The Commodores in Hallandale, Florida
|Origin||Tuskegee, Alabama, U.S.|
|Genres||R&B, funk, pop|
|Associated acts||Lionel Richie|
The Commodores is an American funk/soul band, which was at its peak in the 1970s. The members of the group met as mostly freshmen at Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in 1968, and signed with Motown in November 1972, having first caught the public eye opening for The Jackson 5 while on tour.
The group's most successful period was in the late 1970s and early 1980s when Lionel Richie was lead singer and songwriter. The band's biggest hit singles are ballads such as "Easy", "Three Times a Lady" and "Nightshift", and the funky, driven dance-floor hits which include "Brick House", "Fancy Dancer", "Lady (You Bring Me Up)" and "Too Hot ta Trot".
The Commodores originally came together from two former groups the Mystics and the Jays, but wanted to change the name. To choose a new name William "WAK" King opened a dictionary and randomly picked a word. "We lucked out," he remarked with a laugh when telling this story to People magazine. "We almost became The Commodes!".
"Machine Gun", the instrumental title track from the band's debut album, became a staple at American sporting events, and is similarly featured in many films, including Boogie Nights and Looking for Mr. Goodbar. It reached No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1975. Another instrumental, "Cebu" (named after an island in the Philippines), later became a staple[by whom?] in the Quiet storm format. Three albums released in years 1975 and 1976 (Caught in the Act, Movin' On, Hot On The Tracks) are considered the peak of their harder funk period. After those recordings the group started to move towards a softer sound. That move was hinted at in their 1976 Top Ten hits "Sweet Love" and "Just to Be Close to You." In 1977 the Commodores released "Easy", which became the group's biggest hit yet, reaching No. 4 in the U.S., followed by "Brick House", also Top 5, both from their landmark album "The Commodores", as was "Zoom". The group reached No. 1 in 1978 with the sweet "Three Times a Lady." The year 1979 saw the Commodores score another Top Five ballad hit, "Sail On", before reaching the top of the charts once again with another ballad, "Still". In 1981 they released two Top Ten hits with "Oh No" (#4 U.S.) and their first upbeat single in almost five years, "Lady (You Bring Me Up)" (#8 U.S.)
The band originated while its members attended Tuskegee University in Alabama. After winning the University's annual Freshman talent contest, they played at fraternity parties, as well as a weekend gig at the Black Forest Inn, one of a few clubs in Tuskegee that catered to the College students. They performed mostly cover tunes and some original songs with their first singer, James Ingram, only a namesake of the famous solo artist. Ingram, older than the rest of the members of the band, left to serve active duty in Vietnam, and was later replaced by Walter "Clyde" Orange, the second lead singer who wrote or co-wrote many of their hit tunes. Lionel Richie and Orange alternated as lead singers. Orange was the lead singer on the Top 10 hits, "Nightshift" and "Brick House" among others.
The Commodores made a brief appearance in the 1978 film Thank God It's Friday. They performed the song "Too Hot ta Trot" during the dance contest; their songs "Brick House" and "Easy" were also played during the movie.
In 1982, Lionel Richie left to pursue a solo career. In 1983, Skyler Jett replaced Richie as the co-lead singer for The Commodores, and toured the world, performing in over 32 countries in a two year span.
Over time, several founding members left. Thomas McClary left in 1982 (shortly after Richie left) to pursue a solo career and to develop a gospel music company. McClary was replaced by guitarist/vocalist Sheldon Reynolds. LaPread left in 1986 and moved to Auckland, New Zealand, and Reynolds departed for Earth, Wind & Fire in 1987, which prompted trumpeter William "WAK" King to take over primary guitar duties for live performances. Keyboardist Milan Williams exited the band in 1989. The group also gradually abandoned its funk roots and moved into the more commercial pop arena. In 1984 former Heatwave singer James Dean "J.D." Nicholas assumed co-lead vocal duties with drummer Walter Orange. The band remained hitless for several years till 1985 with their final Motown release of the album "Nightshift" produced by Dennis Lambert (all prior albums were produced by James Anthony Carmichael) delivered the Grammy Award-winning title track "Nightshift" (#3 in the U.S., a tribute to Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson; in 2010 a new version was recorded dedicated to Michael Jackson), The Commodores were on their European Tour, performing at Wembley Arena, London on June 25, 2009, when they were advised that Michael Jackson had died. Initially the band thought it was a hoax, however back in their dressing rooms they received confirmation, and broke down in tears. The next night in Birmingham the NIA Arena, J.D. Nicholas added Jackson's name into the lyrics of the song, and from then onwards the Commodores have mentioned Jackson and other R&B singers. From this came the inspiration upon the one year anniversary of Jackson's death, to re-record, with new lyrics, the hit song "Nightshift" as a tribute. Initially, "Nightshift" won The Commodores their first Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals in 1985.
