1. Wild Imagination
2. Read Between The Lines
3. Thin Walls
5. Man In The Middle
7. Gonna Get You Back
8. Love Will Find A Way
Source: Vinyl LP
Format: V0 MP3 (FLAC available by request)
(To Listen, View Comments)
Though this would not be news to any serious fan of the band, Thomas McClary is without a doubt the most crucial member of the Commodores next to Lionel Richie. Easily identified by his thick glasses (without which he seemed to stare about blindly) and his unusual handle on the guitar (said to be the result of first learning to play a ukelele and transferring those skills), he isn’t the most well known member of the band; Walter “Clyde” Orange was a rather underrated drummer and the band’s official “second” voice (promoted to the band’s face and lead in the post-Lionel years eventually), but when Thomas McClary departed the band, partly to produce other acts (such as Klique among others) and to also launch a solo career of his own, the impact on the Commodores was certainly evident.
If one were to look more closely at the credits for each of the Commodores albums during their key years, on nearly every hard-hitting deep cut (not to mention some of their hits), you would find Thomas McClary’s name, often in tandem with Lionel Richie, who was a frequent writing partner. McClary was responsible for songs on his lonesome like “Cebu”, from 1975’s Movin’ On, and famously gained a favorable writeup in Rolling Stone magazine for his work on the Commdores’ big hit, “Easy”. My personal favorite McClary composition was “Saturday Night” from 1981’s “In The Pocket”, a song I didn’t even know had a video until fairly recently.
McClary was not known for singing very much — he had only one lead vocal on The Commodores’ Midnight Magic (1979), and another on the firstpost-Lionel album, 1983’s Commodores 13 (look for that underrated piece to show its face here soon), but he takes the stage front and center on this self-titled set. It’s safe to say McClary doesn’t quite have the appeal of his more vocally-inclined bandmates in his regard, but his voice is in no doubt appropriate and fitting for the music he presents here.
There seems to be a rather calculated theme with this album: Side A contained 3 more “crossover” friendly tracks, ending in a ballad that might have served the Commodores quite well, and Side B contains some straight up, undiluted R&B for 3 tracks, again ending in a power ballad that might have worked better if Lionel Richie sang it (and if it didn’t have the same title of one of Lionel Richie’s best songs ever). Despite this, McClary cruises through the set without much stumbling or attempts to sound exactly like the Commodores — in fact, this set is a much more enjoyable listen than the hit album the Commodores would release a year later, largely due to the fact that the “crossover” tracks do not tread too far into what I call “Last Dragon” territory in hopes of catching the pop charts, and also because the R&B on Side B hits harder than what his former band could muster without him in the rest of the decade (and even more so without Ronald LaPread in the band). “Contagious”, in particular overcomes its cheesy lyrics with a tight groove, and cute, complementary vocals from Deborah Thomas (who sounds like a softer Stephanie Mills). The crown jewel of this album is certainly “Gonna Get You Back” — it’s deep R&B, with a piano solo, McClary’s guitar in front, synths hitting their stride, a great bridge, and an overall pleasing package.
The most amusing pieces on this record are on side A, if only because “Wild Imagination” sounds a whole lot like Lionel Richie’s “Can’t Slow Down” (by way of Mean Machine collaborator David Cochrane, who co-wrote said Richie song), and Lionel Richie himself stops in to help his old bandmate out on the rather skeevy “Thin Walls” (made even more so by the way McClary sings the verses). Certainly these, and the nice slice of middle-of-the-road R&B, “Read Between The Lines” were meant to catch the same ears as those of Lionel Richie’s own offerings in this period.
This album was undoubtedly a flop; it was probably the case that only hardcore Commodore fans picked it up. McClary moved into gospel music once he decided to record again, but unfortunately, what little I did hear in his attempts to sound contemporary did not even come close to the hidden treasures that were on this album. Equally unfortunate was the last I Googled McClary’s name, I ran into some rather unsavory news regarding his latest legal misadventures. As a member of one of the better R&B and funk bands of all time, an underrated songwriter and producer, the worst thing one could ever do is screw up that legacy with some dumb stuff. Let the music tell your story — certainly, though it flopped, McClary could be proud of the story this album had sought to tell.