It was Lionel Richie all night long at the 12th American Music Awards, televised on ABC last night. Richie, who also happened to be the show's host, walked off with six of the 27 awards, including top male vocalist in both the pop/rock and black categories.
"When I said 'outrageous' at the beginning of the show, I had no idea it was going to be outrageous," Richie said at show's end.
Actually, outrageous it wasn't, unless you were a Prince fan. Outside of Boy George's startlingly plebeian new look -- sort of a pudgy Buddy Holly in a raincoat -- the only real excitement in last night's show figured to be just how many times Chick Huntsberry would roll onto the stage of Los Angeles' Shrine Auditorium. Huntsberry is Prince's hulking bodyguard and shadow: wherever Prince went, even when his band, the Revolution, went, Chick was there.
Actually, he made it on stage only three times as Prince was knocked out of an expected Michael Jackson-style landslide by Richie's middle-of-the-road juggernaut. In nine head-to-head confrontations, Richie walked off with a smile six times, including honors for male video artist (black and pop) and video single (black and pop).
Prince, who seemed otherwise comfortable in Jackson's year-old shoes, proved to be just as eloquent. "Thank you very much" was his unsmiling response to winning his first award, for top black single. Later, as he herded the Revolution up to the stage for the black album award, he looked like a prissy school master keeping the kids in line. Still later, after winning the pop/rock album award, Prince waxed eloquent. "For all of us, life is death without adventure and adventure comes only to those who are daring and willing to take chances."
You take what you get in rock 'n' roll. And Prince and the Revolution did perform "Purple Rain," which was a coup for the show. Interesting moment: Sheila E., Prince's girlfriend, having to surrender the pop/rock single award to Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" after everybody expected "When Doves Cry" to win. Some year, this Prince will come up on stage more often, but not this year apparently, since he's also been shut down in next month's Grammy Awards.
Besides Richie and Prince, other big winners in the three-tiered awards system (pop/rock, country, black) were Tina Turner, who won black female vocalist, and female video artist pop and black; the Pointer Sisters (black group and black video group); Anne Murray (country female video artist and country video single), and Kenny Rogers (country male vocalist, country single and album).
This American Music Awards was probably the most American ever: only three of the 81 nominations went to non-North Americans (Billy Ocean, Culture Club and Duran Duran, all of whom lost). Of course, since the awards are based on sales and chart position and video exposure, this turned out to be little more than a reflection of the Buy American stance prevalent in 1984.
Like most awards shows, the AMA suffers from Pentagonia, a disease that demands a 5-to-1 ratio of presenters to winners. By the time everybody was introduced, the presentations became awkward and rushed. Better they speak slowly and eliminate some of the overblown musical numbers. And will somebody please reroute Alabama into the Twilight Zone?
The twist this year was a dozen new video awards (don't ever say the AMA doesn't know which side its records are buttered on). Of course, outside of the video singles awards in each field, musicians were being rewarded for their general videosity. Nobody got nominated without a video to pave the way. You have seen the future of rock 'n' roll.