An anniversary toast inspired the first chart-topping single by the Commodores - and the song that broke the floodgates of Lionel Richie's decade-long domination on the soul and pop world.
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While the Commodores were already pretty established before "Three Times a Lady" became their first No. 1 single on Aug. 12, 1978 - the band had already put four songs in the Top 10 including the ballad "Easy" and the funky "Brick House" - it was the single from sixth studio album Natural High that sent the group into the stratosphere.
Richie says he got the idea from a romantic toast his father spontaneously gave his mother at an anniversary dinner. "It was just out of the blue," he told Billboard in 2016. "He said, ‘She’s a great lady, she’s a great mother, and she’s a great friend.’ And I thought that was a great little toast, so I wrote basically this waltz."
While he'd pen smashes through the '80s for others (notably Kenny Rogers' country classic "Lady"), Lionel originally intended for "Three Times a Lady" to kick off his career as a songwriter - an ambition that was quickly, temporarily dashed by the band's producer, James Anthony Carmichael. "I played him ‘Three Times a Lady’ and said I want to give this to Sinatra," he said in the same Billboard interview. "And he said, no you won’t, you’re going to give this to the Commodores.”
After "Three Times a Lady" became the band's first chart-topper (as well as Motown's biggest hit of 1978), the Commodores logged another No. 1 with 1979's Richie-penned "Still." In the '80s, Richie embarked on a solo career, writing and recording 13 straight Top 10 hits between 1981 and 1986 - five of which reached No. 1.