1. Fire Girl
2. X-Rated Movie
3. Flying High
4. Three Times A Lady
5. Such A Woman
6. Say Yeah
7. I Like What You Do
Format: V0 MP3
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Following up their self-titled 1977 smash, and the ever-underrated live album in the same year, was Natural High, one of two Commodores albums I managed to unearth in the many crates of records my father had collected over the years. Though, long time Commodores fans would probably note that the album prior, containing what has to be their best known song in “Brick House”, was business as usual for a band that gave Motown something else to write home about after the Jackson 5 had stepped out to greener pastures, the sound of their records had slowly started to shift toward a “cleaner” model, with Lionel Richie as the focal point. That “Easy” was the song that got the critical write-ups had driven home the point even more.
This is not to say that Lionel wasn’t a focal point before; many of the hits on their prior records, including “Slippery When Wet”, had Lionel front and center. However, it seemed kind of funny that a band that had been known more for hard-hitting funk that could go toe-to-toe with the best in the business, had gone to the bank with the kind of song that used to be the deep cut. What makes a record popular never is predictable, however. Though, some felt that this album was the beginning of a string of albums that would become predictable for the Alabama-based funk machine.
Let’s get it out of the way. The big hit off this album (might have been the only hit to really chart high), was “Three Times A Lady”. This song was a dear one to my mother and father, for several reasons. It was the classic “Commodore Ballad” that would be their go-to “money” cut for the albums following (or so one would think). However, surrounding it, was a storm of “business-as-usual” uptempo funk and downbeat R&B that had a slicker edge to it, much like that on their album prior.
I was mostly familiar with Lionel as a solo artist during childhood, though I knew he was a member of the Commodores. Much of the building blocks of his solo career can be heard here in songs like the slow-and-easy “Say Yeah”, which happens to be my favorite of the bunch (Motown recognized it too, as it found itself on the excellent Anthology collection released early last decade). “Flying High”, another favorite, was described in one infamous review as sounding a little too much like Chicago, but this song is a certainly a strong indication of where the band could go. All in all, this song starts off on a good note (“Fire Girl” is very infectious with Lionel Richie and bandmate Walter Orange teaming up on the harmony) and ends on a better one (“Visions”, which is what I consider the classic “Lionel” song which was on every Commodores album on which he appeared).
Despite this album having one of the Commodores’ best known songs outside of “Brick House” (although nowadays, people tend to credit it to Lionel solely), it lumbered for several years out of print. You might be able to get in digital form on iTunes, but I’m not even sure of that nowadays. Bear in mind that the version I’m sharing is not extracted from one of those damnable “double albums” that Motown loved to smash together when the CD was first catching on as a viable medium; it’s from an issue of the full, unedited album. Y’all should be allowed to hear it as Poppa Claw and the record buying public of 1978 did, dang it.