One of the most talented and successful R&B groups of the '70s featured future solo star Lionel Richie.
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 members nearly went stir-crazy trying to pick a name for the group, but with no success. As a last resort, Orange gave King a dictionary and told him to pick a name -- that name was the Commodores. With Clyde Orange the only learned musician in the group, Commodores began spreading their music throughout their base, which included Tuskegee, Montgomery, and Birmingham, AL.
After success securing dates in their own backyard, the band ventured to New York City for a gig at Smalls Paradise. Told, in so many words by the club owner, that their sound was not happening, the self-contained band was nevertheless 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 which were friends and family of the band. Unaware of the planned crowd, the owner booked the band for two more weeks.
Commodores' long association with Motown began as a result of a tour opening for the Jackson 5. That opportunity occurred in 1971, when the group auditioned in New York City for an unknown yet high-profile gig. Two weeks later, they made their first appearance in the prized support slot, and didn't give it up for more than two years. Their excellent shows naturally led to a deal with Motown, and they debuted with the up-tempo instrumental dance cut "Machine Gun." Written by Milan Williams, its Top Ten outing gave the group immediate attention. It was followed by the Top 20 single "I Feel Sanctified," which led to their third single -- and first number one record -- in "Slippery When Wet." Inside of 17 weeks, the septet was rocking the airwaves with their brand of Southern funk, spiced with an animated vocal delivery courtesy of Lionel Richie and Clyde Orange.
In September of 1976, they 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 became known for. One exception to the ballad-heavy approach was "Brickhouse," the song that soon became the group's anthem. The arrangement and candid vocal lead by Clyde Orange was complemented by the evenly saturated percussive and rhythmic attack, and it cracked the Top Ten at number four. 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. 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. Its success was a prelude to what Richie enjoyed upon his 1982 exit from the group.
In the absence of Richie, the group promptly courted tenor J.D. Nicholas (formerly of Heatwave) and ended up recording their biggest hit. Penned by Clyde Orange, "Nightshift" paid tribute to the late soul singers Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson. For four consecutive weeks it topped the charts, and it also won the group their only Grammy.
Commodores finally left Motown in 1985. Consequently, the group signed with Polydor the same year and had another swing at the Top Ten with "Goin' to the Bank." During the '90s, the band was reduced to a core of three: Orange, King, and Nicholas. The threesome were nearly as active as they'd ever been, performing around the world and managing their own label, Commodore Records.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
One of the most popular R&B and adult contemporary singer/songwriters, both as a member of the Commodores and as a solo artist.
On March 24, 1984, singer, songwriter, musician, record producer, actor and the former lead singer of the Commodores, Lionel Richie (Lionel Brockman Richie, Jr), started a six week run at No.1 on the UK singles chart with 'Hello.' Also a No.1 hit in the US.
After leaving the Commodores, Lionel Richie became one of the most successful male solo artists of the '80s, arguably eclipsed during his 1981-1987 heyday only by Michael Jackson and Prince. Richie dominated the pop charts during that period with an incredible run of 13 consecutive Top Ten hits, five of them number ones. As his popularity skyrocketed, Richie moved further away from his R&B origins and concentrated more on adult contemporary balladry, which had been one of his strengths even as part of the Commodores. After 1987, Richie fell silent, taking an extended break from recording and touring before beginning a comeback toward the end of the '90s. He settled into a relaxed recording and touring schedule. Through the early 2010s, his albums switched between sophisticated R&B, surprisingly pop-oriented material, and even contemporary country.
Lionel Brockman Richie, Jr., was born on June 20, 1949, in Tuskegee, Alabama, and grew up on the campus of the Tuskegee Institute, where most of his family had worked for two generations prior. While attending college there, Richie joined the Commodores, who went on to become the most successful act on the Motown label during the latter half of the '70s. Richie served as a saxophonist, sometime vocalist, and songwriter, penning ballads like "Easy," "Three Times a Lady," and "Still" (the latter two became the group's only number one pop hits). Although the Commodores maintained a democratic band structure through most of their chart run, things began to change when the '70s became the '80s. In 1980, Richie wrote and produced country-pop singer Kenny Rogers' across-the-board number one smash "Lady," and the following year, Richie's duet with Diana Ross, "Endless Love" (recorded for the Brooke Shields film of the same title), became the most successful single in Motown history, topping the charts for a stunning nine weeks. With the media's attention now focused exclusively on Richie, tensions within the Commodores began to mount, and before the end of 1981, Richie decided to embark on a solo career.
