Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Review of The Commodores’ Debut Album Machine Gun

The Commodores scored a winner right out the gate with their strong debut album Machine Gun (1974). The Tuskegee, Alabama-bred funk/soul band flexed their impressive musical chops and songwriting abilities on this terrific LP.  The collection is chock-full of gritty, hard-hittin’ funk grooves. There are none of the band’s signature ballads that would appear on their later albums to be found here—just straight-ahead, unapologetic funk.

The explosive title track is a clavinet-driven instrumental written by Commodore keyboardist Milan Williams. The groove just crackles with energy and funk. It was inspired by Billy Preston’s 1972 hit instrumental “Outa-Space,” but the Commodores put their own original flavor on the groove. “Machine Gun” was the album’s biggest hit, peaking at #7 on the U.S. R&B charts and #22 on the U.S. pop charts. The song was used to great effect in an exhilarating montage sequence from Paul Thomas Anderson’s widely acclaimed 1997 film Boogie Nights.  Also, the Beastie Boys sampled the track for their song “Hey Ladies” in 1989.

“I Feel Sanctified” is a powerful funk groove that’s anchored by a wicked bass line. The track contains some nasty guitar licks and punchin’ horn lines, which were provided by Lionel Richie (saxophone) and William King (trumpet). According to those in the know, P-Funker Billy “Bass” Nelson laid down the bottom on this track with none other than Eddie “Maggot Brain” Hazel himself on guitar. The track saw some chart action; it climbed to #12 on the U.S. R&B singles chart and made it to #75 on the U.S. pop singles chart.

“The Bump,” is an irresistible groove about the hot ‘70s dance craze. The track boasts some sweet chicken-scratch guitar licks, super-tight horns and some percolating clavinet work.  It also has cool vocal breakdown in the middle of the song. This cut no doubt had folks bumpin’ on the dance floor until their hips were bruised back in the day.

“Rapid Fire” is another great funk instrumental.  As in “Machine Gun,” “Rapid Fire” contains some smokin’ clavinet work from Williams, who also wrote the song.

And Richie was already displaying his budding songwriting abilities on the solid grooves “Superman” and “There’s a Song In My Heart.” His songwriting would become stronger with each succeeding album.

There are even a couple of socially conscious tracks to be found on this collection: “The Assembly” and "The Zoo (The Human Zoo).”

Machine Gun was released on Motown Records in 1974. The album was co-produced by James Anthony Carmichael and the Commodores. It climbed to #22 on the U.S. R&B album charts and peaked at #138 on the pop album charts. The band members had a hand in the writing of the majority of the albums' tracks.

The lineup for the Commodores at the release of this album was the following: Walter “Clyde” Orange (drums, vocals), Ronald LaPread (bass), Lionel Richie (saxophone, vocals), Thomas McClary (guitar, vocals), William King (trumpet) and Milan Williams (keyboards, guitar). This would remain the lineup until 1982 when Richie left the band to pursue a solo career.

Machine Gun captures the young band in the process finding its own voice and direction. The talent is definitely there, and with each subsequent album, their abilities as musicians and songwriters would increase exponentially until they became one of the biggest and tightest R&B/funk bands of the ‘70s.

Machine Gun CD at Amazon

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