Smokey Robinson has an impressive resume. He’s been inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, among many other honors. Words like “visionary” and “pioneer” get thrown around a lot when talking about artists, but these words do truly apply to Robinson. He has helped define the motown sound since its inception.
Robinson actually started the entire motown scene when he was in high school. He started the group The Miracles while there, and the group included Berry Gordy. Gordy, encouraged by Robinson, would go on to found Motown Records, and consequently create an entire genre of music (smokeyrobinson.com).
Robinson wrote and recorded Motown’s first number one hit, “Shop Around.” This song, like many early Motown recordings, appealed to youth culture. The subject matter discusses approaching the age of marriage, and taking a mother’s advice to “shop around” before settling down. This appealed to teenagers, and helped make the new, urban R&B sound become popular.
Thanks in part to the success that Robinson brought to Motown Records, other influential artists also signed with the company. Those artists included Diana Ross, The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye. Eventually, Robinson became Vice President of the company, and was also a talent scout and songwriter for the label’s artists. Both in front of the mic and behind it, Robinson played a large role in shaping the motown sound (motownmuseum.org).
His best-known and most-covered song is probably “My Girl.” This song, released in 1964, quickly became a number-one hit. Again, the lyrics appealed to young listeners. It’s a simple story about how much the speaker loves his girlfriend. However, much of the music’s power comes from the instrumental tracks and not just the vocals. It utilizes a throbbing bass line, and a strong backbeat from the very first measure to the end. This effect makes it an ideal song to which to dance. Even today, much popular music and dance music emphasizes the same musical aspects; the bass and backbeat are a staple in club music.
After Motown Records was sold in the 80s, Robinson moved on to a solo career, where her continued to put out many hits. One of his most popular hits of this time period was “Cruisin’.” Again, the lyrics focus on love and relationships. One of the most well-known lines in all of Robinson’s repertoire is included in this song: “and if you want it, you got it forever” he then continues, “this is not a one-night stand.” While one could rightfully argue that these lyrics could appeal to people of any age, again it seems they particularly appeal to young people just learning about love in their own lives. The rest of the lyrics follow this theme, and refer to love in a way similar to “My Girl.” The speaker is exalting the simple things about a love relationship. In this case, he’s talking about “letting the music take your mind” while driving around together with his significant other.
Robinson’s music, as well as his songwriting and producing, helped to define an entire genre that is still going strong today. It’s no surprise that his music has won so many awards and that even today, decades after he first came on the scene, he is still playing to sold-out audiences around the world.
“Biography.” Smokey Robinson. n.p., n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2014.
“History of Motown.” Motown Museum. n.p., n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2014
“Smokey Robinson." Wikipedia. Wikipedia, n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2014.