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The Commodores: Sail On

American funk and soul band the Commodores are celebrating an amazing 50 years in the music industry this year. The band also launched one-time vocalist Lionel Richie's solo career and won a Grammy Award in 1986.

They've had eight number one hit singles all over the world to date and their album, The Definitive Collection, released in 2003, went multi-platinum in the UK, the US, Australia and New Zealand.


Photo Credit: Carl Lender


Early years

The band formed in 1969 after most of the members met as freshmen at Tuskegee Institute, later to become Tuskegee University. The Commodores began when two existing bands, the Jays and the Mystics, combined to form a six-man group.

The Mystics included vocalist Lionel Richie, guitarist and synthesiser player William King and singer and guitarist Thomas McClary, while the Jays comprised of drummer Andre Callahan, keyboard player Milan Williams and bassist Michael Gilbert.

They chose their name by chance, opening a dictionary and picking the first word that caught their attention. As King later told an interviewer, they struck lucky in picking the Commodores, as they could so easily have been the Commodes!


Hit albums

With Richie and McClary sharing the vocals, the 1970s and 1980s saw the Commodores enjoy huge success. Hot on the Tracks was their first number one album in the United States in 1976.

This was followed by a string of chart-topping albums, including Commodores in 1977, Natural High in 1978, Midnight Magic in 1979 and Nightshift in 1985.

In 1986, the Commodores won the Grammy Award for Best Rhythm and Blues Vocal Performance for Nightshift, which was certified gold in the United States.


Top singles

The band enjoyed equal success in the singles charts, becoming one of the biggest soul and disco bands of the 1970s. Their most popular hits were funky dance-floor fillers or slower, romantic soul songs.

It seemed everything they touched turned to gold, with mega-hits such as Just to Be Close to You in 1976; Easy in 1977; their biggest hit single of all time, Three Times a Lady, in 1978 - which topped the charts in the US, the UK and across Europe; Sail On in 1979 and Nightshift in 1985.

Written by Lionel Richie, Sail On reached the top ten in the US and UK charts and was a poignant song, said to be based on real life events.



The song wasn't about actual sailing - rather, sailing was used as a metaphor for moving through life - and in this case "sailing on" from a painful relationship that was never going to work.

It is written from the point of view of a man who has finally realised his relationship with his girlfriend is not working and is never going to work. He has become tired of trying and decides to end it as painlessly as possible so he can get on with the rest of his life.

It was reportedly composed after Richie spent time with a childhood friend in Tuskegee, Alabama, where he grew up. His friend had split up with his wife and it was a difficult time for him. The two friends sat up all night talking it through.

It was said that a few weeks later, Richie sent the lyrics to Sail On to his friend and let him know he had written the song with him in mind. It begins with the words, "Sail on down the line," and the narrator adds, "I've thrown away the blues, I'm tired of bein' used," indicating he's tired of being unhappy and is finally moving on.


Solo career

Richie went on to enjoy a successful solo career after leaving the Commodores in 1982. Today, he is one of the world's most legendary soul singers and remains a top recording and live artist.

The Commodores are celebrating 50 years in the music industry. There have been a few member changes over the years, although founding member William King is still the mainstay of the band on vocals, percussion and keyboards. The other current members are drummer and vocalist Walter Orange, who joined in 1972, and vocalist and keyboard player James "JD" Nicholas, who joined in 1984.


Sail on with Coruba

Ahoy there, matey!

Coruba supplies marine and boat products including top-quality, durable rubber matting for marine safety. Please contact us on 01702 560194 for further information.

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