Tag Archives: The Commodores

Rocks In The Attic #742: The Commodores – ‘Caught In The Act’ (1975)

RITA#742Outside of James Brown and the rest of his funky people (the J.B.s, Maceo & The Macks, Lyn Collins, etc), the Commodores might just be my favourite funk band. These first few albums, before Lionel Richie started writing ballads, are just so damn groovy.

My current jam is I’m Ready, the fourth cut from this, their second studio album. I’m partial to an instrumental (see Pick Up The Pieces and Machine Gun), and to a funky clavinet line (see Superstition), and this melds the two perfectly.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, but it’s such a shame that Lionel Richie was such a great songwriter. He turned a very funky band into a radio-friendly pop band by way of some nice piano tunes, and ultimately became a household name, bigger than the band that spawned him.

You can see the start of his balladry on side-one closer This Is Your Life. It isn’t Easy or Three Times A Lady, but it’s such a departure from the funk workout that precedes it, that you can definitely hear something change in the band. It’s almost like a switch is flicked. An A&R man somewhere suddenly raised his eyebrows.

I love the cover of this record too: six funky black guys with collars and lapels as big as their afros.

Hit: Slippery When Wet

Hidden Gem: I’m Ready

Rocks In The Attic #643: The Commodores – ‘Nightshift’ (1985)

RITA#643I work in an office. My colleagues and I are all early starters, so we tend to arrive early and leave early. For some reason, the powers that be have decided that this isn’t good enough, and that we need to have some sort of physical presence in the pod between 4pm and 5pm, just in case somebody needs to ask us a question.

It’s such a pointless directive; the rest of the building seems to start leaving for the day around 4pm. To point out the preposterousness of the situation, one of my colleagues, tasked with putting a rota together to cover this timeframe, has labelled it ‘The Night Shift’.

“It’s like that ‘80s jam, Nightshift, by the Commodores” he laughed.

That same weekend, at the Auckland record fair, I came across the album in the racks. I just had to buy it. As far as Commodores records go, it falls into the post-Lionel Richie years, and so his incredible songwriting is clearly missing. Give me Machine Gun any day over this smooth shit.

I’ve added a themed ‘80s playlist to the Night Shift rota, just to help my colleagues get into the right frame of mind. Alongside the Commodore’s song is Lionel Richie’s All Night Long and Running With The Night, and Iron Maiden’s 2 Minutes To Midnight. It’s a work in progress.

I did my first stint on the night shift last week. Nobody asked me any questions. Listened to some great songs though.

Hit: Nightshift

Hidden Gem: Slip Of The Tongue

Rocks In The Attic #605: Various Artists – ‘Stax Funx’ (1997)

RITA#605This is an awesome compilation of some of the funkier moments from the Stax label in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. The first side is all instrumentals – always a good thing with funk in my book (see the Average White Band’s Pick Up The Pieces or the Commodores’ Machine Gun) – but the vocal tracks on the flip-side are just as good.

The interesting thing about this collection is that a few years following its 1997 release, Quentin Tarantino would pick up the record’s first cut, Isaac Hayes’ Run Fay Run, for use on the soundtrack to 2003’ Kill Bill. It’s a good chance he heard the song on this release, or perhaps he already knew it from its original use on the soundtrack to the 1974 Blaxploitation flick Three Tough Guys (also known as Tough Guys). Of course, it’s entirely possible that both is true – he could have already known the song from the film, and potentially this compilation just reminded him of the song. Remember, this is the guy who complimented me on my Stax t-shirt.

The record is a great tester of the more harder-edged sounding material from the Stax vaults. And whether it spinned on Tarantino’s turntable or not, it serves as a great reminder of the strength of the kind of material than would otherwise have been referred to as a deep cut, or worse, forgotten completely.

Hit: Run Fay Run – Isaac Hayes

Hidden Gem: L.A.S. – South Memphis Horns

Rocks In The Attic #518: Beastie Boys – ‘Paul’s Boutique’ (1989)

RITA#518aIt’s been a long time coming but I finally have some Beastie Boys in my record collection.

Like most musos, I was shocked to wake up one morning in May 2012 to find out that Adam “MCA” Yauch had died. It’s always a blow when someone so young (47) dies when you’re not expecting them to. With MCA it probably felt like he was even younger, just because the Beasties are eternally stuck in their youth. That morning I reached for my copy of Licensed To Ill before I realised I didn’t have any Beasties on vinyl. Bummer.

I’ve righted that wrong now, with this lovely repress of the Beasties’ second album. As much a Dust Brothers album as a Beastie Boys album, it’s chock-full of samples – about a quarter of a million dollars’ worth in clearing rights. Any album that lifts samples from five Beatles songs (The End, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise), When I’m Sixty Four and Back In The U.S.S.R.) on one song (The Sound Of Science) is worth checking out.

The Dust Brothers’ use of sampling is not overbearing either. On Hey Ladies, they use a tiny snippet of The Commodores’ Machine Gun, but not the main hook of the song. Instead they just take a short vamp from the outro of the song, to use as a groove to drive Hey Ladies along. Lionel Ritchie’s former band never sounded so cool.

On breaking the shrinkwrap on this record, I was amazed to find that it has a four-panel gatefold sleeve, to showcase a panoramic version of the album’s cover photo. A wonderful surprise.

Hit: Hey Ladies

Hidden Gem: Shake Your Rump

RITA#518b

Rocks In The Attic #415: The Commodores – ‘Machine Gun’ (1974)

RITA#415It’s a shame the Commodores are in black and white on the cover of this. I suspect they’re wearing the same colour skivvies as the Wiggles. Wake up Lionel!

Machine Gun has to be one of my favourite R&B songs – second only to Pick Up The Pieces by the Average White Band. This is the sort of music I was turning to just after I left my DJing gig in the early 2000s. I walked out on that gig after the bar manager asked me to play more Limp Bizkit – I think history deems me the righteous winner in that exchange.

I prefer an alternate timeline, one where Lionel Ritchie doesn’t go solo, one where he stays in the Commodores and they churn out dirty R&B stompers like Brick House and Machine Gun year after year after year. How fabulous. And no Hello or Dancing On The Ceiling

Hit: Machine Gun

Hidden Gem: The Assembly Line