July 16 – Mr. Motown Robinson’s Last Miracle-ous Concert

It was the end of an era 50 years ago today. That night in 1972 was when Smokey Robinson left the Miracles, with them doing their last regular concert together after being together for about 17 years. It was doubtless an emotional time for them…and for Motown Records, because in many ways, Smokey Robinson had “made” Motown.

The Miracles had formed as a more or less equal partnership of five teenage friends at Detroit’s Northern High School back in 1955. Back then they were known as the Five Chimes. After a few lineup changes, including adding member Bobby Rogers sister, Claudette, they’d become The Miracles.

Motown’s Berry Gordy saw them at a record tryout in 1957 and was impressed. Only back then he wasn’t yet “Motown’s Berry Gordy”. He was just an eager, energetic music fan with dreams. He particularly liked Robinson’s voice and was impressed by a notebook Smokey showed him full of songs he’d written. They formed a partnership of sorts, and Gordy paid for them to record a single. It went largely unnoticed, and they had trouble getting it released, so Robinson suggested Berry form his own record company…which he did, of course. Motown, and its companion brand, Tamla Records.

The Miracles had Motown’s first single, “Bad Girl”, but since the company was just a fledgling unknown outside of Detroit at the time, they had to get Chess Records to distribute it. It didn’t do much. But fast forward just a couple of years and lots was happening.

Smokey had married Claudette, and the group hit it big with “Shop Around,” a song written largely by Robinson. It got to #2 in the U.S. and earned Motown its first gold record. Detroit was on the map for something besides automobiles.

The ’60s were good to the Miracles, and to Motown. The group would grab 11 more top 20 hits in the decade, including “I Second That Emotion”, which topped the R&B charts. And unlike the majority of the Motown stars, The Miracles – primarily Smokey – wrote most of their own hits. They even wrote for some of the label’s other stars, including hits for The Temptations (“My Girl”) , Mary Wells (“My Guy”) and Marvin Gaye (“Ain’t That Peculiar.”) By the middle of the decade, it’s reported they were being paid over $100 000 a night for concerts…a huge amount at the time. No wonder Berry Gordy loved them, particularly Robinson.

In 1964, he named Smokey Vice President of Motown; around the same time Gordy changed the act’s name to Smokey Robinson & the Miracles. Also then, Claudette quit touring with the Miracles due to the stress it was putting on her which had probably been responsible for some miscarriages she’d gone through. She did continue to add backing vocals to the records though, until her husband left the group.

Which he wanted to do by 1969. He was getting tired of it, wanted to settle down with the family and devote more time to the office work at Motown. But he was talked out of it, partly because in 1970 ABC gave them a prime-time TV special and they had their first-ever #1 hit on Billboard“The Tears of A Clown”, which also went to #1 in the UK.

However, about a year later, he’d really had enough so they arranged a farewell tour for early 1972. It was a six month tour Pete Moore of the Miracles remembers as “it was amazing.” They played largely sold out shows, wrapping it up in Washington DC at the 4200-seat Carter Barron Ampitheater.

For this one, Claudette returned to the stage with them and they rolled through many of their own hits plus covers of  Dion’s “Abraham, Martin and John” and label-mate Michael Jackson’s “Got to Be there.” Near the end of the show, Smokey brought out Baltimore singer Billy Griffin and introduced him as the replacement singer. Much of the concert was released on CD as part of the Miracles Live Collection.

From there they went their separate ways. The Miracles, with Griffin, continued on for much of the decade, even scoring one #1 hit in 1975 with “Love Machine.” Smokey settled in, briefly, at Motown’s new offices in L.A. But he soon found that boring. He says of playing live it’s “probably my favorite part of this. Because I get a chance to be with the fans and react to them, have them react to us.” So by 1973, he was recording a solo album. He kept busy recording but didn’t really fit the times, it seemed until 1979 when he got to the top 10 with “Cruisin’”; in ’81 he’d do even better with “Being With You” a lovely ballad that went gold and to #1 in the UK and New Zealand and #2 at home.

