, in fact, I have a deeper respect for it and it’s one the reasons I was motivated (or driven) to create an entire project based on it!

On June 25th, 2014 I released this project online, my short film/music video hybrid, HELLO, which uses the song and it’s less common message to tell a new story.  Reactions to the project were mixed, if not fascinating, with some people “loving” the story and the intensity of a “love gone wrong", others were more shocked and surprised by the twist and turned off by the violence in it. 
I had people tell me that it reminded them of past relationships and that they could relate to the feelings the main character possesses (not my creative intention) others, some victims of abuse or domestic violence, said that it was painful to watch because it was realistic and reminded them of their past abuses (not exactly my creative intention either, but an amazing if not disturbing “compliment” to my work).  Overall I was pleased with the feedback because it got people talking.  It challenged them, and that, was in fact one of my creative intentions.  That, and to entertain (of course) in a creative new way that took something fairly old and deeply intrenched in our pop culture and present it in a new and exciting way.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I love and respect the song, and love and respect Lionel Richie.  Got it?  Make sense?  OK.  Well now that I got that out of the way, I can now give you my “thesis” on why Hello should be played around Halloween, not Valentine’s Day!

I should say at this point that I'm not going to even go into the eighties produced music video for the song starring Lionel as a teacher who falls for one of his students, who happens to be blind and has absolutely no talent at making head busts look like their subjects!

OK.  Maybe just for a minute....The music video consists of Lionel calling his blind student on the phone in the middle of the night, singing of his love to her in class, secretly following her around the classroom halls, and eventually confronting her and discovering that she loves him too!  Haven't see it?  It's a hoot, and you should, here.
The music video directed by Bob Giraldi, is a mess in my opinion not because of the idea or the execution but because they tried to make a music video for a love song and as I will further explore, Hello is not a love song.  That's why I think my version of Hello works better for the song.

Getting back to the song... and specifically the lyrics.  Come on!!  Have you actually read the lyrics?  Not just listened to them on the radio but read them?

I've been alone with you
Inside my mind
And in my dreams I've kissed your lips
A thousand times
I sometimes see you
Pass outside my door
Is it me you're looking for?
I can see it in your eyes
I can see it in your smile
You're all I've ever wanted
And my arms are open wide
'cause you know just what to say
And you know just what to do
And I want to tell you so much
I love you

If anyone told you that they had “been alone with you inside (their) mind” you’d back away slowly and hope to God that your cell phone gets good coverage for that much needed 911 call you are about to make.  You sure as hell wouldn’t think that it sounded romantic.  But because Lionel sings the lines so sweetly, and it’s a pop song we’re talking about here, you don’t really notice what he’s saying.
“And in my dreams I’ve kissed your lips a thousand times” he continues.  Alright, granted, this is a little less creepy and maybe a bit more romantic if you don’t mind some guy essentially telling you that you are in fact who he’s thought about, when he’s alone at night, eh-hum, all alone.  And for good measure, he’s telling you that he’s done it, with you in his mind, a thousand times!  Um…

But Lionel's only warming up, “I sometimes see you pass outside my door”… excuse me…what?  You see her outside your door, which means you watch her by peaking through your mini blinds or curtains, stealth like, as she passes your window presumably going to and from her home since, oh great, it appears they live near each other?  Maybe even neighbors!  But you don’t say hello to her (although you sure do like to sing it), no you instead just watch her silently and hidden.  Though you do have a nice view, apparently, since you’re able to analyze what is in her eyes!  You say as much next, “I can see it in your eyes.  I can see it in your smile.  You’re all I ever wanted” 
Wait.  Just a second.  Through your creeping, behind your blinds, you can see “it” in her eyes and smile?  Really?  Again, a normal person would be checking their cell phone and quietly punching the “9” and then the “1.”

He continues… "cause you know just what to say.  And you know just what to do” Wait, so this means they’ve met?  Or does it just mean that you listen in to her conversations with other neighbors.  Or maybe you’ve bugged her place with audio?

"And I want to tell you so much.  I love you”

So based on her eyes, her smile, and that she knows “just what to say and do” you know you’re in love?  Although, there is a high probability that you’ve never even exchanged dialogue with her.  OK.  I guess that’s not quite a stalker yet.  Just a cheesy love song, pop style.  Right?  Right??

*It should be noted however, that the music does start to change here.  For the first time we clearly hear a repetitive “striking” of the same note.  A piano maybe?  Regardless, this musical note is the same musical note, over and over again.  Rhythmic. Repetitive.  Like the dripping of a faucet, or of Chinese water torture.  Drip. Drip. Drip.  Even more creepy, just like Lionel’s character, the repetition has been there the whole time!!  The composition of the song is so brilliant though, that it has slyly hidden it from us until now.  And we should all be weary of repetition or someone doing the same thing over and over again.  Why, you ask?  Well, Albert Einstein said it best “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” 
Besides that, doesn’t the note, that dark, repetitive, haunting sound, doesn’t it remind you of something else?  It reminds me of the music from the classic horror film Psycho, specifically the music (if you can call it music) from the famous shower scene.  Go back and listen to Hello and then listen to the music from Psycho.  It’s not the same, Hello has a slower, less frantic sound, but both have an unnerving repetitiveness to them.  Go ahead, listen for yourself. Psycho Shower Scene

