|Origin:||Tuskegee, Alabama, U.S.|
|Current Members:||Walter Orange|
|Past Members:||Lionel Richie|
Ronald La Pread
The Commodores are an American funk/soul band of the 1970s and 1980s. 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 Commodores have sold over 75 million records worldwide.
This group is best known for their ballads, such as "Easy" and "Three Times a Lady", but, for the most part, the group mainly recorded funky, driven dance-floor hits which include "Brick House", "The Bump", "Fancy Dancer", and "Too Hot ta Trot". The Commodores originally called themselves the Mystics, but wanted to change the name. To choose a new name William 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. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1975. Another instrumental, "Cebu" (named after an island in the Philippines), later became a staple 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. Only one such hit from that era scored big, "Brick House" which reached No. 5 in the U.S. After those recordings the group started to move towards softer sound. That move was hinted from their 1976 Top Ten hits "Sweet Love" and "Just to Be Close to You." In 1977 the Commodores scored a ballad hit with "Easy", which became the group's biggest hit yet, reaching No. 4 in the U.S. After years of toiling in the Top Ten, the group finally 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." The group had no major hits in 1980, but by 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.)
In Tuskegee, they played local parties and fraternity parties playing mostly cover tunes and some original songs with their original singer, James Ingram (another "James Ingram" – not the more 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 before Lionel Richie came on board. Richie and fellow Commodore Walter "Clyde" Orange alternated as lead singers. Orange was also the lead singer on the Top 10 hits, "Nightshift" and "Brick House" amongst others.
After Richie left to pursue a solo career, former Heatwave singer J.D. Nicholas assumed co-lead vocal duties with drummer Walter Orange. However, with the exception of the Grammy Award-winning "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 band never achieved the same level of success it had enjoyed with Richie. Ironically, "Nightshift" won The Commodores their first Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals in 1985.
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.
Over time, the group's founding members began leaving. 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 New Zealand, and Reynolds departed for Earth, Wind and 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 1983, Skyler Jett, replaced Lionel Richie as the lead singer for The Commodores, and toured the world and performed in over 32 countries in a two year span.
In 1985, the group performed two commercials for NBC affiliate WXIA in Atlanta, Georgia. The group left Motown in 1986 for Polydor, and released several additional albums, which are primarily compilations of previous material. They have re-recorded Commodores hits and have recorded a live album and a Christmas album.
Today, the Commodores consist of Walter "Clyde" Orange, Nicholas and King, along with a backing band. King married the songwriter Shirley Hanna-King ("Brick House" co-writer) in 1976.
Since the late 1990s, Orange has also been working in conjunction with singer/songwriter Craig Deanto, and they have released an album titled Who Hears the Cries. The group continues to perform, playing at arenas, theaters and festivals around the world. They have been the opening act for Trump casinos and Hard Rock casinos.
|Year||Album||Peak chart positions|
|1975||Caught in the Act||26||—|
|1976||Hot on the Tracks||12||—|
|1981||In the Pocket||13||70|
|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|
|1969||"Keep on Dancing"||—||—||—||—||—||Non-album song|
|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|
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.