The Commodores Machine Gun, 1974

The first Commodores album, Machine Gun, is an absolute classic. The title track has been used probably more famously in the film Boogie Nights. I kept thinking it was in The Simpsons, but that was Kool & The Gang. Anyway, this is a great song, and probably the high point from an album of high points  According to legend Berry Gordy named the title song Machine Gun as the clavinet work reminded him of gunfire, which peaked at #7 of the R&B charts, signifying that even with their first single, the Commodores were going to be a force to be reckoned with!

Released on July 22 1974 on Motown Records, it marked the first signs of the new disco sound that was to become prominent in the second half of the 1970s, with a merging of more R&B sounds with a funk groove and a dancefloor boogie. Originally planned to be called The Ram.’ It was originally composed for lyrics but (James) Carmichael (producer) had mentioned how everybody was exploring synthesizer instrumentals and to try in that vein. That whole idea and sound came from James Carmichael. And he turned out to be right.

Originally formed from two former student groups, the Mystics and the Jays this new six-man band featured Lionel Richie, Thomas McClary, and William King from the Mystics, and Andre Callahan, Michael Gilbert, and Milan Williams from the Jays. To choose their name, original Commodore William King opened a dictionary and randomly picked a word. “We lucked out,” he remarked with a laugh when telling this story to People magazine. “We almost became ‘The Commodes.’

As King explains in 1979, the single was “big in Europe, in Asia, in the United States, Africa and South America. But it hadn’t taken our name with it. Everybody knew ‘Machine Gun’ but they didn’t know the Commodores. That was because it was an instrumental. Anyway, since it had not carried the Commodores, we made up our minds that the next release would have lyrics to it. So, we did ‘I Feel Sanctified’ next. We wanted something with a strong groove.”

Nevertheless, with Machine Gun the Commodores grew into one of the most popular R&B bands of the 1970s.  Their 1977 live album is phenomenal and shows them at their funkiest, grooviest best!  Although now more renowned for their ballads, the roots of the Commodores sound is fantastic listening and their debut album, Machine Gun, remains one of the funkiest highlights of the 1970s.

Interesting fact: Nigeria national television would play this after the country’s national anthem before closing down on an evening.

References

Kelley, Ken (February 20, 1978). The Commodores of Tuskegee Sail on a Golden Sea of Hits. People. Retrieved April 6, 2019.

Tom Stanger
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Founder and Editor of Pilgrim House, currently researching folklore and early Welsh Christianity and curator of the archives of the lost village of Pontyddim.

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