Why am I giving five stars to an albums where I am not 100% crazy about every song?The simple reason is that,in terms of everything Lionel Richie is musically this debut album is one of his most overall richest experiences. Conceptually Lionel’s style of blending contemporary funk/R&B styles with slow,sentimental “countrypoliton” types of ballads really feels at it’s most down to earth and organic here. It would have been nice if Lionel had included more uptempo songs here but that is more of a preference on my part.But for those who feel the same way it is true.
The funk type tunes that are here are some of the very best he ever made.”Serves You Right” and “Tell Me” are great jams,more in keeping with a a kind of “naked sophisti-funk” type of groove then the more polished urban styled jams on Lionel’s final album with the Commodores In the Pocket.The other song of this type here is “You Are”-it isn’t exactly what I’d call funk but definitely a great peppy,uptempo R&B love song. It was really not a bad early solo hit for Lionel and frankly a musical style worth pursuing further.
Of course the majority of this album is weighed toward the ballad end of things,the style Lionel chose to make his musical calling but…….well to be honest not his greatest strength. Romantically and sentimentally satisfying fare such as “Wandering Spirit”,”Truly” and the brief final two cuts “You Mean More To Me” and “Just Put Some Love In Your Heart” are musically excellent for such slow-paced songs.However unlike with fellow Motowners Smokey Robinson,Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye,Lionel seemed to have difficulty inflecting his slow songs with any real sense of emotional expression.
Vocally these types of songs tend to come off as…well overly sentimental in his hand.He basically sounds like a black version of Kenny Rogers on these types of tunes and therefore it’s no doubt their musical connection and that Kenny appears on this album.Of course the bonus tracks really showcase another side of his talent.The demo of “Endless Love” shows the nucleus of a song that,while overproduced to the extreme in its final form really gives you an inside peek into Lionel’s technique as a composer with this demo having a more bare,folksy flavor.
The instrumental version of “You Are” is not only great to dance to but solid proof of Lionel’s 70’s-born concept that the catchiness of a great dance tune didn’t just come from the singing:it was the horns,the keyboards and most importantly the rhythm. If you a Commodores fan just getting into Lionel Richie’s solo music and want an easy starting point,in this case it might be best to start at the beginning here.
The next album Can’t Slow Down was of course hugely more successful commercially (not that this was any slouch in that respect either) but musically that album is a whole other beast entirely,for better or worse. This definitely finds Lionel with one foot in his past and the other in things to come musically and in any case is more than worth hearing
Originally posted on July 27th,2009
Filed under 1980's, adult contemporary, Amazon.com, ballads, Boogie Funk, country/soul, Lionel Richie, Motown, Music Reviewing, post disco, Uncategorized
With the huge successes of songs such as “Three Times A Lady”,”Still”,”Sail On” and even “Lady” as recorded by Kenny Rogers? It was only a matter of time before Lionel Richie would leave the Commodores with a distinctive solo style of his own to draw on. As for The Commodores? They began the 80’s with their Heroes
album-which looked to grab a somewhat more rock ‘n soul sound on some of the more uptempo numbers. And frankly wasn’t among their more successful musical outings from a commercial standpoint. Well by 1981 things had changed a lot on the R&B/soul music scene. In the US,disco was out of fashion and the radio was freezing out anything dancebale or “black” oriented. Yes it was racist. Yes it was exlusionist. But the one thing Lionel’s hit ballads had contributed to The Commodores was a way from them to ride out that storm. And its likely that at this point? They might’ve been wondering how ,with Lionel already confirmed to be leaving how they could regain their commercial success while also recapturing some of the uptempo and funkier elements that had gradually been eroded in their sound. This was the album that would have to be the proof of the pudding in that regard.
