Oh No…the Commodores are not in the Rock Hall of Fame?
(No. 43 in a continuing series on artists who should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but are not)
By Phill Marder
Perhaps the most difficult part of writing this column weekly is trying to type with my head shaking back and forth. Because when it comes time to choose the weekly subject and I see who has not been considered and who has been inducted, my (choose one):
(e) all of the above
causes my noggin to sway side to side, so much so I’ll probably need a neck brace before this series concludes.
When the selection process began there were so many huge names that couldn’t be ignored, even the Hall of Fame nominating committee got it right. But after the first year, the personal favorites starting creeping in. And as the list of “we can’t possibly ignore these” dwindled, the list of personal favorites kept increasing.
Otherwise, how does one explain the exclusion of Lionel Richie and The Commodores, who have been eligible for over 10 years now without receiving even the recognition of a nomination?
How many groups rank in the all-time list of worldwide best-selling single and album artists and include a member who is ranked even higher in both categories as a solo artist?
The Commodores do. I’m not sure anyone else does.
Honestly, I’m not a huge Commodores fan, but let’s be fair. My opinion shouldn’t matter any more than yours, and, if one goes by record and concert ticket sales, millions upon millions of you have already made your opinions known.
The Commodores – Twelve albums reached the top 40. Five reached the top 10. Four peaked at No. 3. Eight reached the United Kingdom top 30. Three climbed into the top 10.
Lionel Richie – Eight albums reached the top 30. Four reached the top 10. Two peaked at No. 1. Twelve reached the U.K. top 40. Nine hit the U.K. top 10 with two reaching No. 1.
The Commodores – Seventeen singles reached the top 40. Ten reached the top 10. Two got to No. 1. Eleven reached the U.K. top 40. Five made it to the Top 10. One reached the top.
Lionel Richie – Sixteen singles made the top 40. Thirteen made the top 10. Five topped the charts. Twenty made the U.K. top 40. Eight reached the U.K. top 10. One went to No. 1 and Richie also hit No. 1 in three other countries.
Doesn’t this mean anything to the Hall of Fame nominating committee? Evidently not.
If I could write The Commodores and Lionel Richie influenced three people, they’d be shoo-ins. But I can tell you only that they sold well over 100 million records worldwide, won Oscars and Grammys, and still today draw sold-out crowds in personal appearances.
Though a true band whose rhythm section was known as “the mean machine” and whose first hit “Machine Gun,” was an instrumental, The Commodores were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2003. Nine years prior, sax man Richie had been inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. Alternating between heavy funk hits such as “Brick House” and “Too Hot Ta Trot” and Richie’s impeccable ballads such as “Three Times A Lady” and “Still,” both of which hit No. 1, the Commodores rarely relinquished their hold on the charts and airwaves during the ’70s and early ’80s.
According to Classic Tracks Back To Back Singles, “Since all the other members of the group were writing up-tempo material, Richie made a conscious decision to write ballads since this would guarantee his material a place on their albums…When the group released ‘Three Times A Lady’ in the heart of the disco movement, Richie recalled one radio programmer told him, ‘You are either the craziest man who ever lived, or the bravest, for releasing this song now.'”
When Richie wrote the No. 1 “Lady” for Kenny Rogers in 1980, then “Endless Love,” a duet with Diana Ross in 1981 that spent nine weeks at No. 1 and became Motown’s biggest selling single, he opted to leave the band for a solo career. Instead of folding, the Commodores responded with “Nightshift” in 1983, a tribute to Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson that soared to No. 3 in both the U.S. and U.K. and won a Grammy for “best R&B performance by a duo or group with vocals.”
While The Commodores failed to sustain that level of success without Richie, they did continue as a viable recording entity through the first half of the ’90s and remain a popular in-person attraction to this day.
Meanwhile, Richie’s solo career exploded.
As allmusicguide.com’s Steve Huey noted, “After leaving the Commodores, Lionel Richie became one of the most successful male solo artists of the ’80s, arguably eclipsed during his 1981-1987 heyday only by Michael Jackson and Prince. Richie dominated the pop charts during that period with an incredible run of 13 consecutive Top Ten hits, five of them number ones.”
Actually, Phil Collins also may have ranked ahead of Richie during that time, but still that’s pretty impressive company to be keeping.
After his debut solo LP, “Lionel Richie,” produced three top five singles, the No. 1 “Truly” followed by “You Are,” and “My Love.” “Can’t Slow Down” topped the album charts in the U.S., U.K. and the Netherlands and came in No. 2 in Germany. This long-player yielded five top 10 singles, including the chart-toppers “All Night Long (All Night)” and “Hello” in addition to “Running With The Night,” Stuck On You” and “Penny Lover.”
“Can’t Slow Down” held the No. 1 spot for three weeks and won the 1984 Grammy for “Album Of The Year.” It remained on the Billboard top 200 album chart for over three years.
By that time Richie had finished the “Dancing On The Ceiling” album and that also climbed to No. 1, giving us four more Top 10 hits, the No. 1 “Say You, Say Me” followed by “Dancing On The Ceiling,” “Love Will Conquer All,” and “Ballerina Girl.”
In the midst of all this, Richie and Jackson composed “We Are The World,” the mammoth 1985 No. 1 record recorded to raise money to aid relief of famine in Africa. It became the fastest-selling American pop single in history and the first to be certified multi-platinum.
He may have run out of songs, may have feared the over-exposure that was about to bury Collins, or may have been exhausted from other factors. Whatever the reasons, Richie retreated from the business, failing to release another LP until 1996’s “Louder Than Words.” It didn’t produce any hits, but did reach a respectable No. 28 and 2006’s “Coming Home” proved his enduring appeal, going all the way to No. 6.
During the ’70s and ’80s, few acts had more of an impact on the Rock era than Lionel Richie and The Commodores. You can have your favorites, I can champion mine. But Hall of Fame’s are supposed to recognize the most successful, be it in baseball, football, songwriting, comic books, whatever. Why should the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame be different?