You gave the illusion: Best of Smokey Robinson

Universally acknowledged as a songwriter of genius, a thoughtful producer, and a singer graced with the supplest of falsettos, William “Smokey’ Robinson never scored a Let’s Get It On or Songs in the Key of Life — a disgraceful development. Maybe the albums weren’t good enough; maybe a platinum album here or there in the late seventies would have given him the impetus to try. Wonder and Gaye considered Smokey not just a peer but a master: as a Motown vice president, Smokey was the first to boast of the creative autonomy they got by threating to bolt the label. “Tears of a Clown’ is the only tune that went to #1 under his own name — this despite the creation of a healthy genre on adult R&B stations called quiet storm, named after a slight, exquisite eponymous album.

What stopped him? I’d like an answer from cognoscenti living in the seventies. Solo pop hits he scored exactly four: the adult contemporary smash “Being With You” in 1981, almost sunk by its period production; I’ll never use “dated” as a pejorative but if you look at the credits you’ll notice Smokey didn’t produce it, which tells you something. At the height of boomer rock and the American success of ABC’s tribute “When Smokey Sings” the pleasant “One Heartbeat” and innocuous “Just to See Her” went top ten (the angry third single “Love Don’t Need No Reasons,” recounting how his dad left him and his mom, didn’t come close). “Cruisin’,” however. This number, cowritten with guitarist Marv Taplin, sports a groove so airy and lithe that he could’ve sailed to the Galapagos on it, and a chorus so indelible and lovestruck that Bruce Springsteen allegedly filled a C-90 tape just with the chorus.

And he produced it himself.

1. You Really Got a Hold on Me
2. The Love I Saw in You Was Just a Mirage
3. Tracks of My Tears
4. Let Me Be the Clock
5. I Second That Emotion
6. The Agony and the Ecstasy
7. Cruisin’
8. Choosey Beggar
9. (Come ‘Round Here) I’m the One You Need
10. More Love
11. The Tears Of A Clown
12. Going to a Go-Go
13. Being With You
14. Quiet Storm
15. Shop Around
16. Mickey’s Monkey
17. Love Don’t Give No Reason
18. I’ll Try Something New
19. (You Can) Depend On Me
20. Yester Love

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4 Responses to You gave the illusion: Best of Smokey Robinson

  1. markwrite57 says:

    “Being With You” was a stunning anomaly on urban radio in 1981, at least to my ears, one of the few times I experienced a Greil Marcusian “time stops and I fell off a cliff while this song played” moment but in retrospect you’re right about it and his lack of a milestone LP in the 70s though cuts like “Let Me Be The Clock” and “Baby That’s Back At Ya” are more than minor pleasures.

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