3D Great Rock Bible
The Miracles + Smokey Robinson & The Miracles iTunes Tracks

The Miracles

+ {Smokey Robinson & The Miracles}

The once thriving city of Detroit, Michigan, spawned some first-rate urban R&B acts of their era, and up there with the best of them were The MIRACLES. Fronted by the uniquely sharp vocal tones of Bill “Smokey” Robinson, the all-singing group were behind some of the most majestic and top-selling singles of the era, namely `Shop Around’, `You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me’, `The Tracks Of My Tears’, `Going To A Go-Go’, `I Second That Emotion’ and the belatedly released 1970 numero uno `The Tears Of A Clown’.
A towering talent, SMOKEY ROBINSON was famously dubbed “America’s greatest living poet” by none other than BOB DYLAN. With a creamy falsetto vocal and a headful of lovestruck metaphors, “Smokey” led the Tamla Motown-endorsed outfit on their chart crusade throughout the 60s and early 70s until his understandable quest for solo stardom. But that did not stop The MIRACLES penetrating the disco scene and having a second chart-topper by way of 1975’s `Love Machine (Part 1)’ – too little, too late, some would retort, as it turned out to be their swansong chart entry.
1955 was the year that the group came together, at first as the Five Chimes and, then, a few years later, as The Matadors. Friends since the age of eleven, Smokey, Ronald “Ron” White and Warren “Pete” Moore had by then chosen Emerson “Sonny” Rogers and his cousin Bobby Rogers to supersede Clarence Dawson and the soon-to-be wed James Grice. When Sonny left to join the army in ‘57, in stepped his sister Claudette Rogers (from The Matadorettes), who struck up a relationship with Smokey, whom she married in the fall of ‘59.
Subsequently rejected for their PLATTERS-like line-up by Alonzo Tucker and Nat Tarnapol at Brunswick Records, there was one auditioner that Smokey and Co impressed: staff songwriter Berry Gordy, Jr. Under his guidance, and re-named The MIRACLES, the quintet emerged from the studio with `Got A Job’, the track a riposte to The Silhouettes’ number 1 smash, `Get A Job’. George Goldner’s End Records would also back the group’s second attempt, `Money’.
Armed with a notebook of songs, Smokey was desperate to find an outlet for his work, and so too was Berry who’d achieved little financially so far save some credits for JACKIE WILSON. While Tamla (Motown) was founded during this period, distribution was still a moot point for summer/autumn ’59 singles, `It’ (credited at first to “Ron & Bill”) and `Bad Girl’. With help from Argo Records and kinship base Chess, the latter platter hit the Hot 100; `The Feeling Is So Fine’ needed no outsider stamp of approval. Short on identity after an Apollo Theater gig did not create the stir intended, Smokey and Co added guitarist Marv Tarplin to become a unique 6-piece for The MIRACLES follow-up 45, `Way Over There’.
Taking time out to assess just where their post-doo wop/soul sounds could and should go, in autumn 1960, Robinson slipped out the ace from his sleeve by way of `Shop Around’. Climbing steadily up the hit parade, an appearance on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” more or less led to the song eventually lifting Tamla to just one spot off the top. With doors now open to let the cool talent of Smokey smoulder within, modest hits (`Ain’t It, Baby’, `Mighty Good Lovin’ and `Everybody’s Gotta Pay Some Dues’) kept the group afloat while they were finding their feet; reasons: Smokey had caught Asian flu, his wife Claudette had a miscarriage after an automobile accident and Pete was drafted into the army. In the process, it might’ve been nigh-on impossible to promote two non-charting LPs released in 1961: HI… WE’RE THE MIRACLES {*6} – highlighting the previous year’s work without Marv – and COOKIN’ WITH THE MIRACLES {*6} – an update so far.
It was clear that with Top 40 breakers `What’s So Good About Good-by’ and the title piece from parent set, I’LL TRY SOMETHING NEW (1962) {*5}, that attracting fans to buy into their long-players was going to be difficult. Nostalgia and Broadway show tunes were again limiting the potential for the harmonising sextet to find their niche within the market, exampled here by fillers `I’ve Got You Under My Skin’, `On The Street Where You Live’ plus `Speak Low’ (and for that matter, `Embraceable You’, from their previous set).
