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Colette’s Corner: More Smoke

16 Oct

Part II in Colette’s homage to Smokey Robinson….

SMOKEY SINGS AND SIZZLES
 
In Part 1 of my tribute to the incomparable Smokey Robinson  focused on the many hits he wrote for such fellow Motown artists as The Temptations, the Marvelettes and Marvin Gaye.
But Smokey, an ebullient charmer and pop music Renaissance Man,  has always loved performing as much as he loves songwriting.  He began pulling together his own singing groups with friends while in high school.  (He attended Detroit’s Northern High, by the way, when my Uncle Sid was the vice principal — and had many future Motowners in his classes!) 
One of  Smokey’s  teen groups was called The Matadors.  The young Berry Gordy wrote a tune for them, “Got a Job,”  which did well. Then Gordy went on to form Motown Records with Robinson very much on the scene, and the rest is history. 
From the jump, Smokey was a singer, record producer and composer vital to Motown’s success.    The Matadors changed their name to The Miracles (Smokey’s first wife Claudette was an early member).  And with Smoke penning most of their tunes, with various collaborators, and crooning the leads in his sweetly unique and  soulful falsetto, the group  quickly cut Motown’s first million-seller, the 1960 doo-woppy classic,  “Shop Around.”  
No good footage of “Shop Around,” but here’s the golden oldie on disc:
 
  — “Shop Around”
 
Throughout the ’60s, Smokey and the Miracles put out hit after hit,  and kept on touring, while the tireless Robinson also produced and wrote for other Motown stars.   Here are some of the many Miracle classics — a bluesy wonder, which the Beatles covered, and a demonstration of the Smokey’s irresistible sex appeal:
      
   — “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me”
 
Smokey could get down and funky, but he was also a master of the wounded-lover ballad, and his early performances bring to mind such soul forefathers as Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke.  This smash hit was a heartbreaker classic, and Smokey can still sing the bejesus out of it.  Here’s the MIracles doing a lip-synched version, but smooooooth.  Dig those white suits:
 
 — “Tracks of My Tears”
 
Though he’s a ballad freak, Smokey loved putting out dance records too.    Here’s his delightful, uptempo follow-up to “Tracks of My Tears,”  with nifty lyrics and arrangement that riff off the sad clown/carnival imagery.  Terrific vocal performance too:
 
  — “Tears of a Clown
 
OMG —  beach movie idol Frankie Avalon on TV’s “Hullabaloo,”  introducing Smokey and his dance hit “Going to A-Go Go”  by singing “Don’t Mess With Bill,” and frugging with the dancers?  Yikes!   Sorry for the terrible miking on this one, but Smokey is selling the tune hard:
 
 
But here’s my favorite live 1960s ballad performance by Smokey & the Miracles, on an absolutely awesome “make out song,”    He’s in top form here:
 
   — “Ooh Baby Baby”
 
Sorry the clip is fuzzy, and ends abruptly, but how can I not share this jewel, a brief duet on the same song with Smokester’s lifelong friend, the Queen of Soul?  If only they’d recorded together!:
 
   — “Ooh Baby, Baby”
 
Smokey left the Miracles in 1972, eager to go solo.   Lovable and loyal guy that he is, he dedicated his debut solo album to the Miracles.   But he didn’t chart a  hit of his own until 1975’s  “Quiet Storm.”    Live clips of him singing that one, and his radiantly sensuous hits since then, are sadly hard to come by.  So we’ll have to look to the music videos Smokey made to promote these swoony delights, which layer in the use of synthesizers and multi-tracking seamlessly:
 
    — “One Heartbeat”
 
And hey, the guy loves the beach!   The video for another very intimate, flowy kind of Smokey love song:
 
    —  “Being With You”

 
I’ve been hunting for alive TV vid of Smoke and Aretha doing this great fave.   He still causes a frenzy these days when he closes his live shows with it:
 
   — “Just to See Her”
 
Though in his late 60s now, Smokey is still a wonderfully vital performer, and a deserved recipient of a Kennedy Center lifetime arts award.   I saw him in an outdoor concert this summer, with his ace band and backup singers.  His set lasted nearly two hours, with the ecstatic crowd singing along at his behest —  but him singing a lot better than we ever could!    Sure, the guy has had a little, shall we say, “work done” to keep that youthful glow.  But his talent and spirit are timeless!   Here he is, with Vince Vaughn, Whitney Wynonna  and Boyz 2 Men chiming in on his tunes.  As usual, Smokey is having a blast!:
 
                 
I’ll end with the disc version of a Miracles song that, of all the dozens of hits he’s forged, could be Smokey’s theme song.   For nearly half a century, the man has followed through on the lyrics’ beautiful pledge to his listeners:
 
             As we grow older no need to fear
        When you need me I’ll be here
        I’ll be beside you every step of the way 
        A heart that’s truthful & keeping you youthful with… 

      
        More love, more joy 
        Than age or time could ever destroy 
        My love will be so sound
        It would take about 100 lifetimes 
        To live it down, wear it down, tear it down
         
    —  “More Love” — Smokey Robinson and the Miracles  
 
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3 responses to “Colette’s Corner: More Smoke

  1. Linda T

    October 19, 2008 at 2:35 pm

    Collete I would love to read this blog entry but I simply can’t see it. The gray on black printing blurs before my eyes. I’ll enjoy the videos, but is there any way to make the print more readable? Thanks

     
  2. Colette

    October 19, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    Thanks Linda, I’m glad to know about this. I’ll make sure that Music Maven gets your notes — she’s the tech wiz who posts all the entries. Enjoy the music, and I look forward to your comments on the words — check back soon!

     
  3. hiscrivener

    October 20, 2008 at 8:47 pm

    MM,

    Oh how I love it “When Smokey Sings.” Recently, I was at the UNCF “An Evening of Stars” and had the chance to spend a lot of time with him backstage. Smokey is the legend on stage and a true gentleman backstage. A legend if there ever was one. I truly loved this post.

    Thanks for the effort. I know it took a while and believe me, it was not in vain.

    Peace,
    HiScrivener

     

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