Smokey Robinson Phyl Garland - Essay

Phyl Garland

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Though he has been one of the anchormen of vocal soul music for over twenty years, William "Smokey" Robinson manages to sing with the warmth, sincerity, and emotional involvement of a very young man still anticipating life's greater and yet-untasted pleasures. There is no hint of flagging enthusiasm, no sign that he has lost any of his customary purity of sound or style. Many musical modes have come and gone in the two decades he has been before the public, but he continues to rely on the same effective cool-sweet approach, the essence of "laid back" long before that term came into popular over-use. (pp. 73-4)

"Warm Thoughts" contains eight selections that bear all the familiar characteristics of vintage Smokey even though they are brand new. This appealing blend of the old and the new is, in fact, probably the key to his remarkably evergreen popularity. There is a distinct echo of the early Sixties, for example, in the way he manages to suggest sensuality without flaunting it in the more modern style, and both melodies and lyrics flow over the mind with a delectable suggestion of the déjà vu. There are whole stretches of this new music so cleverly tuneful that it seems immediately familiar and hummable, lyrics that capture our attention at once with clever new twists on old clichés—such as the song Into Each Rain Some Life Must Fall.

Critical attention will probably focus on Melody Man, the most imaginative and rousing track here …, but I am more drawn to the understated brilliance of Smokey's own Let Me Be the Clock and I Want to Be Your Love…. [Smokey] has the gift of making the most personal of these musical dreams spring miraculously to life—warm thoughts indeed. (p. 74)

Phyl Garland, "Smokey Robinson's 'Warm Thoughts': Unflagging Enthusiasm, Understated Brilliance," in Stereo Review (copyright © 1980 by Ziff-Davis Publishing Company), Vol. 45, No. 1, July, 1980, pp. 73-4.