The Commodores’ ‘Nightshift’: Marvin Gaye Fuels Second R&B No.1 In A Row

The lyrics of ‘Nightshift’ united Gaye with another soul giant, Jackie Wilson, who had died just three months earlier in 1984.

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The Commodores 'Nightshift' artwork - Courtesy: UMG
The Commodores 'Nightshift' artwork - Courtesy: UMG

The second consecutive R&B No.1 to pay tribute to Marvin Gaye hit the top spot on March 16, 1985. The untimely death of the great Motown hero moved his former singing partner Diana Ross to record “Missing You.” On that day, Ms. Ross was succeeded at the soul summit by some more former Motown labelmates, the Commodores, as they paid their respects to Marvin, and another soul hero, on “Nightshift.”

The lyrics of the song united Gaye with another R&B giant, Jackie Wilson, who had died just three months earlier in 1984. “Nightshift” was written by Dennis Lambert (who also produced the recording) with Franne Gold and the Commodores’ Walter Orange. After the departure of Lionel Richie from the group, Orange resumed lead vocal duties, sharing them with British vocalist J.D. Nicholas, a former member of UK soul hitmakers Heatwave. They took a verse each on the new hit.

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The post-Richie era started with two Top 20 R&B singles in “Painted Picture” and “Only You,” but the tribute gave the Commodores a first major crossover success. It reached No.3 on the Billboard Hot 100, repeated that feat in the UK and topped the charts in Holland. “Missing You” had spent three weeks atop the R&B survey, and now “Nightshift” logged four more.

‘He opened up our minds’

Marvin’s “What’s Going On” was referred to in “Nightshift,” in which Orange remembered “a friend of mine” who “sang of the joy and pain, he opened up our minds.” Of Wilson, a massively influential R&B trailblazer of a few years earlier, he sang “It seems like yesterday when we were working out,” a reference to Jackie’s 1963 smash “Baby Workout.”

Listen to uDiscover Music’s Commodores Best Of playlist.

The Commodores have continued to tour, with both Orange and Nicholas in the line-up. They’re joined by Orange’s fellow founding member William King, more than 50 years after the group members first met at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.

Buy or stream “Nightshift” on The Very Best of the Commodores.



  1. Susan Westervelt

    March 16, 2015 at 9:52 pm

    I saw the Commodores in Toronto right after the Motown 25 was on TV. They wore the same outfits as on TV. Love them then & now. Especially William King. Thanks for a great day when you included my 7 yr old son and paid attention to him. It made his day and he still remembers after all these yrs.

  2. ;Richard Viers

    March 17, 2015 at 2:52 pm

    Best of the best top fifty is a search engine that will bring you all of the hits you want.

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