In 1990 the Commodores formed Commodores Records and re-recorded the Commodores 20 greatest hits "Commodores Hits Vol. I & II", have recorded a live album "Commodores Live" along with a DVD by the same name, and a Christmas album titled "Commodores Christmas. In 2012, the band has been working on new material, some contributions written by current and former members.
Today, the Commodores consist of Walter "Clyde" Orange, J.D. Nicholas and King "WAK", along with their five piece band, known as the "Mean Machine". The group continues to perform, playing at arenas, theaters and festivals around the world.
- Walter Orange – lead singer
- William "WAK" King – trumpet, rhythm guitar, synthesizer
- J.D. Nicholas
- Lionel Richie – vocals, saxophone, piano, drums
- Thomas McClary – lead guitar
- Milan Williams – keyboards, trombone, rhythm guitar (died of cancer, July 9, 2006)
- Ronald La Pread – bass guitar, trumpet
- Charles Dean
- Eugene Ward
|Year||Album||Peak chart positions|
|1975||Caught in the Act||26||—||7|
|1976||Hot on the Tracks||12||—||1|
|1977||Commodores (aka Zoom in the UK)||3||—||1|
|1981||In the Pocket||13||70||4|
|1982||All the Great Hits||—||—||—|
|1984||All the Great Love Songs||—||—||—|
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart|
|Year||Single||Peak chart positions||Album|
|US||US R&B||US Dance||US AC||UK|
|1974||"Machine Gun"||22||7||—||—||20||Machine Gun|
|"The Zoo (The Human Zoo)"||—||—||—||—||44|
|"I Feel Sanctified"||75||12||—||—||—|
|1975||"Slippery When Wet"||19||1||—||—||—||Caught in the Act|
|"This Is Your Life"||—||13||—||—||—|
|1976||"Sweet Love"||5||2||—||—||32||Movin' On|
|"Just to Be Close to You"||7||1||—||—||62||Hot on the Tracks|
|1978||"Too Hot ta Trot"||24||1||—||—||38||The Commodores Live!|
|"Three Times a Lady"||1||1||—||1||1||Natural High|
|1979||"Sail On"||4||8||—||9||8||Midnight Magic|
|"Jesus Is Love"||—||34||—||—||—|
|1981||"Lady (You Bring Me Up)"||8||5||—||—||56||In the Pocket|
|1982||"Why You Wanna Try Me"||66||42||—||—||—|
|"Painted Picture"||70||19||—||—||—||All the Greatest Hits|
|"Only You"||54||20||—||8||—||Commodores 13|
|1984||"Turn Off the Lights"||—||—||—||—||—|
|1986||"Goin to the Bank"||65||2||—||—||43||United|
|1987||"Take It from Me"||—||38||—||—||—|
|"United in Love"||—||—||—||22||—|
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart|
Awards and recognition
The Commodores were inducted into The Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2003. Among multiple Grammy nominations, they won a Grammy for "Nightshift" in 1986.
- Commodores Re-record "Nightshift" As MJ Tribute
- "Allmusic ((( Commodores > Charts & Awards > Billboard Singles )))".
- "Chart Stats – The Commodores". chartstats.com. Archived from the original on January 19, 2013. Retrieved January 19, 2010.
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (February 2008)|
- Official Commodores website
- Lionel Richie interview by Pete Lewis, 'Blues & Soul' 03/2009
- 'The Commodores' Vocal Group Hall of Fame Page