I long to see the sunlight in your hair
And tell you time and time again how much I care
Sometimes I feel my heart will overflow
Hello, I've just got to let you know

OK, here’s where it starts to get interesting lyrically.  You “long to see the sunlight in (her) hair?” Um, does this mean we can assume you haven’t spoken with her directly, or at the very least, you haven’t spoken with her in the daylight?  Kind of weird dude, you know, to confess your love to someone you haven’t even talked to in the light.  And on a side note, who says "I long" for something anyway?  You “long” for it?  Really?  To see sunlight in her hair?  Seems a bit….um, much.
Actually he's begun to use a lot of, intense words and phrases now, “my heart will overflow” “I’ve just got to let you know"… plus you repeat yourself, and promise to do more of it, if you ever do actually talk to her face to face, “And tell you time and time again how much I care”
Irrational emotions, intense language and feelings, repeating yourself…hmmm, you are starting to sound a little unhinged.  At least emotionally.  Maybe the crazy is not mental….

'Cause I wonder where you are
And I wonder what you do
Are you somewhere feeling lonely, or is someone loving you?

Nope.  You are crazy, with a capital “K”!!  You not only stalk her quietly and secretly but when she’s not around you wonder where she is, what she’s doing, and in my opinion, the creepiest line of the entire song, you wonder if she’s getting laid?  That is what he’s asking right, when he says, "or is someone loving you?”  You want to know if she’s getting laid.  Come on dude!  How is that any of your business?  This is something I expect from a lovelorn guy who was suddenly just broken up with by his girlfriend of 9 years.  Sure, then you are going to wonder, is she getting laid?  But wondering that, when you haven’t even met her face to face or talked to her, or seen her hair in the sunlight?  Creepy.  Real creepy.

Suddenly the music busts into the classic 80’s saxophone solo and then Lionel repeats the above lyrics.  Maybe for good measure?  There is something specifically different in him this time when he sings “or is someone loving you?” his intention has changed.  His phrasing very different and appears much darker and more sinister then when he sung the line the first time.  It’s also less “bright” this time around both in his note and delivery.  Is this a subtle way to communicate his fascination moving into obsession?  Want to listen for yourself?  I cued up the song to 2:13, the first time he delivers the line and then 3:29 the second time so you can hear the two versions.

Hello, is it me you're looking for?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, no, no you are not the one she is looking for since, well, since she doesn’t even know you exist Mr Stalker!

Tell me how to win your heart
For I haven't got a clue

You haven’t got a clue?  Really?  How about, oh, I don’t know, introducing yourself to her!  That sounds like a good way to start.  Or even, maybe, stop spying on her?!!  Another great way to “win (her) heart” (or at least prevent her from calling the police).

And then, he does it.  He rocks this simple pop song into something so much more.  With one final line he puts everything into context and changes the game.   Most people don’t even notice though, they’ve been hypnotized by the melody, or the beautiful singing that Lionel knows how to do so well.

But let me start by saying I love you

Start?  He'll start there?  He’s probably never met this woman, and there is a high probability that he’s been,at the very least, secretly been spying on her but probably full on stalking.  He seems to finally have built his courage up and he’s going to meet her, face to face, and tell her something.  And that first thing he decides to tell her?  Well, it’s ironically not, hello!  No, when he first meets her, he’s going to tell her that he loves her (of course!).  Even for pop music this is fairly unnerving.

And brilliant.

Lionel Richie has created a romantic, stalker song.  That ever elusive goal in pop music.  Write a hit song that the general public loves, and plays at their weddings, and couples refer to “our song” while you laugh all the way to the bank knowing the irony.
The Police’s “Every Breathe You Take” is a great, more widely accepted example of a stalker song, as is Sarah McLachlan’s “Possession” which is literally a stalker song (Sarah said writing the song, using letters from various and disturbed obsessive fans was very “therapeutic.”).  And don’t get me started on Mariah Carey.  Pretty much every single pop song that woman has written freaks me out.  All of them are obsessive stalker songs and talk about how she is the best you ever had, and that you’ll never survive without her, and that you’ll be back for more.  Or else.  See “Someday” and “Always Be My Baby” as great examples.  In fact, David Cook covered “Always Be My Baby” and the song doesn’t work at all.  Not because he isn’t an able vocalist, but because the songs creepy lyrics are brought out tenfold with a deep male voice singing them.  Listen here.

All these songs are “catchy” and when taken out of context sound like loving ballads.  The perfect pop song.  But like Hello they are more then just cute ditties!  They are multi-level pieces of true artistry.  This is why Lionel Richie's Hello (and the other songs mentioned) should never appear on a Love Songs compilation.  They should never be played at weddings and should never be your Valentine’s Day anthem.

They are about love, but an unhealthy, non Hallmark endorsed love.

And like the stalkers to their pray, we should love them for what they are…. not what we want them to be.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

For More Blog...  

To See HELLO, my short film/music video hybrid, click below:

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