With no less than four LPs released in 1963 (THE FABULOUS MIRACLES {*6}, THE MIRACLES RECORDED LIVE ON STAGE {*4}, doin’ MICKEY’S MONKEY {*5} and CHRISTMAS WITH THE MIRACLES {*5}), a saturation point had been crossed over for an combo not as yet in the comfort zone among the top singles artists. Still, with the Robinson-penned ballads `You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me’ and `A Love She Can Count On’ beating a path up the hit parade, and the upbeat `Mickey’s Monkey’ and `I Gotta Dance To Keep From Crying’, creating a similar pattern but keeping fans on their toes, the depleted group (still pictured without Pete) were winning over the youth.
Smokey, meanwhile, was earning extra financial benefits by taking on the position of top in-house songwriter for Gordy’s Tamla/Motown roster of acts, acts that included MARY WELLS (`My Guy’), The TEMPTATIONS (`My Girl’), The MARVELETTES, BRENDA HOLLOWAY, MARVIN GAYE et al. For his troubles he was made company vice-president, becoming Gordy’s right-hand man during his lifelong tenure at the label (he even named his kids Berry and Tamla!).
On the back of an album that was withdrawn in the States but exported to Britain a year later (I LIKE IT LIKE THAT (1964/65) {*6} showcasing the Top 30 title track hit), all the efforts of Smokey and the co-production team of Frank Wilson and William “Mickey” Stevenson (not forgetting Pete on arrangements) went into the four-strong-hit-machine of album, GOING TO A GO-GO (1965) {*8}. Comprising Top 20 movers and shakers, `Ooo Baby Baby’, `The Tracks Of My Tears’, `My Girl Has Gone’ and the title track (their Top 50 breakthrough in Britain), the team had finally danced their way into the heart of the Top 10. While the chart positions never really reflected the greatness of these songs, the sheer volume of Top 50 hits (including newbies `Whole Lotta Shakin’ In My Heart (Since I Met You)’ and `(Come ‘Round Here) I’m The One You Need’) at least partly made up for their lack of consistency.
Ironically, while the main man himself was in-demand elsewhere, Tamla only included four from his repertoire when they billed follow-up set, AWAY WE A GO-GO (1966) {*6} to SMOKEY ROBINSON & THE MIRACLES. Crossover material stemming from `You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’ (a hit for DUSTY), BACHARACH-DAVID (`I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’ and `Walk On By’), plus others from the busying pens of Holland-Dozier-Holland, Norman Whitfield, Ivy Jo Hunter and STEVIE WONDER, the sheer scale of the arrangements and orchestras suffocated the set somewhat.
Duly working with two sets of producers (Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier or STEVIE WONDER’s Henry/Hank Cosby), MAKE IT HAPPEN (1967) {*8} was arguably their most underrated LPs of the time; formidable finale piece `The Tears Of A Clown’ (scribed with the WONDER team) was unreleased as single for three years until it became their all-time transatlantic best-seller. The fact is that any number of tracks could’ve matched or eclipsed that of attendant Top 30 hits, `The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage’ and `More Love’, even a fragile re-vamp of LITTLE ANTHONY & THE IMPERIALS’ `I’m On The Outside (Looking In)’. Sadly, there was no room on board for the Top 5 (UK Top 30) gemstone, `I Second That Emotion’.
As usual only photo-shoots of the main vocal quartet (Smokey, Pete, Ronnie and Bobby) were projected on to their products; auxiliary vocalist Claudette and guitarist Marv steering clear of any promo publicity pics. 1968’s SPECIAL OCCASION {*6} – hosting a trio of big hitters, `If You Can Want’ (#11), `Yester Love’ (#31) and the title track (#26) – was also driven by back-to-back covers of Whitfield-Strong’s `I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ (soon-to-be a smash for MARVIN GAYE) and LENNON-McCARTNEY’s `Yesterday’.
Shoring up a little time on homecoming concert set, LIVE! (1969) {*6} – recorded at the Roostertail Club – the Top 30 TIME OUT FOR SMOKEY ROBINSON & THE MIRACLES (1969) {*5} collected together their most recent hits (`Baby, Baby Don’t Cry’, the double-A `Doggone Right’ / `Here I Go Again’, plus `Dick Holler’s tribute `Abraham, Martin And John’), alongside pointless re-hashes of `My Girl’, `The Composer’ – Smokey’s hit for The SUPREMES, JIMMY WEBB’s `Wichita Lineman’ and the STEVIE WONDER smash `For Once In My Life’.