Richie immediately set about recording his solo debut for Motown. Titled simply Lionel Richie, the album was released in late 1982 and was an immediate smash, reaching number three on the pop charts on its way to sales of over four million copies. It spun off three Top Five pop hits, including the first single, "Truly," which became Richie's first solo number one. If Lionel Richie made its creator a star, the follow-up, Can't Slow Down, made him a superstar. Boasting five Top Ten singles, including the number ones "All Night Long (All Night)" and "Hello," Can't Slow Down hit number one, eventually sold over ten million copies, and won the 1984 Grammy for Album of the Year. Such was Richie's stature that he was invited to perform at the closing ceremonies of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, a spectacular stage event that was broadcast worldwide.
In 1985, Richie put his superstar status to work for a greater good, joining Michael Jackson in co-writing the USA for Africa charity single "We Are the World"; the all-star recording helped raise millions of dollars for famine relief. By the end of the year, he was on top of the charts again with "Say You, Say Me," a ballad recorded for the film White Nights but not included on the soundtrack album. The song was slated to be the title track on Richie's upcoming album, but delays in the recording process prevented the record from being released until August 1986, by which time the title was changed to Dancing on the Ceiling (in order to promote Richie's next single release). Three more Top Tens followed "Say You, Say Me," as did "Se La," which became the first of Richie's solo singles not to reach the pop Top Ten. Overall, Dancing on the Ceiling didn't match the success of Can't Slow Down, but it still sold an impressive four million copies, although Richie's reputation for sentimental ballads was beginning to incur a backlash in some quarters.
Richie's nine-year streak of writing at least one number one single (a feat matched only by Irving Berlin) came to an end in 1987. As a matter of fact, Richie all but disappeared from the music business, exhausted after two decades of recording and performing, and also occupied with taking care of his ailing father. Richie's silence was broken in 1992, when Motown released a compilation titled Back to Front; in addition to some of his solo hits and a few Commodores tracks, Back to Front also featured three new songs, including the number one R&B hit "Do It to Me."
Louder Than WordsRichie wasn't bitten by the recording bug again until 1996, by which time he'd endured his share of personal loss: his father had passed away, and his marriage to wife Brenda -- the muse behind some of his most successful ballads -- had fallen apart. In approaching his comeback, Richie attempted to update his sound to reflect a decade's worth of developments in R&B. The result, Louder Than Words, was a moderate success, reaching the Top 30 and going gold. However, it didn't produce any major hit singles, and Richie's nods to contemporary production trends were criticized as awkward. Released in 1998, Time found Richie in a more familiar element, relying on his signature sound with only slight musical updates. However, the album flopped, spending only a few weeks in the lower reaches of the charts.
Richie's next album, Renaissance, was released to a favorable reception in Europe in late 2000; it was issued in the U.S. in early 2001. It fared best in the U.K., where it went platinum. Three years later, on the heels of enduring a very public and bitter divorce with his second wife, Richie released Just for You, another album that was most successful in the U.K. The 2006 album Coming Home -- released the same year his popularity in certain Arab states was covered by mainstream media outlets -- found him working with an all-star cast of collaborators including Jermaine Dupri, Raphael Saadiq, Sean Garrett, and Dallas Austin. In the U.S., it reached the Top 10 of the pop and R&B charts. The wholly modern Just Go, released in 2009, featured assistance from Stargate, Terius "The-Dream" Nash, Christopher "Tricky" Stewart, and Akon. His next release was much different: 2012's Tuskegee featured fully countrified updates of hits from his past, including "Easy" (with Willie Nelson), "Hello" (with Jennifer Nettles), and "Dancing on the Ceiling" (with Rascal Flatts). The album reached the top of the U.S. pop and country charts.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
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