Usually, when a musical artist reached the age of 70, I would indicate my favorite songs that they recorded. For some reason, though, five years ago, I listed some of my favorite songs WRITTEN by Smokey Robinson. And his legendary songwriting, and producing, IS worthy of note, and absolutely VITAL to the success of Motown Records.
A bit of Motown trivia: I Heard It Through the Grapevine, written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, was first recorded by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles [LISTEN], but Berry Gordy rejected it, and Marvin Gaye’s version as well. He allowed Gladys Knight and the Pips to release it, and they had a #2 hit. Then, the other versions were released, with Marvin having a massive hit.
I haven’t heard it yet, but the artist released a new album, “Smokey & Friends” on August 19, 2014 on Verve Records, a duets collection “with Contemporary and Classic Artists such as Elton John, James Taylor, Mary J. Blige, Aloe Blacc, Jessie J, Miguel, CeeLo, Ledisi and more. It was his highest-charting album in 33 years.
The “problem” with putting together this list is that I’ve far too often heard many of the songs by another artist first, before Smokey and the Miracles, and that tends to be my association. For instance, I’ll Try Something New (# 11 on the rhythm and blues/soul chart – listed as rb, #39 on the pop charts in 1962) I associate as a song by the Supremes and the Temptations on their Join album. So I’m ranking these by my favorites, as performed by Smokey, usually with the Miracles. LISTEN to all.
15. Who’s Lovin’ You (B-side of Shop Around) – I associate this more with a preternaturally old preteen Michael Jackson singing this on the Jackson 5’s first album.
14. What’s So Good About Good-by (16rb, 35 in 1962). That’s the spelling of “goodbye” in the Billboard books.
13. Baby Baby Don’t Cry (3rb, 8 in 1969)
12. Being with You (1rb for 5 weeks, 2 in 1981). Solo Smokey.
11. Got A Job (1958) a pre-Motown song recorded by Berry Gordy, an answer song to Get A Job by the Silhouettes.
10. The Love I Saw in You Was Just a Mirage (10rb, 20 in 1967)
9. You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me (1rb, 8 in 1963). I associate this with the Beatles, specifically the Beatles’ 2nd Album on Capitol, or With the Beatles in the civilised world.
8. Special Occasion (4rb, 26 in 1968)
7. Mickey’s Monkey (3rb, 8 in 1963). Possibly my favorite hook, “Lum de lum de la ey” (or however you spell it) from Holland-Dozier-Holland.
6. Shop Around (1 rb for 8 weeks, 2 in 1961). This song always sounded like it was from the 1950s. It was the first big Motown hit.
5. Ooo Baby Baby (4rb, 16 in 1965)
4. Goin’ To A Go-Go (2rb, 11 in 1966)
3. The Tracks of My Tears (2rb, 16 in 1965). Interesting that two of my top three have the word “tears” in the title.
2. I Second That Emotion (1rb, 4 in 1968). As is true with many great pop lyrics, this came from a mistake, with Smokey and a friend at a department store. One person said something and the other meant to say, “I second the motion,” but misspoke. This song Smokey covered with the Manhattan Transfer on the Tonin’ album features other artists doing their own songs (Let’s Hang On with Frankie Valli of the 4 Seasons, Groovin’ with Felix Cavaliere of the Rascals, et al.)
Stevie Wonder and his producer Hank Cosby wrote the music for the song, and Cosby produced the instrumental track recording. Wonder brought the instrumental track to the 1966 Motown Christmas party because he could not come up with a lyric to fit the instrumental. Wonder wanted to see what Robinson could come up with for the track. Robinson, who remarked that the song’s distinctive calliope motif “sounded like a circus,” provided lyrics that reflected his vision. In the song, his character, sad because he does not have a woman who loves him, compares himself to the characters in the opera Pagliacci, comedians/clowns who hide their hurt and anger behind empty smiles.
I’m also rather fond of the English Beat cover [LISTEN].