Skip to comments.Interview with Smokey Robinson (my thoughts re "Spectacle" episode with Elvis Costello)
Posted on 11/18/2012 12:21:48 AM PST by txnuke
Spectacle is a TV show you can find on cable or Netflix. It is an Elton John production featuring Elvis Costello as the interviewer.
Elvis Costello introduced Smokey Robinson with a musical number. Then he said something that I thought was a great and succinct summation about meeting Smokey Robinson: "If Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, and Groucho Marx came out and sat down, I could not [be more pleased and impressed.]"
If found it fascinating that Smokey showed up with a necklace and a Christian cross displayed prominently. I don't know anything about Smokey's faith or practice, but this little detail did not go unnoticed!
Smokey talks about "Tears of a Clown", then recounts his meeting with Ray Charles.
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles played at the Apollo Theater and they were impressed with the photos of Ella Fitzgerald and other stars. They were from Detroit and they had to learn how to work at the Apollo. "Bad Girl" was a song they had written but it had no band arrangements (brass). The Ray Charles band was the backing band for the acts at the Apollo on their week. (He said that it "must have been God's will".) Ray asked "Do any of you kids know your songs?" and Smokey said yes. He played a verse and Ray Charles (on the spot) played it "like he wrote it", then directed the brass and the rest of the backing band how to accompany: guitars, bass, saxaphones and everthing right there! Smokey said from that point on he would go wherever whenever to work with Ray Charles.
Smokey quoted Jackie Wilson and Frankie Lymon as two of his influences.
They talked about sampling, which does not bother Smokey, and he said that he found it to be a compliment if someone uses a "sample" of his songs in writing their own".
They talked about songwriting. Smokey said that if you hear a person singing a song that he wrote, then in general, he wrote that song for that specific artist. (Or if it was one that he and/or the Miracles sang first, then he wrote it for himself or for himself and the band).
He talked about the "Motown family". He talked about being friends with Marvin Gaye, seeing him take a song and make it his own, "Marvinize it" so to speak, and do things with the song that the writer did not imagine in the first place.
"Tracks of my Tears" was covered by a lot of artists. Smokey never felt concerned that someone else covered the songs he wrote. He wrote songs that he hoped would last 50 years or more and still be meaningful. He then sings the chorus of the song. Nice!
Elvis performs a short musical interlude.
Then Elvis and Smokey discussed "The Hunter gets captured by the Game" for a minute or so.
Then Smokey Robinson sings part of the Norah Jones song that he said he loves: "Don't Know Why". Smokey is still a wonderful singer and it shows!
A long time ago, on a set, Berry Gordy talked with Smokey Robinson and complimented him on his songwriting. Since Berry asked if there was any more, Smokey said he sang 20 songs or more and got feedback from Berry Gordy. Smokey got some teaching from Berry!! IMHO, for someone who loves R&B, this was like learning something about Billy Graham's Sunday School teacher.
In 1973 (the year of "Living for the City") Smokey wrote a song inspired by the music of his guitarist, Marv Tarplin. The song was "Just my Soul Responding". Smokey said that it was a song before its time, because the world is wiser on those issues now than it was then. They did not discuss it much, but it came from Smokey's personal experiences. "Going to a Go-Go" was one example of a song inspired by Marv Tarplin (others included "Cruisin" and "Tracks of my Tears"). Lots of Marv's musical (guitar) riffs inspired Smokey's writing. In fact, Smokey said that certain musical riffs by Marv inspired more than one song over the years.
As a result of the previous discussion (about "Just My Soul Responding"), they waxed philosophical about love, prejudice and race.
"Hitsville" was not a big space physically! In fact, it was a small building. The Motown Sound was not something in the air in Detroit. The artists, producers and engineers were responsible for the "Motown Sound" and the songs were recorded all over, in New York, and in London, etc. Bass player James Jameson was mentioned specifically. Elvis also talked about choreography and how bands incorporated dance into their shows.
Elvis Costello said the very first album he ever owned was "With the Beatles". Track 10 was written by Smokey Robinson! Smokey sang "You Really Got a Hold on Me" with Elvis and an excellent backup band. VERY NICE!
I recommend watching this episode (and most of the other episodes) of "Spectacle".
This review / write up is for your pleasure!
Remember the days before gangsta rap? Life was so normal then (not easy, just normal). It feels like I’m living inside an ugly cartoon now where black is white and up is down.
Very nice article. Thanks!
