Apologies from all of us here on the deck of the VIDEO! Cruiser — we realize it’s been far too long since we sent a transmission back from the 1980th Dimension. Not that it’s any excuse, really, but we stumbled across the leftover Cuervo and cocaine from Toto’s “Rosanna” video shoot, and things got a little hairy around here for awhile. We’re okay now, though, and to prove it, we’ve dug up a bona fide ‘classic’ to watch with all of you.
Picture it: the year is 1986. You are Lionel Richie, and you have conquered the pop charts, both as an occasionally too-sensitive member of a tremendous funk group and a solo artist/purveyor of syrupy, impossible to forget adult contemporary ballads. You’ve followed up your successful tenure in the Commodores with a pair of best-selling solo albums. What should you do — what can you do, really — for your third act?
If you answered “find out just how stupid a Top Five single can get,” then you have our condolences, because you clearly remember today’s dried-up mound, “Dancing on the Ceiling.” Here, one of the most prolific songwriters of the early ’80s managed to pee all over the memory of a classic Fred Astaire dance routine while simultaneously rivaling “Who’s Johnny?” as the most substance-free hit of the year. With that title and these lyrics, the only way the video could have been worse is if Richie had filled it with people dressed like Meshach Taylor in Mannequin and made them jump around like idiots.
In Richie’s defense, he’s an extremely talented songwriter, one whose gift for easy hooks and MOR tempos made him a perfect fit for the early-to-mid ’80s — and by the time Dancing on the Ceiling was recorded, he’d been keeping up a difficult pace for a number of years, so it isn’t surprising that exhaustion crept into the album. On the other hand, “Dancing on the Ceiling” is awful.
Once again, CAPTAIN VIDEO! is flabbergasted by the number of people it took to write a song — in this case, the not-so-magic number is three. Three people! To produce a finished product that includes the words “Oh, what a feeling / When we’re dancing on the ceiling,” repeated approximately 40,000 times! Clearly, there was some mighty fine Colombian swirling around the studio when this “song” was “written” — and speaking of nose candy, why, let’s take a look at the video!
The clip opens with an exterior shot of a swanky highrise apartment building, then cuts to Lionel, his guitarist, and his white-gloved drummer walking down a hallway. Lionel is walking backwards and jabbering about what a great party they’re going to have — and what do you know? He’s right!
And this isn’t just any party, either — it’s a KEYTAR party!
And what would a keytar party be without a lot of terrible, terrible dancing? Observe two classic moves:
The “I’m holding up a building while doing a one-armed windmill”!
The “Where did my dignity go?”
Here’s the video’s first money shot, which was greeted with a chorus of oohs and ahhs from people who couldn’t figure out how in the world Lionel managed to actually dance on a ceiling. (CAPTAIN VIDEO!’s favorite comment on this clip’s YouTube page reads as follows: “FAKE! They aren’t really dancing on the ceiling! Really they’re just walking across it.”)
Speaking of fake, here’s a shot of Lionel with two of his band members. That blond-haired ponytailed fellow to Lionel’s left is the drummer, and he spends the entire clip either smacking his sticks together or hitting them against the air. While wearing white gloves.
And speaking of gloves, here’s a rare sighting of a creature not seen since 1986, or the last outdoor funk festival in Minsk: the gloved bassist!
It was here, for the first but by no means the last time, that Cheech regretted breaking up with Chong.
How did a black man break the color barrier at MTV in the early ’80s? By tricking the bitches into thinking he might be gay. Nicely done, Lionel! You so smooth.
Just in case you forgot, this is a KEYTAR party!
…And finally, what would an expensive ’80s video be without a perfectly unnecessary cameo from Rodney Dangerfield? (Bonus fun fact: this is what Rodney was talking about when, after filming Ladybugs, he told people he’d “done worse.”)
So there you have it, faithful Videots — the sights and sounds of Lionel Richie scraping the bottom of his creative barrel so thoroughly that he wouldn’t release another album of new material for a decade. He’s released a string of records since 1996, but none of them have come anywhere near the sales levels of his first three solo albums — which is why his most recent release, 2007’s Live in Paris, sticks a six-and-a-half-minute version of “Dancing on the Ceiling” third on the setlist. He may have co-written and recorded one of the dumbest songs of the ’80s, but we’re the dopes who turned it into a hit. As always, Lionel is laughing all the way to the bank.