“Lady (You Bring Me Up)” is actually one of my favorite Commodores songs. With it’s melodic electric piano intro and strong post disco rhythm and strings? This song is an almost ideal blend of Doobie Brothers/Steely Dan style West Coast pop and Motown soul/funk which likely both inspired each other from the outset. “Saturday Night” is a smoldering,smoothed out cinematic groove that is extremely funky and sexy-with McClary taking the lead vocal. “Keep On Taking Me Higher” has a strong bass line and a sleek,slinky Walter Orange synthesizer that is somewhat influenced by the then emerging boogie funk sound-only much more live band/late 70’s era funk with a strong percussive bridge. “Oh No” and in particular the epic,gospel inflected “Lucy” which closes the album are the two Richie penned ballads-again with a strong countrypoliton style flavor about both of them. “Why You Wanna Try Me Baby” is a somewhat more funk oriented variation on the catchy West Coast vibe that starts off the album. “This Love” is a heavy,soulful,Walter Orange penned soul ballad while “Been Loving You” is a thick,deep and sleekly produced funk number that,by blending more advanced studio production with the Sly Stone end of the bands vibe,anticipates the way much modern retro funk tends to sound.
On a purely musical level? This primarily uptempo and funk oriented album found the Lionel Richie era Commodores coming to a conclusion that was relatively close to how they began. Yet also taking into consideration their newer found popular success. The bands level of musicianship had consistently evolved. The funk here is of course of a more advanced recorded and lest punchier nature than the sound they started out with. But a sophistifunk record by The Commodores was certainly preferable to no funk at all. Its also become clear to me how Lionel was actually going for a country/soul sound on his ballads in a similar vein to Ray Charles. Difference was Lionel was a straighter,less individual vocalist than Ray. And he never did infuse his country/soul ballads with the same level of blues and gospel either. They always favored the pop side. But in hindsight? They were very well done in the context of this albums generally funky nature. For someone who tends to avert their eyes to latter day Commodores? Thinking their ears might get a little sticky? They might be surprised just how much grooving sweat this 1981 album is capable of creating!
Originally posted on June 21’st,2014
By the time 1980 rolled around? The new decade found The Commodores as basically Motown’s premiere band. One capable of delivering on the hardest funk and the most delicately crafted,down home country soul ballads. Considering the band members all met at Tuskegee Institute,at the height of the civil rights and black power movements? It only seemed appropriate that as the less than certain social/racial atmosphere of the then new decade began to reveal itself? That the band would find a meaningful way to comment on the situation. This came in the form of the title song to the bands release from that year entitled Heroes.
Walter Orange starts of the song with a loud drum kick and proceeds to brush away lightly. All over a string and horn chart that descends into a stripped down ballad with Lionel Richie’s plaintive vocal lead accompanied by Milan William’s acoustic guitar-with accents from Ron LePread’s round slap bass licks. On the choruses? The drum kicks off into more of a big beat type sound-along with an almost rather staccato Brazilian type guitar lick. On the final refrain of the song? The band all join together for a heavy,bass/guitar driven funk stomp where the string section plays the bluesy melodic accents of that very same bass/guitar interaction right along with it.
Instrumentally speaking? This song showcases the strong musical breadth that The Commodores possessed during their prime. The focus of this song is often very spare-with the acoustic guitar,light drum brushing and bass accents leading much of it. In the tradition of mid 70’s Motown hits such as “Love Hangover” that showcased strong juxtapositions of groove and changes in tempo? This song starts out in a manner that doesn’t particularly suggest it’s ever going to be a funk jam. Yet that’s just what it becomes by the end. And it’s not an abrupt change. The changes in tempo,rhythm and feeling changes throughout the song-so the transition into hard funkiness is totally natural.
Much of the strong mood music this song presents comes out of it’s lyrical content. In addition to their Southern American heritage? Growing up in the era of the major civil rights gains of the 1950’s? This song eloquently and beautifully pays tribute to many of the historical figures and leaders who helped to advance the cause of liberation for black Americans over time. And interestingly enough does so without naming specific names. Well aware of the importance and rarity of them having black management in the personage of the late Benny Ashburn? This song basically speaks to the vital significance of being able to have internal icons black American’s can celebrate. In today’s world where some black people seem to all too easily apologize for even the cruelest of white racists? This is a song that I feel more young people today should hear and know something about in terms of it’s subtext.
Filed under 1980's, ballads, Benny Ashburn, civil rights, Funk, Funk Bass, Heroes, Lionel Richie, Milan Williams, Motown, Ronald LePread, The Commodores, Tuskegee University