The year - 1955. The place - Northern High School in Detroit. The vocal group - The Miracles. Comprising William ‘Smokey’ Robinson (lead vocals), Emerson and Bobby Rogers (tenors), Ronnie White (baritone), and Warren ‘Pete’ Moore (bass). Emerson Rogers was replaced by Claudette Rogers in 1956. By 1958 the quintet had recorded for the End label, but were signed soon after by one of Detroit’s leading labels, Tamla-Motown.
The Miracles debut on the charts came with 1960’s US#2 ‘Shop Around’. Thirteen (unlucky for some) further top forty incursions occurred over the ensuing five years, including ‘You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me’ (US#8), and ‘The Tracks Of My Tears’ (US#16). As Smokey Robinson had handled all the lead vocals and written a good number of the songs (including for many other leading Motown artists), it was decided in 1967 that he should (officially) become the focal point. And so the Miracles became Smokey Robinson & The Miracles. The new formation scored their first top ten hit in late ‘67 with ‘Second That Emotion’, and eight more top forty hits followed through to the end of ‘69.
Meanwhile, Smokey Robinson had continued to churn out the song writing credits for Tamla-Motown, as well as carrying on his official duties as Motown vice-president (a title he had held since 1961 - such was his importance to the fortunes of the label). He released his debut solo album in 1973, imaginatively titled ‘Smokey’ and followed this up the next year with ‘Pure Smokey’ (a finer grade of Smokey). A few minor hits were generated but it wasn’t until his 1979 album, ‘Where There’s Smoke’ (US#17), that Robinson fired up once more on the charts, with the U.S.#4 hit ‘Cruising’ (OZ#70).
Smokey Robinson would find his biggest solo success during 1981, in the form of the single ‘Being With You’. It was the title track lifted from Robinson’s eleventh studio set (US#10/ UK#17/OZ#71). The song came about as a consequence of another song Robinson had penned over a decade before. The song ‘More Love’ had been a top forty hit (US#23) back in 1967, and it ended up being offered to Kim Carnes (see previous post) to record in 1980. The Kim Carnes version, which climbed to #10, had been produced by George Tobin. Robinson was impressed with the Carnes’ version and, as he so often did, he sent a batch of other songs on to the producer Tobin with a view of Carnes recording them. By that time producer and artist had split company, so in lieu Tobin suggested producing Smokey Robinson himself recording one of the songs on offer - ‘Being With You’.
Over the course of the 80s, Smokey Robinson continued to release a steady stream of new material with varied success. 1982’s ‘Touch The Sky’ (US#50) yielded the minor UK hit ‘Tell Me Tomorrow’ (#51), and a string of moderately selling albums followed. But it was 1987’s ‘One Heartbeat’ album (US#26, #1R&B), that served up a pair of top ten hits Smokey Robinson style. ‘Just To See Her’ was a standout and a logical single release (US#8/ UK#52/OZ#99), and was followed by the title track (US#10). In 1989, Robinson contributed vocals to the song ‘Indestructible’, a U.K. hit (#30) for the Four Tops (see separate post). Robinson had one final album release on the Motown label, with 1990’s ‘Love, Smokey’, effectively signing off after thirty years of recording on the Tamla-Motown roster.
A prolific and highly influential artist and writer, Smokey Robinson received due reward for his achievements by being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. This was followed by his receiving the Grammy Living Legends Award in 1989.
Over the ensuing twenty plus years, Smokey Robinson has continued to write and record music on a steady basis, though without the commercial rewards of times gone past. Regardless, his legacy in the realm of popular music is assured for all time.