Smokey Robinson and the Miracles: Gold

You can count the number of songwriters who have matched Robinson's achievements on the fingers of one stump.

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles


Label: Motown
US Release Date: 2006-08-08
UK Release Date: Available as import

I'd read about the song "You Really Got a Hold on Me" by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles long before I ever heard it. In his novel The Wanderers, Richard Price wrote about this song in a way that's stayed with me ever since. Like Kevin Rowland singing "This Is What She's Like", I can't actually remember what Price wrote, but I can remember even today how very deeply it affected me.

And then when I heard it? Well, wow.

Skip forward a few weeks, or maybe months. Price's book has been read and returned to the library. And my best friend's cute sister has just finished playing me her favourite song ("I'm Still Waiting" by Diana Ross). Suddenly, before she can press "Stop" and "Rewind" on her second hand mono tape deck, this quite glorious sound emerges. Just a simple piano-led introduction, a gentle swell of instrumentation and then:

I don't like you, but I love you

Seems that I'm always thinkin` of you

Though-oh-oh you treat me badly, I love you madly

You really got a hold on me

Everyday words taking flight on a melody, elevated by a voice unlike any other I'd ever heard. It was love at first sight. And the song wasn't half bad either. Indeed, it was everything Richard Price had told me it would be. Music to lose your virginity to. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles have had a very special place in my heart ever since.

Touching personal anecdotes aside, William "Smokey" Robinson has a special place in musical history anyway. After all, it would hardly be stretching a point to say that without him, there would have been no Motown Records. Because after working with Berry Gordy Jr. on a couple of Miracles recordings that were licensed to other labels, it was Robinson who suggested that Gordy should maybe start his own record label. And it was Robinson who wrote such solid gold hits as "My Guy" (Mary Wells) and "My Girl" (Temptations) for other successful Motown artists, Robinson who served as Vice President of the label for almost 30 years, and Robinson who even felt so committed and connected to the label that he named his two kids Berry and Tamla.

All very impressive, yes? But not as astounding as Robinson and his Miracles at their best.

The earliest Miracles' records were doo wop based. Examples featured on Gold such as "Bad Girl" and "You Can Depend on Me" immediately display both the purity and precision of Robinson's vocals and the deft way he had with words and melody. Interestingly, both songs were co-written with Berry Gordy Jr, as was the even earlier single "Got a Job", which is not included here.

From their roots in doo wop, the Miracles rapidly moved on to record good-hearted, rollocking dance classics such as "Shop Around" and "Mickey's Monkey", and developed a sound that became the authoritative '60s R&B blueprint. For dancing, the Miracles gave you "I Second That Emotion" and "Going to a Go-Go". And then they offered you torch or smooch material with the quality of "Ooh Baby Baby" and, of course, "You Really Got a Hold on Me".

If this was, as Gordy liked to boast, the Sound of Young America, then Young ROTW wanted in. Because Smokey Robinson was a craftsman of the highest calibre, and on numbers like "I'll Try Something New" and "Tracks of My Tears", his lyrics flowed with a peerless grace and beauty. Forget the hollow claims of people like KRS-1, T La Rock, and even Ini Kamoze, no one can flow quite like Smokey.

And you can count the number of songwriters who have matched his achievements on the fingers of one stump. Forgetting his work for others in the Motown clan and elsewhere, Robinson's songs for the Miracles alone have been covered by the likes of the Rolling Stones and Japan, Elvis Costello and Linda Ronstadt. Indeed, no less a judge than Bob Dylan once famously described Robinson as "America's greatest living poet", and he probably meant it. The combination of Robinson's song-writing, his amazing vocal prowess, and the standard-setting Tamla Motown arrangements made Smokey Robinson & The Miracles one of the decade-defining recording groups of the '60s. It also guaranteed that their work together would stand the test of time.

