Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Machine Gun” by The Commodores

Milan Williams,having been gone for ten years now,seemed to have come into playing piano due to mild sibling worship because of his multi instrumentalist brother Earl. This Mississippi native met the other members of the Commodores  while he was a freshman at Tuskegee Institute. In 1974 the band signed to Motown and released their debut album Machine Gun in July of that year. This particular album was one of a handful of albums in the mid/late 70’s that were 100% funk-featuring no slow ballads. Milan would go on to write or co-write many of the Commodores big uptempo numbers,including their best known funk number in “Brick House” four years after their debut.

During the 1980’s,founding members Lionel Richie and Thomas McClary left the Commodores to pursue solo careers. The main instrumentalists of the band stayed on and recorded with former Heatwave vocalist JD Nichols. Milan left the band in 1989. The reason for his departure was when the commercial decline of the Commodores in the late 80’s led them to accept an offer to tour in South Africa. While Milan considered the band members his musical brothers,he could not bring himself to financially feed into the racist Apartheid system of that country. As for his contributions to the band,few stand as tall on the funk level as the title song of their 1974 debut album itself.

Milan begins the song with a big scaling piano. Walter Orange’s drums along with his accompanying percussion accents open up the clave for Milan to expand on the rhythm. The main melody of the song is a very bluesy one played on Clavinet. Below that is a fast bumping synth bass line while a higher pitched synth bursts out from that…indeed in the manner rapid gun fire. The refrain adds a thick wah wah guitar to the Clavinet and synth bass line before returning to the chorus. The second time around on this theme,the higher lead synth is a bleeping pulse. This goes into a bridge that showcases the percussion and chugging rhythm guitar before fading out on it’s chorus.

This debut song from the Commodores really solidified the bands uptempo funk sounds. In terms of it’s fastness and the heavily rhythmic use of electric piano/synthesizers,this song echoes Billy Preston’s early/mid 70’s funk instrumentals in terms of predating the electro funk of the coming decade of the 1980’s. This is especially true with Milan,playing most of the instruments on this number,utilizing the round and bubbling synth bass as the bottom of the song,is one of the most technically expert examples of an earlier synth bass line. The musical attitude is also in the countrified Southern Funk sub-genre. So on an instrumental level,this song is one of the Commodores most powerful grooves.

 

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Filed under 1970's, clave, clavinet, Commodores, drums, instrumental, Milan Williams, Motown, percussion, rhythm guitar, Southern Funk, synth bass, synthesizer, Tuskegee University, Uncategorized, wah wah guitar, Walter Orange

3 responses to “Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Machine Gun” by The Commodores

  1. Very good coverage of a song that is as u say, a landmark. This along with Billy Prestons works, Stevie Wonder’s, Bernie Worrell, Junie Morrison, Dexter Wanzel, Larry Graham, and several other funk musicians laid the groundworks for the electro funk scene that would become the primary means of dropping the Bomb in the ’80s. This instrumental in particular is one that use to always blow my mind when I heard it, and still does. I’m still amazed at the arrangement of layers of synthesizers along with guitar, drums and bass! Thanks for giving both the song and Milan Williams and the Commodores their due!!!!

  2. A Funk masterpiece!! This whole album killed. Great analysis, we need more of this in the Funk genre. Funk music flipped the script on the whole scene during those times, and you could hear the effect throughout the the music industry . All the great rock acts were very influenced by the Funk.

    • Your so right Theo! My friend Henrique and myself have been having this discussion for years now. About how through 80’s new wave and some 90’s jam bands,funk continued on with it’s influence within the rock community. Again,funk should still be it’s own reward in regard to it’s influence on other genres. So thanks for complimenting this endeavor to showcase the anatomy of the funk groove!

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