The Commodores are an American funk/soul band, which was at its peak in the late 1970s through the mid 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 group's most successful period was in the late 1970s and early 1980s when Lionel Richie was co-lead singer. The band's biggest hit singles are ballads such as "Easy", "Three Times a Lady", and "Nightshift"; and funky dance hits which include "Brick House", "Fancy Dancer", "Lady (You Bring Me Up)", and "Too Hot ta Trot". In 1986 the Commodores won their first Grammy for the song "Nightshift".
The Commodores originally came together from two former groups, the Mystics and the Jays. There was even a Jazz aspect to one of the groups. They wanted to change the name. Together, a six-man band was created from which the notable individuals were Lionel Richie, Thomas McClary, and William King from the Mystics; Andre Callahan, Michael Gilbert, and Milan Williams were from the Jays. 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'!"
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 college students. They performed mostly cover tunes and some original songs with their first singer, James Ingram (not the famous solo artist). Ingram, older than the rest of the band, left to serve active duty in Vietnam, and was later replaced by Walter "Clyde" Orange, who would write or co-write many of their hit tunes. Lionel Richie and Orange alternated as lead singers. (Orange was the lead singer on the Top 10 hits "Brick House" and "Nightshift".)
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; the songs "Brick House" and "Easy" were also played during the movie.
"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 in the Quiet storm format. Three albums released in 1975 and 1976 (Caught in the Act, Movin' On, and 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 album The Commodores, as was "Zoom". The group reached No. 1 in 1978 with "Three Times a Lady". In 1979 the Commodores scored another top-five ballad, "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" (No. 4) and their first upbeat single in almost five years, "Lady (You Bring Me Up)" (No. 8).
In 1982, Lionel Richie left to pursue a solo career. A transition that was smooth but slow, Richie's departure was evident after it was mentioned to the band why his distinct sound would never be a part of The Commodores; Skyler Jett replaced Richie as co-lead singer. Also in 1982, their manager Benjamin Ashburn who also managed another band Platinum Hook died of a heart attack aged 54.
Over time, several founding members left - McClary left in 1983 (shortly after Richie) to pursue a solo career and to develop a gospel music company. McClary was replaced by guitarist-vocalist Sheldon Reynolds while 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 after allegedly refusing to tour South Africa.
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 until 1985 when their final Motown album, Nightshift, produced by Dennis Lambert—all prior albums were produced by James Anthony Carmichael)—delivered the Grammy Award-winning title track "Nightshift" (No. 3 in the U.S.). It was a tribute to Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson. In 2010 a new version was recorded, dedicated to Michael Jackson. The Commodores were on a European tour performing at Wembley Arena, London, on June 25, 2009, when they walked off the stage after they were told 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 at Birmingham's NIA Arena, J.D. Nicholas added Jackson's name into the lyrics of the song, and thenceforth the Commodores have mentioned Jackson and other deceased R&B singers. Thus 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. "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 their 20 greatest hits as Commodores Hits Vol. I & II. They have recorded a live album Commodores Live! along with a DVD of the same name, and a Christmas album titled Commodores Christmas. In 2012, the band was working on new material, some contributions written by current and former members.
The Commodores now consist of Walter "Clyde" Orange, James Dean "J.D." Nicholas, and William "WAK" King, 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.
- Current members
- William "WAK" King – trumpet, rhythm guitar, synthesizer (1968–present)*
- Walter Orange – vocals, drums, keyboards (1972–present)
- James Dean "J.D." Nicholas – vocals, keyboards (1984–present)
- Former members
- Milan Williams – keyboards, trombone, rhythm guitar (1968–89)*
- Thomas McClary – lead guitar (1968–83)*
- Lionel Richie – vocals, saxophone, piano, drums (1968–82)*
- Ronald LaPread – bass guitar, trumpet (1970–86)
- Andre Callahan – vocals, drums, keyboards (1968–70) *
- Michael Gilbert – bass guitar, trumpet (1968–70) *
- James Ingram – vocals, drums keyboards (1970–72)
- Skyler Jett – vocals, saxophone, piano, drums (1982–84)
- Sheldon Reynolds – lead guitar (1983–87)
- Eugene Ward – keyboards (1968–70)*
- Mikael Manley – lead guitarist (1995–2005)
* Original member
|Year||Album||Peak chart positions|
|1975||Caught in the Act||26||—||7|
|1976||Hot on the Tracks||12||—||1|
|1977||Commodores (a.k.a. Zoom in the UK)||3||—||1|
|1981||In the Pocket||13||70||4|
|1982||All the Great Hits||—||—||—|
|1984||All the Great Love Songs||—||—||—|
|1985||There's a Song in my Heart||—||—||—|
|"—" 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 Great 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||—|
|1993||"Everything Reminds Me of You"||—||—||—||—||—||No Tricks|
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart|
|1978||Best Rhythm & Blues Vocal Performance – Duo, Group Or Chorus||"Easy"||Nominated|
|Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group||"Three Times A Lady"||Nominated|
|Best Rhythm & Blues Vocal Performance – Duo, Group Or Chorus||"Midnight Magic"||Nominated|
|Best Inspirational Performance||"Jesus Is Love"||Nominated|
|1982||Best Rhythm & Blues Vocal Performance – Duo, Group Or Chorus||"Lady (You Bring Me Up)"||Nominated|