Today, more than 40 years after the Miracles recorded "The Tracks of My Tears" and "Going to a Go-Go", the release of Gold proves this point in hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades. To hear the relentless and inspirational beat of "Going to a Go-Go" followed by the high impact sweet soul drama of "(Come 'Round Here) I'm the One You Need" is to find yourself down on your knees and worshipping in the Church of Miracles. Sho. Nuff.

Unfortunately and inevitably, this two-CD Gold collection is neither as definitive nor as wonderful as it should be. First, it omits top notch songs such as "Choosey Beggar" and "What's So Good About Goodbye". And then it chooses to ignore the important singles "Got a Job" and "Abraham, Martin, & John". Of course, "Abraham, Martin, & John" wasn't actually written by Robinson, but the Miracles version of the Dick Holler song was a big U.S. hit and no collection of their material can be considered complete if it doesn't include both this and the band's first ever single, "Got a Job".

The second disc in this package, however, features just four Miracles performances and no fewer than 13 of Smokey Robinson's solo recordings. In effect, when you do the math, this sequencing is saying that Robinson's solo career was fully half as important as his work with the Miracles. Sadly, despite the very genuine splendour of his single "Being With You" and the arguable influence of "Quiet Storm", this just isn't anything like the case.





Man Alive! Is a Continued Display of the Grimy-Yet-Refined Magnetism of King Krule

Following The OOZ and its accolades, King Krule crafts a similarly hazy gem with Man Alive! that digs into his distinct aesthetic rather than forges new ground.


The Kinks and Their Bad-Mannered English Decency

Mark Doyles biography of the Kinks might complement a seminar in British culture. Its tone and research prove its intent to articulate social critique through music for the masses.


ONO Confronts American Racial Oppression with the Incendiary 'Red Summer'

Decades after their initial formation, legendary experimentalists ONO have made an album that's topical, vital, uncomfortable, and cathartic. Red Summer is an essential documentation of the ugliness and oppression of the United States.


Silent Women Filmmakers No Longer So Silent: Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers

The works of silent filmmakers Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers were at risk of being forever lost. Kino Lorber offers their works on Blu-Ray. Three cheers for film historians and film restoration.


Rush's 'Permanent Waves' Endures with Faultless Commercial Complexity

Forty years later, Rush's ability to strike a nearly perfect balance between mainstream invitingness and exclusory complexity is even more evident and remarkable. The progressive rock classic, Permanent Waves, is celebrating its 40th anniversary.


Drum Machines? Samples? Brendan Benson Gets Contemporary with 'Dear Life'

Powerpop overlord and part-time Raconteur, Brendan Benson, grafts hip-hop beats to guitar pop on his seventh solo album, Dear Life.


'Sell You Everything' Brings to Light Buzzcocks '1991 Demo LP' That Passed Under-the-Radar

Cherry Red Records' new box-set issued in memory of Pete Shelley gathers together the entire post-reunion output of the legendary Buzzcocks. Across the next week, PopMatters explores the set album-by-album. First up is The 1991 Demo LP.


10 Key Tracks From the British Synthpop Boom of 1980

It's 40 years since the first explosion of electronic songs revitalized the UK charts with futuristic subject matter, DIY aesthetics, and occasionally pompous lyrics. To celebrate, here's a chronological list of those Moog-infused tracks of 1980 that had the biggest impact.

Reading Pandemics

Poe, Pandemic, and Underlying Conditions

To read Edgar Allan Poe in the time of pandemic, we need to appreciate a very different aspect of his perspective—not that of a mimetic artist but of the political economist.


'Yours, Jean' Is a Perfect Mixture of Tragedy, Repressed Desire, and Poor Impulse Control

Lee Martin's Yours, Jean is a perfectly balanced and heartbreaking mix of true crime narrative and literary fiction.


The 60 Best Albums of 2007

From tech house to Radiohead and Americana to indie and everything in between, the 60 best albums of 2007 included many of the 2000s' best albums.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Solitude Stands in the Window: Thoreau's 'Walden'

Henry David Thoreau's Walden as a 19th century model for 21st century COVID-19 quarantine.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.