Renowned for the R&B hits "Just to Be Close to You," "Easy," and "Brickhouse," to name but a few, Commodores were one of the top bands during their long tenure at Motown. The group is credited with seven number one songs and a host of other Top Ten hits on the Billboard charts, and their vast catalog includes more than 50 albums. The members of Commodores, all of whom attended Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, came together as a result of two groups disbanding: the Mystics and the Jays. Initially formed to simply play music as a pastime and to meet girls, the lineup consisted of William King (trumpet), Thomas McClary (guitar), Ronald LaPread (bass), Walter "Clyde" Orange (drums), Lionel Richie (saxophone), and Milan Williams (keyboards).
The year was 1977 - and this was the album that turned the Commodores into certifiable superstars in the crossover and commercial market. Not that they weren't popular before - they had a huge R&B following, consistently amazing albums, and some pop music success, but nothing like it was after this album was released. 1977 was the year that the group embarked upon a massive nationwide tour, and their audience grew and grew to monumental proportions. This album was flying off the shelves in the music stores. Three of the songs from it that would go on to be classics were responsible for that. Ad campaigns, movie and TV roles for the funk sextet from Alabama followed as a result.
In 1980 and 1981, many people in the music world suspected that Lionel Richie would soon be leaving the Commodores to pursue a solo career – and sure enough, he officially became a full-time solo artist in 1982. In the Pocket, released in 1981, turned out to be his final album with the group. Not surprisingly, Richie dominates the album, singing lead on everything from adult contemporary ballads like "Lucy" and "Oh No" (a number four pop/number five R&B smash) to the sophisticated funk of "Why You Wanna Try Me" and the Top Five R&B favorite "Lady (You Bring Me Up)." Walter Orange and Thomas McClary also contribute some lead vocals, but the album's best-known songs are the ones that feature Richie.
The Commodores are the premier R&B-pop group of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Natural High is their sixth studio recording and includes one of the most recognizable songs of the era, “Three Times A Lady.” The pivotal outing also includes the soulful standouts “X-Rated Movie,” “Such A Woman,” and “I Like What You Do.” Natural High reached #3 on the Billboard 200.
Early funk from The Commodores - a group that spent so much time sleeping later, it's hard to believe they could be so funky early on! There's plenty of that bass-heavy style that would later dominate many Motown combos at the end of the 70s - but the group's really in control of the groove on this one, without any of the cliches that such bassery could lead them into. Lionel Ritchie contributed one nice smooth soul number, «This Is Your Life», and the rest of the album includes «Let's Do It Right», «Wide Open», «The Bump», «Look What You've Done To Me», and the pop funk classic «Slippery When Wet».
When the Commodores' seventh studio album, Midnight Magic, came out in 1979, one could safely assume that the LP would contain at least one adult contemporary ballad. And sure enough, Midnight Magic contains the ballad "Still," which was a number one pop hit (as well as a number one R&B hit) and became a staple on adult contemporary radio. The sappy ballad (which features Lionel Richie) wasn't without its detractors, who felt that the Commodores had become too much of a slick crossover act. But even if "Still" doesn't excite you, the rest of the album isn't bad. "Wonderland" (a number 21 R&B hit) is an enjoyable R&B slow jam, and fans of sophisticated funk (as opposed to hardcore funk) should appreciate "You're Special," "Gettin' It," and the disco-minded title song.
Machine Gun is the first album from the Commodores, released in 1974 on the Motown label. Although pop audiences were not exactly responsive to this issue, R&B audiences met this album with open arms. Machine Gun is relentlessly funky, with no ballads to be found. The tracks are spectacular from beginning to end, and the hauntingly explosive title track kicks things off. Milan Williams' strobing clavinet highlited throughout the track sounds like gunfire, and led to Motown head Berry Gordy naming the song "Machine Gun."This track peaked at #7 on the R&B, while reaching a disappointing #22 on the pop charts. Not that the Commodores would care much about pop. They wouldn't have crossover appeal for another four albums. This album was all about the funk.
The Commodores made one final stab at regaining R&B glory when Lionel Richie and producer/arranger James Anthony Carmichael both left in the mid-'80s. J.D. Nicholas became their lead singer, and Dennis Lambert assumed production duties. They rebounded temporarily, when "Nightshift" leaped out of an otherwise ordinary album to become a Grammy-winning R&B and pop smash. It stayed atop the R&B charts for a month, and peaked at #3 on the pop chart. Unfortunately, it was also the end for Thomas McClary, who left the group once the album had run its course. It was their next-to-last hit, and basically the end for the band, although they continued for a couple more years.