Lionel Richie has had one of those careers that many would dream to have. Finding success as part of one of the most influential funk bands with the Commodores only to rocket into legendary status as a solo artist that is still praised by audiences today.
Arguably one of the Commodores biggest hits wasn’t a funk song at all. It was a touching ballad that Richie didn’t even write for them. He told Billboard magazine in 2013, “With Three Times a Lady, this was before the days of me having a piano in my own home. So I wrote this song on the university campus. It’s funny how I started writing things. I didn’t only write things for the Commodores. I also would write songs with somebody in mind, who I thought could sing it… and I thought Sinatra.”
Once the Commodore’s producer James Carmichael learned that Richie had a hidden library of songs that he wrote for others he begged to see some. Richie played Carmichael Three Times a Lady and “said I want to give this to Sinatra. And he said, no you won’t, you’re going to give this to the Commodores.”
Richie also shared the story behind the song saying “When I wrote ‘Three Times a Lady’ the inspiration came from, and this is the joke of the family… my father. He’s a very warm and huggy guy any way, but one day he decided to get up and make a toast to my mom, about how he felt about her. It was just out of the blue — I don’t think it was a birthday. I always say when a man makes a statement in the middle of nothing, there’s no special occasion, he’s guilty for something [laughs]. My sister and I looked at my dad and said, ‘Dad, are you OK?’ He said, ‘She’s a great lady, she’s a great mother, and she’s a great friend.’ And I thought that was a great little toast, so I wrote basically this waltz — it wasn’t considered an R&B song. Well, it now becomes a hit around the world, it’s our first Commodores smash record and I went on Johnny Carson to explain that basically it came from my father’s toast. And that part of the story was that you can never really repay your parents for all they’ve done for you. And 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?’ [laughs] 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.”
Whether he paid his father off is one thing, but Three Times a Lady is the song that will keep on giving to everyone for years to come.