America was still four years away from the first of three wars in the Middle East, Lady Gaga was a newborn, and the Internet was just a twinkle in the eye of some academic nerds’ coke-bottle glasses.
That’s how long it’s been since Madonna and Lionel Richie were both in the top five of the Billboard 200 chart at the same time. The year was 1986, and Richie was riding high with his smash #1 album, Dancing on the Ceiling, while Madge was at #5 with her former #1, True Blue.
Next week the pair will be chart mates again, as Madonna’s dance-tastic MDNA is predicted to sell between 300,000 and 350,000 copies to take the top spot, while Richie’s album of country re-workings of his biggest hits, Tuskegee, should land at #2 on sales of 125,000 to 150,000.
Back in the day, both were celebrating the release of their third album. Madonna dedicated her “girliest” work to date to her then-husband, actor Sean Penn, even as she began delving into more topical songs (“Papa Don’t Preach”) and Latin rhythms (“La Isla Bonita”). For an artist who’d already ascended to pop stardom with her first two discs, True Blue was a chance for Madonna to expand her fanbase, and though it debuted at #28, it eventually reached #1, where it stayed for five weeks. Among the singles released from the album are “Live to Tell,” the title track and “Open Your Heart.” It went on to sell more than 25 million copies worldwide.
For Richie, it was also a time of transition. The former Commodores singer — who was born in Tuskegee, Alabama — had scored some hits on his first two solo albums, including “My Love,” the Caribbean-spiced “All Night Long,” “Hello” and “Running With the Night.”
While Madonna continues to be one of the biggest live draws in the world and a global superstar, Dancing on the Ceiling marked the beginning of the end of Richie’s mass popularity. But, the famously well-coiffed singer went out with a huge bang. Not only was the title cut a #1 single and hugely popular video, but the album also spawned the moving ballad “Say You, Say Me,” as well as “Love Will Conquer All” and “Ballerina Girl.”
While Madonna continued to crank out hit albums such as Like a Prayer, Erotica and Bedtime Stories, it would be 10 years before Richie was back on the charts. His Louder Than Words came out in April 1996, debuting at #33 and not spawning any memorable hits. Against the usual pop music odds, Madonna is still launching singles onto the charts, recently played the most coveted gig in music — the Super Bowl halftime show — and has collaborated with modern stars like Nicki Minaj. Richie has been lower-profile, but served a well-received stint as a guest mentor on the second-biggest reality music competition on TV, “The Voice,” and he roped in such big-name country stars as Kenny Chesney, Shania Twain, Jason Aldean, Darius Rucker, Rascal Flatts, Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles, Blake Shelton, Willie Nelson and old pal Kenny Rogers.