[Smokey] is still virtually a ghetto singer. For some reason, we can't seem to accept and come to terms with his greatness.
That's all the more extraordinary in view of the current success of his old contemporaries, Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye. Eight years ago, the three of them were running parallel, the top male exponents of "New Wave R & B."
Following the comparatively lean years of the late sixties, Marvin and Curtis suddenly changed tack and earned a wide measure of popularity among white fans—specifically those who wouldn't normally bother to buy Soul records.
The way was led by Isaac Hayes, who developed a style which couched the music's essential funk inside swathes of rich strings, woodwinds, harp, voices, and percussion. He also adapted the "long form" to Soul, stretching his songs out to ten minutes and more….
It worked like a charm, and became a revolution. Gaye and Mayfield quickly picked up on it, and produced their own albums in a similar style, but with a wider verbal vision. Both were still in the ghetto, but they were looking at the ghetto's problems….
Robinson, I'm sure, could have done everything they've accomplished, and far more besides. He's easily the most talented of all of them….
But he declined to enter the lists on their terms….
No, he's just carried on doing what he always did best, writing those little three-minute songs which encompass the most startling variety of feelings….
[It's] not that the feelings [Robinson] expresses are so unusual, it's his attitude to them, and the way he verbalises it. Smokey always was a big one for the metaphor and the simile … and no one in pop has been able to make such beautiful and unpredictable use of images which are superficially everyday and banal.
"The way you smile so bright, you know you could have been a candle; I'm holding you so...
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