|The Commodores in the mid 70s.|
It’s one week today until Lionel Richie plays the first of three dates on his 2014 New Zealand tour*, so I thought it was time to remind people not just of how good he is, but how funky.
I’m not one of those precious music fans who subscribes to the simplistic Lionel Richie narrative of him killing the Commodores funk vibe with his dang ballads. That narrative wrongly extends amongst some to a dismissal of his wildly successful solo career and ignores the fact the Commodores always mixed the funk with the ballads.
It also ignores the integrity of Richie ballads – songs like Easy, Still, Stuck On You, My Love and Do It To Me are timeless and continually relevant as long as hearts are still broken. But more than that, it overlooks that within the Commodores – Walter Orange, William King, Thomas McClary, Milan Williams and Ronald LaPread – there were plenty of other very capable multi-genre writers.
McClary, Williams and LaPread all wrote particularly strong material, from the hard-funk of Slippery When Wet to the quiet storm of Cebu for McClary, to the melodic-stylings of Williams’ Old Fashion Love and Wonderland to the classic LaPread slow-jams Zoom and Say Yeah. Though singling out those three hardly seems fair when King could write songs as good as Lady You Bring Me Up and You’re Special (the biggest LaPread bassline ever?) and Orange with Nightshift. The point is, Lionel Richie didn’t just sing ballads and the other five Commodores didn’t just write funk.
My short take on the 45 year career of Lionel Richie is that for an approximate 12 year peak (1974-1986), he encapsulated much of the very best of what popular music can be with his emotionally direct soul and balladry, not to mention his funk and country-tinged R&B.
So for the sake of those who’ll never appreciate the beauty of a terrific ballad, here’s Lionel at his funkified finest – The Commodores Funk Top 10: Look What You’ve Done To Me, X-Rated Movie, Slippery When Wet, Fancy Dancer, Brick House**, Funky Situation, Patch It Up, I Feel Sanctified, The Assembly Line and Celebrate.
Look What You’ve Done To Me – 1975:
X-Rated Movie – 1978:
Slippery When Wet – 1975:
Fancy Dancer – 1976:
Brick House – 1977:
Funky Situation – 1977:
Patch It Up – 1977:
I Feel Sanctified – 1974:
The Assembly Line – 1974:
Celebrate – 1980:
PS. You can’t have a Commodores Funk Top 10 without making special mention of my all time favourite R&B bassist, Ronald LaPread. Ronald has lived in New Zealand since leaving the Commodores in the mid-80s and I have my fingers crossed for a possible mini-Commodore reunion this week.
**Brick House features Walter Orange on lead vocals.