Performing at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Florida
Background information
Origin Tuskegee, Alabama, U.S.
Genres Funk
Years active 1968–present
Labels Motown, Polydor
Walter Orange
William King
J.D. Nicholas
Past members
Lionel Richie
Thomas McClary
Ronald La Pread
Milan Williams
Sheldon Reynolds
Skyler Jett
Michael Gilbert

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 #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, the funk-driven "Brick House" which reached #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 #4 in the U.S. After years of toiling in the Top Ten, the group finally reached #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 were back with a vengeance, scoring Top Ten hits with the ballad "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). 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. Lionel and Clyde alternated as lead singers. Clyde was also the lead singer on the Top 10 hits, "Nightshift" and "Brick House" among others.

After Richie left to pursue a solo career, former Heatwave singer J.D. Nicholas assumed co-lead vocal duties with drummer Walter "Clyde" Orange. However, with the exception of the Grammy-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[1]), the band never achieved the same level of success it had enjoyed with Richie. Ironically, "Nightshift" won The Commodores their first Grammy Award 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.

Performing at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Florida

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, James Dean "J.D." Nicholas and William "WAK" King, along with a backing band. King married 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, selling out arenas, theaters and festivals around the world, annually. They have the opening act for Trump casinos and Hard Rock casinos.

Original band personnel



Year Album Peak chart positions
1974 Machine Gun 138
1975 Caught in the Act 26
Movin' On 29
1976 Hot on the Tracks 12
1977 Commodores 3
Commodores Live! 3 60
1978 Natural High 3 8
1979 Greatest Hits
Midnight Magic 3 15
1980 Heroes 7 50
1981 In the Pocket 13 70
1982 All the Great Hits
1983 Commodores 13 103
1984 All the Great Love Songs
1985 Nightshift 12 13
1986 United 101
1988 Rock Solid 101
1992 Commodores Christmas
1993 No Tricks
"—" denotes releases that did not chart


Year Single Peak chart positions[2][3] Album
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
1977 "Fancy Dancer" 39 9 33
"Easy" 4 1 9 The Commodores
"Brick House" 5 4 34 32
1978 "Too Hot ta Trot" 24 1 38 The Commodores Live!
"Three Times a Lady" 1 1 1 1 Natural High
"Flying High" 38 21 37
1979 "Sail On" 4 8 8 Midnight Magic
"Still" 1 1 6 4
1980 "Wonderland" 25 21 40
"Old-Fashion Love" 20 8 Heroes
"Heroes" 54 27
"Jesus Is Love" 34
1981 "Lady (You Bring Me Up)" 8 5 56 In the Pocket
"Oh No" 4 5 5 44
1982 "Why You Wanna Try Me" 66 42
"Painted Picture" 70 19 All the Greatest Hits
1983 "Only You" 54 20 8 Commodores 13
1985 "Nightshift" 3 1 6 2 3 Nightshift
"Animal Instinct" 43 22 9 74
"Janet" 87 65 8
1986 "Goin to the Bank" 65 2 43 United
1987 "Take It from Me" 38
"United in Love" 22
1988 "Solitaire" 51 Rock Solid
"—" denotes releases that did not chart

Awards and recognition

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.


External links

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