Early 1980s photo of the Commmodores; Lionel Richie is third from left. Courtesy of Photofest.
The last of Berry Gordy's breakout solo stars, Lionel Richie began his Motown career with The Commodores,
a musically omnivorous group formed at the Tuskegee Institute in the late 1960s. After opening for the Jackson 5 on their 1971 tour,
The Commodores signed with Motown a year later. Early Commodores leaned toward dynamic, funk-infused numbers such as "Machine Gun"
(1974)—the group's first single and a top ten Billboard pop hit—whereas later songs ("Just to Be Close to You,"
"Easy," "Three Times a Lady") often took on a lighter, serenading feel. Richie's ensuing work would largely continue this
trend. In 1982, on the heels of his enormously successful self-titled debut, Richie formally left the band. His follow-up album, Can't
Slow Down (1983), was an even bigger hit, and—having sold over 10 million copies—is one of the bestselling albums of all time. In 1985,
"Say You, Say Me", featured in the movie White Nights, won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. "Dancing on the Ceiling", a
ballad-laden production released in 1986, was Richie's last album with Motown; he did not record a new album for ten years.