What songs define the career of Smokey Robinson? What are Smokey Robinson's most important tracks? From one of Smokey Robinson's first songwriting collaborations with Motown impresario Berry Gordy in 1959 to the Number Two 1981 pop hit "Being With You," this illustrated history and timeline of key musical moments in Smokey Robinson's career showcases the enduring impact of his music.
As part of its Digital Classroom, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's education department provides an introduction to rock history as told through the songs that shaped rock and roll. Students and teachers can explore and find tools, strategies and resources including lesson plans, listening guides and exclusive multimedia content, including infographics like the one featured above.
Motown was like the soundtrack of my household. That's pretty much all we played, so I was enormously familiar with Smokey Robinson, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, as well as all the Motown stuff that Smokey wrote.
He was my first example of a songwriter. Period. Not only was he an artist that wrote for himself, but he wrote for all these other artists. And there were all these hits, and it was like, man, this guy is like really working towards the betterment of music, and the betterment of like lyrics.
So as I grew and got into poetry, got into music, I was very much a student of Smokey Robinson, very much a big fan of a lot of his songs that he created, and just all the things he was doing.
It really helped me when I got into the industry and became a songwriter and was pretty well-known and was trying to become an artist as well, most of the labels ...
I didn't even realize the impact that Smokey Robinson had on me until a few years ago, but his influence is so far-reaching. You can't listen to music - particularly American music - without being touched by Smokey.
I think my first introduction to him was through the Jackson 5, through [the Jackson 5 song] "Who's Lovin' You."
And I was just a huge Jackson 5 fan. I knew all the songs. I loved the Motown sound and just music that was coming up from that time.
I didn't know until a few years ago that Smokey Robinson had written ["Who's Lovin' You"].
So, the fact that I'm going get to sing it to honor him at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is really trippy.
It's such an incredible song. The way he writes about love is unparalleled. He is the original person to sing, to write about, to really capture the feeling of longing, and being in love, and ...
In this interview, 1987 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Smokey Robinson reflects on first time at the Apollo Theater and being inducted to the Hall of Fame. Don't miss the Rock Hall's Music Masters tribute concert to Smokey Robinson on Saturday, November 7, 2015.
Wow, to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was such a surprise to me, it was such an honor, such a joyful time for me.
I believe, if I'm not mistaken, I was inducted on the second induction [in 1987]. The first induction was Elvis Presley and, oh gosh, Little Richard [in 1986]. But I never thought that I would be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It just was something that I said, "Oh wow, this is great."
And they started the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And it's like a dream. It's like you have this thought that you'd like to be there. You'd love to be recognized like that. It's like when the Miracles and I first went to the Apollo Theater, ever. It was our first really professional date.
We had never really been too ...
Ask any Clevelander who heard Smokey Robinson perform here early on in his career, and they’ll likely tell you about Leo’s Casino.
Leo’s Casino, designated a historic rock and roll landmark by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999, stood at 7500 Euclid Avenue on Cleveland’s east side. From the time it opened in 1963, Leo’s featured Motown artists on a regular basis. “It was a very important club to us,” Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr., told The Plain Dealer. The Supremes, the Four Tops, the Temptations, Stevie Wonder, and – of course – Smokey Robinson and the Miracles were among the acts that played there, often using the 700-seat, racially integrated venue to hone their acts.
Throughout the 1960s, the Miracles returned to Leo’s Casino at least once a year for a four-evening stint, performing as many as three shows each night. One of these performances was even filmed in 1966 for a nationally televised documentary on the Miracles. In addition to playing Leo’s traditional “Sweater Night” Thursdays, men’s nights and ladies’ nights, the Miracles – described as “a handsome young group of vocalists” by Cleveland’s Call and Post in 1965 ...
"The Tears of a Clown," which is one of the biggest songs and the biggest records that I have ever been associated with as a record artist.
We used to have social gatherings. We had Christmas parties every Christmas. And like I said, all of the others are Motown were very, very, very close. One of my closest brothers is Stevie Wonder. I love Stevie Wonder, okay. And so Stevie came to me at a Christmas party, he said, "Smoke man, I got this track, man, that I've recorded here."
And he said: "It's a great track… but I can't think of a song to go with this track. … listen to this for me and see if you can come up with a song for it." So I said okay. So I took the track, and I took it home and I listened to it.
And when I first heard the track, the track that he gave me that night was complete. It's the one that's on the record. He had already recorded the track and did the music and all that. And so the first thing I hear is [the main theme] – so that ...
Smokey Robinson is celebrated for two great and distinct contributions: his work as producer/composer and as a performer. Put these two elements together and you have the Smokey Robinson aesthetic, one of the most lyrical in the history of American pop music.
So, what is the Smokey Robinson aesthetic?
Its salient characteristics are sensitivity, sweetness and poetic invention. Both as writer and singer, Smokey is an unapologetic romantic, a man who trades in extravagant emotional expression. The signature Smokey sound carries a mesmerizing mixture of heartache and hunger, sensual pleasure and erotic longing.
Since he burst on the scene with his Miracles in 1957, he has elevated the art of R&B with a high soaring tenor that is an instrument of rare flexibility, a delicate reed of quiet beauty.
Looking back at his pre-teen work, Michael Jackson said: “Smokey was one of the artists who influenced me most deeply. I studied his singing group, the Miracles ...
Debates about the predominance of singer over song (or vice versa) reign eternal. The Temptations' "My Girl" makes a case for the song. It has one of the most memorable melodies of the rock era, one of Smokey Robinson's most memorable lyrics, and a choral structure that could serve any harmony group from early-1950s doo-woppers to Boyz II Men. Here, meaning comes just as much from atmospheric production and arrangement (also by Robinson, with fellow Miracle Ronnie White) as it does from the song itself. The sound has the ozone-intoxicated feeling you get after a summer thunderstorm. Bass and guitar parts – particularly that unforgettable intro – rank with the era's most exquisite, and also set up the declamatory crooning of lead vocal. Perhaps the most thrilling moment comes with the soaring bridge: strings and guitar shimmer against the Temptations' hey hey hey, out of which Ruffin emerges with a swooping yet understated oooh yeah. The offhanded ejaculation gives the rest of the lyrics' romanticism complete credibility.
The Temptations are among the artists featured in the Detroit section of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's Cities and Sound exhibit, part of the Museum's permanent collection.