Smokey Robinson John Piccarella - Essay

John Piccarella

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

A more rhythmic vocalist can bump in sexy syncopation off a complement of polyrhythms, but Smokey is all melodic caress; his cool, aching lyricism must float free and uncomplicated. Being with You, by all means a pop triumph, allows him that simplicity and generates more potential hitpower than any of his previous solo outings. In fact, the title cut sounds better on the radio (and spends more time there) than any post-Miracles tune in his catalogue….

Less viable is the reggae imitation "Food for Thought," not because the steel drum riff doesn't generate the Caribbean breeze it's supposed to, but because it has nothing to do with the protest-for-the-hell-of-it of Robinson's lyric, which attacks first cigarette manufacturers, then industrial pollution, then stud machismo, and then wives' lack of interest in their husbands. Though the chorus and instrumentation are catchy, Smokey's vocal charm is considerably diminished by the uncomfortable way he negotiates both the affected lyrics and the affected rhythm….

Throughout his solo career his writing has lacked the concision and wit of his classic Miracles tunes. Yet he's created a graceful persona, with occasional interesting quirks, like the ridiculous sexual metaphors scattered through Warm Thoughts. Being with You not only offers continuing proof of Smokey Robinson's lyrical gift, but reaffirms his powers as a pop seducer. When it comes to sweet nothings, Smokey talks in tongues.

John Piccarella, "Smokey Robinson's Sweet Nothings" (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice and the author; copyright © News Group Publications, Inc., 1981), in The Village Voice, Vol. XXVI, No. 17, April 22-28, 1981, p. 59.