The Miracles got back together, Smokey included, for a one-off in 1983, when they took part in the Motown 25 TV show, the one which famously introduced Michael Jackson’s “moon walk” to the masses.

Smokey Robinson was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in their second group of inductees, in 1987. That wasn’t without some controversy because it ignored The Miracles, where he’d made his name and had some of his best-loved, most successful works. Pete Moore of the Miracles said “it was a slap in the face. Very disappointing. We are the premier group of Motown. We were there before there was a Motown!” That was corrected in 2012, when The Miracles as a group were inducted, after extensive lobbying from Robinson and others.

March 6 – ‘My Girl’ Was Pretty Tempt-ation-ing To Listeners

Motown had one of its first big days this day in 1965 – “My Girl” by the Temptations hit #1 in the U.S., making it the first chart-topper on mainstream charts for that band and only the second one for male artists on Motown. Until that point the Detroit label had most of its success with girl groups such as the Supremes. For the Temptations, it was their 11th single but the first one to go to the top of the singles chart, although the previous year they’d had their first of 15 #1’s on the R&B chart with “The Way You Do the Things You Do.”

It came about at the Apollo Theater in late-’64, when two of Motown’s top acts – The Temptaions and The Miracles – were playing double bills. Smokey Robinson had written the song, with a little help from his Miracles bandmate Ronald White, and the Temptations heard it and loved it. The story varies a little depending on who tells it, and when. Robinson originally said his wife back then, Claudette, inspired it, but years afterwards would say it was “written with all the women in the world in mind.” Likewise, at times he’s said he originally planned to have The Miracles do it, with him singing it himself, but was convinced to let The Temptations do it because they loved it so much; other times he’s said he wrote it specifically for David Ruffin of The Temptations who could “belt out” the tunes with his “mellow yet gruff” voice. Either way, that’s what happened and it was the first Temptations single to have Ruffin singing lead. Eddie Kendricks had usually been their main singer upto then.

The rest of the group weren’t ecstatic at the idea at first but Smokey and Berry Gordy (Motown’s owner) convinced them to let Ruffin take the mic and the results were startling- they went on to have a great string of hits with him singing including “I Wish it Would Rain” and “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.”. Of course, the universality and simplicity of the song and catchy melody would have likely made it a hit with any of the Temptations taking the lead. A few months after its release, it was put out on the album The Temptations Sing Smokey, with them doing a full LP’s worth of Robinson songs. It was the first of eight-straight albums by them to go to the top of R&B charts. While the song hit #1 in the U.S., it only got to #8 in Canada and missed the top 40 altogether in Britain at the time. However, oddly enough it was re-released and got to #2 there in 1992 when it was used as the title track to a Macaulay Culkin movie! 

Rolling Stone rank it as the 88th greatest song of all-time, sandwiched between two other ’60s greats, the Mamas & the Papa’s “California Dreamin’” and Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” By the way, Robinson apparently didn’t want to be sexist… he also wrote the hit “My Guy” for Mary Wells, another #1 hit for Motown.

February 19 – The Voice That Made Motown

Happy 82nd birthday to one of the great voices – and minds – of 20th-Century pop- Smokey Robinson. William Jr. got the nickname “Smokey Joe” from an uncle who took him to cowboy movies as a kid, but as much as he liked the flicks, Robinson loved music more. Growing up in “Motown” (Detroit), near Diana Ross, he’d formed a doo-wop group called the 5 Chimes by age 13; they’d morphed into The Miracles by 1958. Soon after, he met Berry Gordy Jr. and The Miracles became one of the first acts signed to the then new Motown label. Their “Shop Around” became Motown’s first million-seller and before he was done, he’d contributed to 26 top 40 hits for them, writing many and singing lead on most.