There are several songs from the show with Smokey Robinson on YouTube including You Really Got a Hold on Me.
Hard to believe that it has been 35 years since Elvis Costello burst on the the scene in the U.S. Boy, he sure has aged well. Still has the best voice in R&R.
Here's his Saturday Night Live debut in 1977 that got him in such trouble with the show.
‘You Really Got A Hold On Me.’
Great sound for ‘submarine race watching’ back in the day.
Thanks for the post.
Elvis Costello was after my time but man, did I love Smokey Robinson! I was working my way through college working part-time as a disc jockey at radio stations from 1962 to 1966 and it was great to hear Smokey and similar artists on the station’s earphones and speakers (believe me, it sounded better than what was on the air). They sounded great.
Too bad that today’s young people have to listen to the crap that passes for pop music.
Yup. Black artists put out incredible quality stuff clear up to the early ‘80s... and then the cancer of rap hit. It was like AIDS to modern music. The quicker it dies, the better, but it’s gone on now for almost 30 years. Sickening.
Thanks for posting this!
‘Cruisin’ was my choice for the first dance at my wedding but the band didn’t know it. It told my fiancee that for $4,000 they should learn it. Unfortunately I didn’t get my way.
If ever there was an example of progress making things worse it is the evolution of Motown to Hip Hop and Rap.
Sort of the way Be-bop jazz (self indulgent cr** for the most part) virtually put an end to Swing jazz, one of the greatest American art forms and music genres ever.
Smokey Robinson is a CLASS act! Thanks for the post!
Smokey and Elvis
Just curious: what year did you get married? No matter what year, "Cruisin" would be a song a good cover band should know. And, yeah! for that amound of money, they SHOULD learn it!! LOL
Heh. Fascinating! I wish I had experienced "being a disc jockey", even if it had been on a small radio station, or a college station or whatever. There is very little out there in the way of a playlist generated by a person without the help of the recording industry, the advertising department, computer-generated lists for a target audience, etc etc. I guess maybe on satellite radio and maybe some on the internet?
Oh! Well, radio paradise dot com is something I've enjoyed for quite a few years now. Its playlist is crafted by a guy and his girlfriend or wife I think. And its GREAT!! Songs that you don't generally associate with one another flow naturally and enhance each other. You can sometimes tell the theme (for lack of a better word) of the songs that are being picked. Also, one song will lead to another in ways that show that a HUMAN BEING is behind the programming. And there are no ads, except a short station identifier every once in a while. They are "listener supported". I don't think I have ever heard the same song twice on there. (As you are probably aware, many stations have a "rotation" list, which means of course that you go back to the top and start over at some point.) Radio Paradise opened my eyes to new songs and artists (and to some degree, genres) that I had not heard before.
Their website allows you to choose the streaming rate and digital media type, so you can listen to it on practically any internet link, or with any software.
And I was pleased to see that Roku offers it as a choice on their "streaming media" player. The station owners have added beautiful HD photographs that get displayed on your TV while the songs play. And the artist and song name show up on the screen unobtrusively. I recommend it.
Yes, it was a great experience. I spent about six months at the college radio station and then took some air-check tapes around and got hired by the second station I visited.
I hosted a rock ‘n roll show on Saturday nights and a lot of time of the day on Sunday. Believe me, that spinning the disks on Saturday nights was a blast! I was all of 22 years old and loved the visits—they allowed visitors into the actual broadcast booth then...it was a different age—from the gals, who seemed to think I was something special. Poor things.
We did have a playlist (top 40) but I was allowed to play a limited amount of “oldies” of my choice. Got a lot of compliments for my choices.
I went on to work at bigger stations, where I learned a lot. The next station I went to work for played only “good music,” alas. But I tired of that and found another rock ‘n roll station.
Thanks for that reference of radioparadise.com. I’ll check it out.
Elvis was part of the "New Wave", the music that came after punk-rock in the 1970s, or was mixed up with it. They took the attitude, and the trimmed down and sparse arrangements, but wrote more complex and interesting songs. Elvis was one of the "angry young men" of the era, along with Joe Jackson, Nick Lowe, Graham Parker, among others. But he could write beautiful songs. Here's one of my favorites from his first album. Alison
Thanks for the comment and the audio link. Unfortunately, my speakers have crapped out and I cannot hear the song. But I will keep this thread on my favorites and as soon as I can get them working again I will listen to it.
Thanks! This combines a couple of my favorites and will be checking it out this evening.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.