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The Commodores are known for such hits as "Just to Be Close to You," "Easy," and "Brickhouse," to name a few. The Commodores were one of the top bands during their long tenure at Motown. The Commodores is credited with seven number one songs and a host of other Top Ten numbers on the Billboard charts. The Commodores also have a vast music catalog that has generated more than 50 albums, and the recordings continue to be in demand.
The Commodores are men of higher learning The members of the 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 members nearly went stir-crazy trying to pick a name for the group, but to no avail. As a last resort, Orange gave King a dictionary and told him to pick a name, and that name was the Commodores.
The Commodores began spreading their music throughout their regional base, which included Tuskegee, Montgomery, and Birmingham, AL. After experiencing success in securing dates in their own backyard, the band ventured to New York City for a gig at the Smalls Paradise club. They were told, in so many words by the club owner, that their sound was not happening. However, a short time later the self-contained band was called back to the club to fill-in for a last minute cancellation. That night the Tuskegee alumni performed before a standing-room-only crowd. Most of the crowd were friends and family of the band. Unaware of the planned crowd, the owner booked the band for two more weeks.
The Commodores association with Motown was a result of the group touring with the Jackson 5. That opportunity occurred in 1971 when the group was told to be in New York City for an audition. The members did not know the audition was for the Jackson 5 tour until two weeks later when they were selected for the tour. They toured with the Jackson 5 for two-and-one-half years, and their presence on that tour ultimately solidified a deal with Motown. Their first release on Motown was the up-tempo instrumental dance cut "Machine Gun." Written by Milan Williams, the song gave the group immediate attention with its Top Ten outing (Billboard number seven, 15 weeks). That number was followed by the Top 20 single "I Feel Sanctified," which lead to their third single and first number one record in "Slippery When Wet." Inside of 17 weeks, the Alabama-based septet was rocking the radio waves with their Southern funk spiced with an animated vocal delivery, courtesy of Lionel Richie and Clyde Orange.
In September of 1976, The Commodores released "Just to Be Close to You," their second number one single and a number seven pop hit. The Top Ten hit "Fancy Dancer" followed, and then came "Easy." Different from their other tunes, "Easy" was very serene and not nearly as soulful or funky as the band's other tunes. Nonetheless, it claimed the number one spot on the charts, and it paved the way for the style of ballads the group would later be known for. However, soul and funk was still very much present in spite of the benevolent rhythms of "Easy."
The Commodores were funkulicious. This was demonstrated with the release of what would become the group's anthem, "Brickhouse." The arrangement and candid vocal lead by Clyde Orange is complemented by the evenly saturated percussive and rhythmic attack It cracked the Top Ten at number four. The irony is that "Brickhouse" was the last song recorded for the group's self-titled album. Two consecutive number one singles would follow: the dance cut "Too Hot ta Trot" and the placid number "Three Times a Lady." And then there was "Still." The last number one for the group with Richie as a member.
The Commodores and Lionel part ways. In 1981, Richie recorded "Endless Love" with Diana Ross. The song peaked at number one for seven and nine weeks respectively on the Billboard R&B and pop charts. The success of the single was a prelude to the success Richie would relish upon his exit from the group, which occurred in 1982. But before his departure, the band had a string of hits which included "Old Fashion Love," "Lady (You Bring Me Up)," and "Oh No." However, the Commodores had many songs that were not releases and never charted, but were and remain favorites among many. The most notable being "Zoom." A simmering ballad in which Richie patiently sails through the utopian lyric; truly an R&B classic.
The Commodores go shopping for a new front man. In the absence of Richie, the group courted the talents of tenor J.D. Nicholas (formerly of Heatwave) and would go on to release its biggest hit. That occurred on January 15, 1985, when "Nightshift" was released. Penned by Clyde Orange, the song pays to tribute to the late soul singers Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson. Orange and Nicholas' co-lead the nostalgic number which navigated its way to the top spot on the charts and stayed there through four consecutive weeks; it also won the group its only Grammy.
The Commodores left Motown in 1985. The group's split with label was a matter of principle, which the group could not forsake. Motown gave a commitment to releasing the group's album prior to Richie's solo release. However, the label did not honor the commitment and proceeded to release Richie's project. Consequently, the group signed with Polydor in the same year and had another swing at the Top Ten with "Goin' to the Bank" (Billboard R&B, number two, 20 weeks). Today the band is reduced to a core of three, which includes Orange, King, and Nicholas. The threesome are as active as ever performing around the world; they are managing their own label, Commodore Records, and more than anything else they're still having fun.
The Commodores Song List
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