Saturday, May 18, 2013
Commodores - Natural High
This month marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of Natural High, the sixth studio album from the Commodores. This May of 1978 release peaked at number 8 on the UK charts and number 3 on the US Billboard Hot 200. It also provided the band with its first number 1 single outside of the US Billboard R&B charts.
The group was formed when many of the members met at Tuskegee Institute in the late 1960’s. They were signed by the Motown label in 1972 after making a public splash as an opening act for the Jackson 5 on tour.
Side one begins with “Fire Girl”, a tune that piles on the praise to a woman who puts the spark in the flame of love. It features a strong bass groove from Ronald La Pread and vocals by drummer Walter Orange.
The down-and-dirty “X-Rated Movie” was the B-side to the second single. In the lyrics, a guy wonders what kind of sexual animal lies behind the refined and sophisticated demeanor a certain woman portrays. He promises her complete satisfaction if she just gives him the chance.
“Flying High” was released as the second single; it sums up the intoxicating feeling of being in love. It went to number 38 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 37 in the UK and number 21 on the US Billboard R&B charts. The song has a mellower groove to it, punctuated by the horns of Milan Williams and William King.
In the US, “Three Times a Lady” held the number 1 spot on Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks, the Billboard R&B chart for two weeks, and the Adult Contemporary chart for three weeks. This first single from the album also spent five weeks at the number 1 spot in the UK. It opens with a simple piano and Lionel Richie’s passion filled vocals. The rest of the band joins in softly on the first chorus as the song builds. The album version of this slow dance classic runs a full six minutes and forty seconds.
Side two starts with the strutting sway of “Such a Woman”.
The band brings the tempo down a bit with the sensitive ballad “Say Yeah”.
The mid-tempo “I Like What You Do” is next. My favorite parts on this one are the vocal harmonies and the bass groove. It is danceable without falling heavy into the disco sound which was prevalent in R&B around this time.
“Visions” closes the record out on a more thought-provoking note. It is a gentle R&B interpretation of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream…”.
Natural High has an interesting theme to it; nearly all of the songs are about wooing a woman. The Commodores are able to change up the concept through out in order to keep things flowing. If you are into old school R&B and, like me, only knew the singles, you may want to seek out some of these tracks from compilations or online-streaming sources.