Sail On – Commodores | Top 40 Chart Performance, Story and Song Meaning

Chart Performance: Pop (#4) & R&B (#8); 1979

Story Behind The Song By Ed Osborne

Except for an occasional up-tempo tune that harkened back to the Commodores days as a bona vide funk band, by 1979 their hits were smooth ballads penned by Lionel Richie. Sweet Love marked the onset of the transition, then R&B/Pop smashes such as Easy and Three Times A Lady. Sail On was next in line. The origins of Sail On lay in a hours-long conversation between Lionel and his boyhood buddy, William “Smitty” Smith. Smitty’s marriage was falling apart and Lionel provided a supportive ear and shoulder. Six months after that fateful talk, Lionel forwarded Smitty a copy of Sail On. Every line in the lyrics referred to something the old friends had talked about. The inspiration for the Commodores next single, Still, also came from a marital breakup of friends of Lionel’s. Ironically, shortly after recording his ode to Endless Love with Diana Ross, Lionel would undergo a break-up of his own: from the Commodores.

This content and all Song Meaning articles were created and written by Top 40 Contributing Editor Ed Osborne. © 2024 Ed Osborne. All Rights Reserved. In addition to these song meaning articles, Ed has written our “Year in Music 1960s-1990s” articles.

Produced by:

  • James Anthony Carmichael
  • Commodores

Lyrics Written by:

  • Lionel Richie