THE SATURDAY MORNING SONG CHRONICLES - PAGE 40
-- Paul B Allen III: February 8, 2020
SMOKEY ROBINSON – PART 1 – THE PERFORMER
As a performer, Smokey Robinson has provided us with fifty-three years of musical miracles.
We most closely associate Smokey with Barry Gordy, Jr. of Motown fame, but Smokey was working with Barry even before there was a Motown.
When Motown was formed (it began as Tamla Records), the Miracles, with Smokey Robinson as the lead vocalist, was one of the first acts to be signed. Smokey soon gave Motown its first hit single and its first million-selling record with a Smokey Robinson / Barry Gordy, Jr. written tune called “Shop Around.” I hope you enjoy the rare video of the group performing this song.
From 1960 to 1970 the Smokey produced hits of the Miracles were many. They had 26 Top Ten hits. Here is a partial list. Do you remember these songs?
“You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me” * “Mickey’s Monkey” * “I Second That Emotion” * “Baby, Baby Don’t Cry” * Ooh Baby, Baby” * “Going to a Go-Go” * “The Tracks of My Tears” * “(Come Round Here) I’m The One You Need” * “The Love I Saw in You Was Just a Mirage” * and “More Love.” And then there was the group’s only number 1 hit record while Smokey was with them, “The Tears of a Clown.”
Now, remember, this was only between 1960 and 1970.
Smokey left the Miracles in the early 1970s and took an administrative role at Motown, but he resurfaced a year later as a solo act. It didn’t go well at first, but in 1973 Smokey wrote the lyrics to a Marv Tarplin tune, and it became Smokey’s first solo Top Ten Pop Single. It was called “Cruisin’”. According to Wikipedia, “Crusin’” “hit number one in Cash Box and peaked at number four on the Billboard Hot 100. It also became his first solo number one in New Zealand.”
Smokey was still around and doing great things in the 1980s as well. Do you recall these songs?
“Being with You” (#2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #1 on the U.K. Singles chart) * “Just to See Her” and “One Heartbeat” (both Top Ten on Billboard’s Pop, Soul, and Contemporary charts).
By this time, Smokey had been turning out hits for 30 years!
Since that time, Smokey has continued to put out great music, though not all of it has been as successful as his earlier hit songs. And, from 2000 to 2020, Smokey is still active.
Your children and grandchildren and even great-grandchildren may be listening to Smokey as we speak. How? He is the artist singing the opening credits to a show made for little kids called TODDWORLD.
Smokey has always been, is, and will always be, cool and relevant. Case in point, as late as 2019, with Smokey being 79 years old, he sang background vocals on the track of one of my favorite young artists, Anderson .Paak. The name of the song is “Make It Better.” And you will love the video recorded when Smokey got on stage with Paak and they sang this song together on Jimmy Kimmel Live!
Smokey is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has won every award in music you could imagine, including four Grammy’s two of which are Grammy Legend Awards he received in different years, and one Lifetime Achievement Grammy. But, to my way of thinking Smokey has received two other awards that show what a tremendous impact he and his music have made on a universal level.
In December 2006, Smokey Robinson was one of five Kennedy Center honorees, along with Dolly Parton, Zubin Mehta, Steven Spielberg, and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Now that’s a high-powered line-up.
And, in 2016 Smokey was awarded the 2016 Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for his lifetime contributions to popular music.
One last question. Have you ever wondered how William Robinson, Jr. got the nickname, “Smokey”? Well, Smokey himself answered that question, and it was recorded in Wikipedia. Smokey stated:
“My Uncle Claude was my favorite uncle; he was also my godfather. He and I were really, really close. He used to take me to see cowboy movies all the time when I was a little boy because I loved cowboy movies. He got a cowboy name for me, which was Smokey Joe. So from the time I was three years old if people asked me what my name was I didn't tell them my name was William, I told them my name was Smokey Joe. That's what everyone called me until I was about 12 and then I dropped the Joe part. I've heard that story about him giving it to me because I'm a light-skinned Black man but that's not true.”
And there you have it.
On February 19th, William "Smokey" Robinson, Jr. will turn 80 years old. Smokey, we love you and we wish you at least 80 more great years of making music that will continue to change the world.
Enjoy all of the rare videos today, and as a bonus, enjoy a super-rare Smokey and the Miracles video with them doing a medley that finishes in one of the most beautiful versions of the Beatles' song, “Yesterday” that I have ever heard in my life. This is truly Smokey Robinson at his very best.
Smokey Robinson has left his own indelible mark on the world of music as a performer. Join me next week when I will share with you the fact that in the case of Smokey Robinson and the true measure of his impact on the world of music and on our lives, that what was presented today is only the tip of the iceberg.