But hits like “Tears of A Clown” and “I Second That Emotion” weren’t all Smokey gave to the record company. By the mid-’60s he was VP of the company and he thought so much of his boss he named his first two kids “Berry” and “Gordy.” The feeling seemed mutual; Gordy wrote that “he reminded me of me – so passionate about his music.” He briefly quit the performing side of music around 1972, to devote more time to his family and business career but quickly found that boring and launched a successful solo career which yielded ten more top 40s through the ’70s and ’80s, like “Cruisin'” and “Being With You”, a gold single which went to #1 in the UK in 1981. His career continues albeit it at a slowed rate; his most recent works being an album of duets with the likes of Elton John, Sheryl Crow and John Legend in 2014 and a Christmas album in 2017.

Robinson was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, among an elite group of early rock pioneers that included Roy Orbison, Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye. In their words, he “put (Motown) on the map” with his “gorgeous” songs and his work as a talent scout. More recently, he was the recipient of the Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize, their highest honor for musicians, in 2016.

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This marks post #3000 here at A Sound Day! I look forward to thousands more to come but would like to thank all of you for reading, especially the regulars like Max (Badfinger 20), Jim (New Epic Author), Obbverse, Deke and Lisa (Tao Talk) who seem to be daily visitors and commentators which is much appreciated. But whether this is your first visit to my site or your thousandth, thank you!

In the coming months I hope to have some more new artist interviews and record reviews in addition to the usual daily columns, and perhaps try to get an index going. With 3000 articles mentioning literally thousands of artists and records, that will be quite a task, as you might imagine, but it remains a goal. In the meantime, don’t forget you can search for your favorite artist or record through the search button (the magnifying glass) which appears on top of the site on mobile phones and around the bottom on computer web browsers. Or if using the computer, you can click on the 75 most popular topics for the articles related to them, as listed on the right side.

If you have any comments or questions, feel free to let me know through the comments section.

February 19 – When He Sings, ABC Hear Violins

Happy 80th birthday to one of the great voices – and minds- of 20th-Century pop- Smokey Robinson. William Jr. got the nickname “Smokey Joe” from an uncle who took him to cowboy movies as a kid, but as much as he liked the flicks, Robinson loved music more. Growing up in “Motown” (Detroit), near Diana Ross, he’d formed a doo-wop group called the 5 Chimes by age 13; they’d morphed into The Miracles by 1958. Soon after, he met Berry Gordy Jr. and The Miracles became one of the first acts signed to the then new Motown label.Their “Shop Around” became Motown’s first million-seller and before he was done, he’d contributed to 26 top 40 hits for them, writing many and singing lead on most.

But hits like “Tears of A Clown” and “I Second That Emotion” weren’t all Smokey gave to the record company. By the mid-’60s he was VP of the company and he thought so much of his boss he named his first two kids “Berry” and “Gordy.” The feeling seemed mutual; Gordy wrote that “he reminded me of me- so passionate about his music.” He briefly quit the performing side of music around 1972, to devote more time to his family and business career but quickly found that boring and launched a successful solo career (which continues; his most recent work being an album of duets with the likes of Sheryl Crow, Elton John and John Legend in 2014.)

Robinson was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, among an elite group of early rock pioneers that included Roy Orbison, Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye. In their words, he “put (Motown) on the map” with his “gorgeous” songs and his work as a talent scout. More recently, he was the recipient of the Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize, their highest honor for musicians, in 2016. And of course, for recognition within the business, it doesn’t get that much better than a foreign act lauding him in a hit song title!

Hoping Smokey enjoys his day and many more.

March 6 – My, Smokey Helped Record-buyers Give In To Temptations

Motown had one of its first big days this day in 1965: “My Girl” by the Temptations hit #1 in the U.S., making it the first chart-topper on mainstream charts for that band and only the second one for male artists on Motown, which to that point had had most of its success with girl groups such as the Supremes.

For the Temptations, it was their 11th single but the first one to go to the top of the singles chart, although the previous year they’d had their first of 15 #1’s on the R&B chart with “The Way You Do the Things You Do.” It came about at the Apollo Theater in late-’64, when two of Motown’s top acts – The Temptations and The Miracles – were playing double bills. Smokey Robinson (front man for The Miracles as well as an executive in Motown) had written the song, with a little help from his Miracles bandmate Ronald White, and the Temptations heard it and loved it.

