Smokey Robinson JOE McEWEN and JIM MILLER - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Most of Motown's roster consisted of Detroit acts unearthed at local talent shows; here as elsewhere, Smokey Robinson's Miracles set the pattern. When Robinson first approached Gordy late in 1957, most of the group was still in high school; three years later, when "Shop Around" hit, the Miracles' oldest member was barely 21.

During the next ten years, however, the Miracles became a seasoned troupe, while Robinson became one of the most prolific and popular producer/songwriters in the Motown stable. In person, the Miracles' performances were erratic, depending on the state of Smokey's fragile falsetto…. In the studio, on the other hand, Robinson knew few rivals, composing and producing … torchy soul/pop hits….

Smokey was his own best interpreter, and the Miracles remained one of Motown's most consistent groups throughout the Sixties. At the outset, their chief asset was the anguished eroticism conveyed by Robinson's pristine falsetto (listen to "You Can Depend on Me," from 1960). But by the mid-Sixties, Robinson had also blossomed as a composer and lyricist…. [Many] of his finest lyrics hinged on an apparent contradiction: "I'm a choosy beggar," "I've got sunshine on a cloudy day," "The love I saw in you was just a mirage." Despite a spate of uptempo hits, from "Shop Around" and "Mickey's Monkey" (1963) to "Going to a Go-Go" (1965), the Miracles' forte was ballads. Here Robinson—whether confessing his dependence, as on "You've Really Got a Hold on Me" (1962), or pleading for forgiveness, as on "Ooo Baby Baby" (1965)—could use his voice to transcendent effect. "The Tracks of My Tears" (1965) remains one of the most emotionally demanding Motown singles of the Sixties. (p. 240)

Joe McEwen and Jim Miller, "Motown," in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll, edited by Jim Miller (copyright © 1980 by Rolling Stone Press; reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc. and Rolling Stone Press), revised edition, Rolling Stone Press, Random House, 1980, pp. 235-48.∗