Editors note: AliveTampaBay looks back into our archives to Feb. 7, 2017, for a story and videos about Smokey Robinson, the legendary singer and song writer.
By Jessica Wheeler, AliveTampaBay Columnist
Smokey Robinson is known for his smooth voice and the romantic songs he sang for Motown Records, but there’s another side to this multi-talented artist. Aside from his own hit songs, which included classics like “Shop Around,” “You Really Got a Hold on Me,” “I Second That Emotion,” “Tracks of My Tears,” and “Tears of a Clown,” Robinson penned many great songs for other Motown artists. In honor of his upcoming Feb. 9 show at St. Petersburg’s Mahaffey Theater, here’s a closer look at Smokey Robinson and the songs you might not have realized he wrote.
Smokey Robinson’s relationship with Motown founder Berry Gordy actually predates the Motown label. They met in 1957, and Gordy was impressed when Robinson showed him a notebook containing over 100 songs he had written while in high school. When Gordy started his new label, Smokey and his group the Miracles were one of the first artists signed. In 1960, the Miracles released “Shop Around,” which became Motown’s first million-selling single. Robinson quickly proved to be a hit-making machine, scoring a number of hits for his own group. It soon became apparent that Robinson had so many songs, the Miracles simply couldn’t record them all. He was also adept at writing songs specifically for other artists. When a Motown artist needed a hit, Gordy turned to Smokey Robinson to make it happen. Many classic Motown songs performed by other artists were in fact written by Smokey Robinson.
The artists he wrote for included:
Mary Wells: “My Guy”/”Two Lovers”/”You Beat Me To the Punch”/”The One Who Really Loves You”
Smokey Robinson wrote a series of sophisticated songs for Mary Wells, “The First Lady of Motown.” Her satiny voice and elegant appearance perfectly suited the material she recorded. While “The One Who Really Loves You” was her first top 10 hit, it was her No. 1 smash “My Guy” that she is best remembered for.
The Temptations: “The Way You Do the Things You Do”/”Since I Lost My Baby”/”Get Ready”/”My Girl”
The Temptations presented a unique challenge to Motown: with so many talented vocalists in one group, how could they determine who would be the lead singer? Robinson penned their first hit, “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” and the song featured Eddie Kendricks as lead vocalist. When the song just missed the top 10 in 1964, they released several more singles featuring Kendricks hoping to replicate its success, with less luck. Later that year, Robinson brought them a song called “My Girl,” written specifically for David Ruffin’s voice. With Ruffin in the lead, the group had their first No. 1 and Motown added another all-time classic to its repertoire. Many other hits followed, including “Since I Lost My Baby” and “Get Ready,” two other songs written by Robinson.
The Marvelettes: “Don’t Mess With Bill”/”The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game”
Motown’s original girl group (before the Supremes and Martha and the Vandellas), the Marvelettes had scored big with “Please Mr. Postman” in 1961, giving Motown Records its first-ever No. 1 song. But by 1966 their hits had dwindled, until Robinson wrote a song for them called “Don’t Mess with Bill.” The song reached No. 7 on the Billboard charts, and they scored again the next year with another Robinson tune, “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game.”
Marvin Gaye: “I’ll Be Doggone”/”Ain’t That Peculiar”
Marvin Gaye was an accomplished songwriter in his own right, but even professionals can use some help sometimes. With a handful of hits under his belt, Gaye recorded two Smokey Robinson songs in 1965: “I’ll Be Doggone” and “Ain’t That Peculiar.” Both were top 10 hits, and both were fantastic.
Jessica Wheeler is a columnist for AliveTampaBay.