Toggle the radio dial back and forth on any easy Sunday and in the midst of the static, you are sure to hear at least one of these lyrics: “….brick houuuuse” and “…on the nightshift” . Now what do all these songs have in common? They have all been penned by The Commodores. And if you’re still not familiar with this classic group from the 60s and 70s, let us help you:
The Commodores started out as college friends at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, all of whom were members of different bands, coming together after their previous projects had dissolved. Comprised of William King on trumpet, Ronald LaPread with bass, Milan Williams hitting the keyboards, Lionel Richie on sax, and James Ingram on lead, the group hit it off, covering popular songs at local fraternity parties. Walter Orange soon became lead singer after Ingram left to serve in Vietnam. Originally The Mystics, the group becamet ired of their original name, and racked their brains for a new name. Finally Orange gave King a dictionary and told him to open a page. He told him that the first word he pointed at would be the name, and voila! The Commodores were born. Richie has said that “we were so close on being called The Comodes!” Orange continued to prove he was to be vital in the group’s success, as he was the only experienced musician in the group. Through his connections he was able to help build their fanbase throughout Alabama.
Soon after, the group ventured to the bright lights of New York City for a show at the Smalls Paradise club. Their sound was not working for the club owner, but due to another group’s last minute cancellation they were allowed to perform. The boys had to figure out something fast in order to secure their continuing spot at the club, so they invited all of their friends and family to perform. The club owner took it as their fan base, not knowing the most of the audience personally knew the Commodores, and they were promptly booked for two more weeks.
The luck did not stop there. During their stint in New York, the Commodores answered a call for an opener position for an unnamed band. A couple weeks later they were called back for the spot and the headliner turned out to be none other than the Jackson Five. The Commodores would open for them for the next two years. Through a series of talks with Motown, they ended up with a record deal. They released the classic funk cut “Machine Gun” for their debut album of the same name. The song was named after Motown exec Berry Gordy commented that the clavinet instrumentals reminded him of gunfire. The song reached #22 on pop charts and has been heavily sampled, most notably by the Beastie Boys on Hey Ladies and also featured in Boogie Nights.
Check it out below:
The Famous “Boogie Nights Scene”
Unlike most bands of funk explosion, The Commodores continued to release hit after hit, including Slippery When Wet, their first number hit. Other top 20 singles included Just Be Close to You, Fancy Dancer, and then came one of their signature songs Brickhouse. Easily recognizable as a song of disco fever, Brickhouse was actually penned by a woman. The group needed another song for their 1977 self titled album Commodores, and King was sent home with the task. Having fallen asleep during the process, he woke up to words on his notepad. It turned out to be the work of his wife, Shirley Hanna-King, who was also a songwriter. A reference to the measurements of the perfect “brickhouse” can be heard in the song, which was used in the AC/DC track Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap a year earlier. The song was revisited in 2003 by Richie and Rob Zombie for House of 1000 Corpses.
The number ones would keep rollin’ in with Too Hot ta Trot and the smoother, R&B classic Three Times a Lady. But as with many bands, and I’m sure you’ve heard me say this a lot, conflict in the group began to brew. With Richie as one of the key songwriters as the group, he began to get a lot of attention in the biz. In 1981 he recorded with Diana Ross Endless Love and with it peaking at number one for 9 weeks, this was definitely the signal of what was to come. In 1982 Richie announced his departure from the group that he began his career with.
Three Times a Lady was written by Richie in honor of his parent’s 37th year anniversary
After Richie’s exit, the group recruited former Heatwave member J.D. Nicholas. In 1985 they released one of their biggest hits Nightshift , which was in honor of Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson, who had both recently passed away. Even though Motown did not want to release the track, the single eventually won a Grammy in 1985 for Best Vocal R&B performance by a group. The group left Motown that same year.
Their Grammy Winning Hit
The group soon faded out of the limelight during the 90s, but never stopped performing. The original group was slightly altered, with Orange, King, and Nicholas as the only three members left. Though they might not be as popular as they once were, the boys from Tuskegee continue all around the world with their very own label Commodore Records. So let’s kick off the long weekend together with some classic funk and R&B, we better see all you Brickhouses on the dance floor!
Enjoy Some More Commodore sounds:
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