The story varies a little depending on who tells it, and when. Robinson originally said his wife back then, Claudette, inspired it, but years afterwards would say it was “written with all the women in the world in mind.” Likewise, at times he’s said he originally planned to have The Miracles do it, with him singing it himself, but was convinced to let The Temptations do it because they loved it so much; other times he’s said he wrote it specifically for David Ruffin of The Temptations who could “belt out” the tunes with his “mellow yet gruff” voice. Either way, that’s what happened and it was the first Temptations single to have Ruffin singing lead. Eddie Kendricks had usually been their main singer upto then. The rest of the group weren’t ecstatic at the idea at first but Smokey and Barry Gordy (Motown’s owner) convinced them to let Ruffin take the mic and the results were startling- they went on to have a great string of hits with him singing including “I Wish it Would Rain” and “Ain’t too Proud to Beg.”. Of course, the universality and simplicity of the song and catchy melody would have likely made it a hit with any of the Temptations taking the lead.

While the song hit #1 in the U.S., it only got to #8 in Canada and missed the top 40 altogether in Britain at the time. However, oddly enough it was re-released and got to #2 there in 1992 when it was used as the title track to a Macaulay Culkin movie! Rolling Stone rank it as the 88th greatest song of all-time, sandwiched between two other ’60s greats, the Mamas & the Papa’s “California Dreamin’” and Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” By the way, Robinson apparently didn’t want to be sexist… he also wrote the hit “My Guy” for Mary wells.

March 6 – Record Buyers Gave In To Temptations

Motown had one of its first big days this day in 1965: “My Girl” by the Temptations hit #1 in the US, making it the first chart-topper on mainstream charts for that band and only the second one for male artists on Motown, which to that point had had most of its success with girl groups such as the Supremes. For the Temptations, it was their 11th single but the first one to have David Ruffin singing lead. Eddie Kendricks had usually been their main singer up to then, but Smokey Robinson (who was with the Miracles and co-wrote this song) thought Ruffin had a better voice, “mellow yet gruff.” He and Berry Gordy convinced the band to let Ruffin take the mic and the results were startling- they went on to have a great string of hits with him singing including “I Wish it Would Rain” and “Ain’t too Proud to Beg.”. The classic was re-released and got to #2 in 1992 in Britain and remains one of Motown’s biggest-ever songs.

Feb. 19 – When The Birthday Boy Sings…

Happy 78th birthday to one of the great voices – and music minds- of 20th-Century pop- Smokey Robinson. William Jr. got the nickname “Smokey Joe” from an uncle who took him to cowboy movies as a kid, but as much as he liked the flicks, Robinson loved music more. Growing up in “Motown” (Detroit), near Diana Ross, he’d formed a doo-wop group called the 5 Chimes by age 13; they’d morphed into The Miracles by 1958. Soon after, he met Berry Gordy Jr. and The Miracles became one of the first acts signed to the then new Motown label. Their “Shop Around” became Motown’s first million-seller and before he was done, he’d contributed to 26 top 40 hits for them, writing many and singing lead on most.

But hits like “Tears of A Clown” and “I Second That Emotion” weren’t all Smokey gave to the record company. By the mid-60s he was its VP and he thought so much of his boss he named his first two kids “Berry” and “Gordy” after him. The feeling seemed mutual; Gordy wrote that “he reminded me of me- so passionate about his music.” He briefly quit the performing side of music around 1972, to devote more time to his family and business career but quickly found that boring and launched a successful solo career (which continues; his most recent work being an album of duets with the likes of Sheryl Crow, Elton John and John Legend in 2014.)

Robinson was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, among an elite group of early rock pioneers that included Roy Orbison, Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye. In their words, he “put (Motown) on the map” with his “gorgeous” songs and his work as a talent scout. More recently, he was the recipient of the Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize, their highest honor for musicians, in 2016.