Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
The Miracles were one of Motown’s major music groups. Unlike the Temptations, they weren’t known for their flashy clothes or dance movies. They also did not have the kind of smash hits associated with groups like Diana Ross and the Supremes (although still had quite a few). Instead, the Miracles were known for the sheer power of their music, a great deal of which can be attributed to the contributions of Smokey Robinson.
Robinson’s voice was perfect for a rhythm and blues singer, with a raspy edge that carried over into his falsetto. It was especially notable in songs such as “The Tracks of My Tears” and “The Tears of a Clown.” Along with singers such as Marv Tarplin and, later, Billy Griffin, the Miracles recorded songs such as “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” “Love Machine,” and “I Second That Emotion.” Smokey Robinson had already departed by the time they released “Love Machine,” but Griffin was able to establish himself with the assistance of smooth soul singers such as Ronnie White and Bobby Rogers. His voice was smoother and less raspy, but ultimately able to carry the Miracles, who had become known as the “soul supergroup” of Motown.
Regardless of melody or tempo, each of the above songs (with the exception of “Love Machine”) had one key thing in common. They were all written by Smokey Robinson, sometimes with the help of other writers such as Al Cleveland or Stevie Wonder. He was responsible for both the melodies and the lyrics, and he was able to write both their faster singles as well as their sadder ballads. It comes as no major surprise that he continued to write songs for other musicians for quite some time after leaving the Miracles.
The songs that Smokey Robinson wrote for the Miracles were essential to the group’s early success. He had a number of key songs, such as “Way Over There” and “Bad Girl,” but the first real hit that he wrote for the group was “Shop Around.” The group had been active for close to five years when the song was released in 1960 (although they had originally worked under other names such as the Five Chimes and the Matadors), and Robinson stayed with the group until 1972. While they would continue for another six years with Billy Griffin and continue on from 1978 to 2011 with Bobby Rogers (and Ronnie White, up to his death in 1995), the overwhelming majority of their hit songs were released during Smokey Robinson’s tenure.
Aside from a great appreciation for his musicality, many considered Smokey Robinson to be one of the nicest guys in Detroit. He worked well with other writers and musicians, which enabled him to co-write some of the Miracles’ classic hits with other big names from Motown. The Miracles were a superb soul group with or without him, but the six-year period during which their name was changed to Smokey Robinson and the Miracles in order to showcase their lead singer’s name was the most successful period in the group’s history by far.
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