Smokey Robinson Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Smokey Robinson 1940–

(Born William Robinson) Black American songwriter and singer.

Robinson has been critically and commercially successful for more than twenty years and is credited with having written some of the most moving songs of the 1960s. One of the first popular songwriters to receive serious critical attention, he has influenced many lyricists and is often described as a master of the romantic ballad. Robinson's lyrics express a humanistic philosophy and a faith in the power of love. He is renowned for his ability to create compelling metaphors and similes from simple language and is especially popular with critics and listeners who find his romanticism appealing in an era of increasingly unromantic, sexually-oriented popular songs. Some critics feel that Robinson has proven that it is possible to maintain high aesthetic standards and be commercially successful. He is one of the few artists whose songs of the 1960s have withstood the many changes in popular music and are expected to endure.

Robinson formed the Miracles in 1957 while its members were still in high school. Under the guidance of Motown founder Berry Gordy, he became one of the company's most prolific and successful writers. Early hit songs written by Robinson and performed by the Miracles helped to establish Motown as a strong force in the record industry. He also wrote "My Guy" for Mary Wells, "My Girl" for the Temptations, and other giant commercial successes early in his career. Robinson's work of the 1960s has received overwhelmingly favorable reviews. Of the songs written in that decade, "The Tracks of My Tears" and "The Tears of a Clown" have been the most popular and most acclaimed. Their themes are characteristic of many of Robinson's lyrics; the heartache, the fears, and uncertainties of love. "The Tears of a Clown" is perhaps the best example of his famous "pain behind the smile" motif. Critics consider both songs classics of popular music.

In 1972, Robinson left the Miracles to begin a solo career. Few of the songs he has written since have been as acclaimed as those he wrote in the 1960s but most have been well-received. Robinson has experimented with various musical forms but his themes remain fundamentally the same. As is true of his earlier work, albums like Smokey, Warm Thoughts, and Love Breeze take love as their basic subject. Although some critics feel that Robinson's work is marked by repetitiousness, most seem to see his recent songwriting as the mature reflections of a sensitive artist. His popular longevity is attributed to his ability to combine old and new musical forms with a growing lyrical perspective. It is generally believed that Robinson has made, and continues to make, significant contributions to popular music.