Reaching a formulaic stand-off by way of subsequent sets, FOUR IN BLUE (1969) {*5}, the mostly covers (mini-set!) WHAT LOVE HAS… JOINED TOGETHER (1970) {*5} and A POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES (1970) {*4}, Smokey’s songs were few and far between. Roping in writing teams such as Al Cleveland & Terry Johnson (staples from ’68), ASHFORD & SIMPSON, among others, renditions of the day’s hits seemed to take precedence; the group also re-arranged versions of The BEATLES’ `Hey Jude’, `And I Love Her’ and `Something’. The last of these albums was the only one to emerge with modest hit singles, but compared to the in-coming lightning-bolt of “The Tears…”, `Point It Out’ and `Who’s Gonna Take The Blame’, took a secondary role.
Success had indeed been patchier at the turn of the decade as artists like STEVIE WONDER and MARVIN GAYE pushed for more creative control, while The TEMPTATIONS veered soulfully psychedelic under the aegis of Norman Whitfield. Co-produced by Henry Cosby, ONE DOZEN ROSES (1971) {*6} – featuring three current hits (`I Don’t Blame You At All’, `Crazy About The La La La’ and `Satisfaction’) – also regurgitated old haunts, `The Tears Of A Clown’ and a re-tread of Robinson’s MARVELETTES cut `The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game’.
1972’s FLYING HIGH TOGETHER {*5}, had little of Smokey’s input. Instead, it was down to producer JOHNNY BRISTOL (an artist in his own right) to pit his own co-contributions by way of the Top 50 `We’ve Come Too Far To End It Now’ and `I Can’t Stand To See You Cry’, with that of the standard shoots of `Betcha By Golly Wow’ (a STYLISTICS staple), a few STEVIE WONDER/SYREETA songs and the cinematic lush of `Theme From Love Story’.
Aged 32, the wasting talent of SMOKEY ROBINSON signed off for a solo career after a farewell, career-endorsing concert double-set, 1957-1972 (1972) {*7}, that uniquely introduced his successor, William “Billy” Griffin, to the fold on the concluding cut of `Going To A Go-Go’. One could almost taste the tears of a crowd, probably unaware of the significance of Smokey’s sayonara.
While never recreating the magic of the Smokey years, the second phase of The MIRACLES continued fairly reasonably right up until the mid-70s when they secured a massive transatlantic smash with the aforementioned `Love Machine (Part 1)’. Up to then, hits had been thin on the ground, with only the title track from 1974’s DO IT BABY {*6} reaching the heights set by Gordy at Tamla. Prior to this STYLISTICS-stealing spotlight, modest hits `Don’t Let It End (Til You Let It Begin)’ and `Don’t Cha Love It’ (respectively spawned from the poor sales of RENAISSANCE (1973) {*6} and DON’T CHA LOVE IT (1975) {*4}), couldn’t hide the fact that they were missing Smokey.
The “Love Machine” album, CITY OF ANGELS (1975) {*6}, was certainly adventurous in its loosely-fitting sequined concept that dealt with the West Coast gay scene as much as the days of disco when it was glam to be gay or glitzy while under the lights of the mirror-ball. If fans were reeling after Smokey’s burn-out, The MIRACLES had found a niche in the market to counteract NY’s Studio 54 scene. Star-struck and a prequel to the “Saturday Night Fever” about to engross the globe, `Ain’t Nobody Straight In L.A.’ and `My Name Is Michael’, proved that “going to a go-go” was old hat.
After THE POWER OF MUSIC (1976) {*3} failed to charge up its fickle audience, a switch from Tamla to Columbia Records proved even less fruitful. The full promotion of Billy’s brother Donald Griffin on guitar (who’d earlier sessioned for the group) changed the dynamics of the combo once again, and he stuck around for a couple of sets, LOVE CRAZY (1977) {*4} and THE MIRACLES (1978) {*4}. Bobby and Ronnie subsequently roped in fresh blood Dave Finley and Carl Cotton, but called it a day in 1983. A decade on, Sidney Justin would fill the berth of Cotton (who was murdered in 2003), although when Ronnie died of leukaemia on August 26, 1995, the trio carried on until 2001 when the addition of Tee Turner revived The MIRACLES once more; they’d come full circle in 2005 with the addition of Claudette Robinson, now long-since divorced from Smokey.
© MC Strong 1994-2000/GRD // rev-up MCS Dec2015

Share this Project

Leave a Comment