WELCOME TO THE OOTP HALL OF FAME...MR. WILLIAM "SMOKEY" ROBINSON
Save for founder Berry Gordy, no single figure has been more closely allied with the Detroit-based recording empire known as Motown than William “Smokey” Robinson. In addition to leading the Miracles, Robinson served as a Motown producer, songwriter, talent scout and Gordy’s most trusted confidant and right-hand man.
”He reminded me of me - so excited and passionate about his music,” Gordy wrote in his autobiography, To Be Loved. Robinson’s Miracles were the second act signed to Gordy’s management and production company. Everything at Motown was a family affair in those days. The Supremes (first known as the Primettes) wound up auditioning at Motown because Diana Ross was a neighbor of Robinson’s, and Primettes guitarist Marv Tarplin became an accompanist, arranger and cowriter in the Miracles.
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles scored twenty-seven pop-soul hits at Motown between 1960 and 1971, including the classics “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” “Mickey’s Monkey,” “Going to a Go-Go” and “I Second That Emotion.” They also explored the sweeter side of soul with a string of exquisite ballads sung by Robinson in a satiny falsetto. The Miracles’ brightest moments on record - “Ooh Baby Baby,” “The Tracks of My Tears” and “The Tears of a Clown” foremost among them - still kindle memories for those who came of age in the Sixties.
The Miracles began as the Matadors, a five-member harmony group who sang original songs by the prolific, teenaged Robinson. Their lineup included Robinson, Ronnie White, Warren Moore, and siblings Bobby and Claudette Rogers. The Matadors charmed Gordy at an impromptu audition, and the renamed group’s first single ("Got a Job” b/w “My Mama Done Told Me") was released on Robinson’s eighteenth birthday in 1958. The Miracles’ first hit, “Shop Around,” established Gordy’s Tamla label on the national scene and paved the way for Motown’s family of labels and artists. “Shop Around,” which had a rawer, bluesier feel than much of the Miracles’ later work, sold a million copies in early 1961.
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles were founded upon devotion and constancy. The Miracles recorded on Tamla through 1976, and Robinson remained allied with Motown’s original imprint as a solo artist through the mid-Eighties. Robinson married Claudette Rogers in 1959, and their union lasted twenty-seven years. She withdrew from the Miracles’ touring lineup in 1965, leaving them a quartet, but continued to sing on every Miracles record until Robinson’s departure from the group in 1972.
Robinson’s words mingled sincerity and eloquence, often describing love with unique metaphors. Bob Dylan once pronounced him America’s “greatest living poet.” As a singer, Robinson could evoke joy, sadness and their bittersweet combination with his velvety high tenor. Legend has it that audience members would break into tears when Robinson and the Miracles sang “The Tracks of My Tears.” Even the notoriously hard-to-please Berry Gordy proclaimed the song a masterpiece. It also presaged another tear-streaked classic, “The Tears of a Clown,” which in 1970 became the Miracles’ first Number One pop hit. The period 1963 to 1966 found the group operating at a creative and commercial peak, including the release of their best album, the hit-filled Going to a Go-Go.
Excluding compilations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles released fifteen albums for Motown,. On his own Robinson recorded sixteen albums for Tamla and Motown. He also wrote and produced for numerous other Motown artists, including Marvin Gaye ("Ain’t That Peculiar,” “I’ll Be Doggone"), the Temptations ("Get Ready,” “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” “My Girl"), Mary Wells ("My Guy,” “You Beat Me to the Punch") and the Marvelettes ("Don’t Mess With Bill,” “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game").
In July 1972, Robinson parted ways with the Miracles, and both entities enjoyed continued success. Robinson’s biggest solo hits - “Cruisin’” (#4) and “Being With You” (#2) - came in the late Seventies and early Eighties. A fixture at Motown, he served as vice-president until the company’s sale to MCA in 1988. He remained with the label as an artist for two more years after that. In the late Eighties he beat an addiction to cocaine, documented in his autobiography In My Life. After Motown, Robinson continued to record, re-emerging on Motown in 1999 with Intimate. The born-again singer released his first gospel album, Food for the Spirit, in 2004.
February 19, 1940: William “Smokey” Robinson is born in Detroit, Michigan.
1955: Smokey Robinson forms a group - first named the Matadors, then the Miracles - at Detroit’s Northern High School.
February 19, 1958: “Got a Job,” the first single by the Miracles, is released on the End label. Its release coincides with leader Smokey Robinson’s eighteenth birthday.
November 7, 1959: Smokey Robinson marries fellow Miracle Claudette Robinson. The marriage will last twenty-seven years and yield two children, Berry and Tamla.
October 15, 1960: “Shop Around,” credited to “The Miracles (featuring Bill “Smokey” Robinson),” is released. The first national hit for Berry Gordy’s Tamla label, it tops the R&B chart for eight weeks.
June 16, 1961: Hi We’re the Miracles, the first album by the Smokey Robinson-led group, is released.
November 2, 1962: The first live “Motortown Revue,” featuring such Motown artists as the Miracles, opens in Boston.
December 29, 1962: “You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me,” by the Miracles, enters R&B chart, where it will become the group’s second Number One R&B hit.
March 6, 1965: “My Girl,” written by Smokey Robinson and Ronnie White of the Miracles, becomes a #1 hit for the Temptations.
November 1, 1965: Going to a Go-Go, by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, is released. It reaches #8 and yields four hits: “Ooo Baby Baby” (#4 R&B, #16 pop), “The Tracks of My Tears” (#2 R&B, #16 pop), “My Girl Has Gone” (#3 R&B, #14 pop) and “Going to a Go-Go” (#2 R&B, #11 pop).
January 27, 1967: The release of “The Love I Saw in You Was Just a Mirage” marks a change in artist credit from “The Miracles” to “Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.” The song will peak at #20.
April 1968: Greatest Hits, Vol.2, by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, reaches #7. It will be the highest-peaking album of the group’s career.
December 12, 1970: “The Tears of a Clown,” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, reaches Number One for the first of two weeks.
July 14-16, 1972: Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ concert performances in Washington D.C. are recorded for the album 1957-1972, which ends Robinson’s quarter century with the band he founded. Robinson graduates to a solo career, and the Miracles replace him with Billy Griffin.
November 15, 1972: Smokey Robinson’s final single with the Miracles, “I Can’t Stand to See You Cry,” is released.
1974: The Miracles’ “Love Machine,” the group’s biggest hit of the post-Smokey Robinson era, reaches Number One.
April 19, 1975: A Quiet Storm, the third solo album by Smokey Robinson, is released. The title would be adapted as both the name of a radio format and a romantic subgenre of soul, as defined by Robinson.
March 21, 1981: The biggest hit of Smokey Robinson’s solo career, “Being With You” (#1 R&B, #2 pop), is released.
January 21, 1987: Smokey Robinson is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the second annual induction dinner. Daryl Hall and John Oates are his presenters.
February 1994: Motown issues The 35th Anniversary Compilation, a four-CD overview of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ remarkable career.
February 27, 1997: Smokey Robinson reunites with the Miracles to be honored at the eight annual Rhythm and Blues Foundation’s Pioneer Awards in New York.
February 24, 1999: Smokey Robinson receives a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 41st annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.
April 2004: Smokey Robinson releases Food for the Spirit, his first gospel album and first album of any kind in five years.
I bet when Smokey sleeps, he dreams of writing music