Smokey Robinson Talks Motown, Making Hits, and “Tears of a Clown’

September 30, 2014

Legendary Motown singer and songwriter Smokey Robinson stopped by this morning to talk about his iconic hit songs (many of which you probably didn’t know were written by him) and building Motown Records with Berry Gordy.

Smokey grew up in Detroit, and counted Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin as his neighbors. He liked to play the piano, but never took lessons. Instead, he planned on become an electrician. Thankfully, fate intervened.

Jackie Wilson, one of Smokey’s heroes, offered him and his singing group (then called the Matadors) to audition for him. They went and decided to do some of Smokey’s original songs instead of radio hits. Berry Gordy, who was then just a songwriter, happened to be there and got a hold of Smokey outside the building. Smokey went through twenty different songs with Berry and he offered his thoughts and critiques.

A hugely successful collaboration was born. Here are just some of Smokey’s greatest hits:

‘My Girl’ – Smokey wrote this classic specifically for the Temptations and stressed that he only wrote it because he was thinking about the Temptations. It wasn’t a song he ‘gave away’. Howard heard it was written about his then-wife Claudette. It was not. Smokey had the baseline in his head, but the famous guitar riff happened when he was messing around with the guitar player from the Funk Brothers.

‘Shop Around’ – Shop around was about advice Smokey got regarding women. It was basically a transcription that worked as a song and Smokey hammered the whole thing out in twenty minutes.

‘You Really Got a Hold on Me’ – Howard thought this also might have been about Smokey’s then-wife Claudette. Again, it wasn’t. Howard has always liked the line ‘I don’t like you, but I love you.’ Smokey said he’s known plenty of women he didn’t like but did love.

‘Ooh, Baby Baby’ – Smokey and The Miracles would perform a medley at the end of every live show. One night, Smokey felt inspired and just started singing ‘ooh baby bay’ and the other Miracles harmonized with him. The audience went wild, so they kept it in the set. Eventually, it dawned on Smokey that he should record it.

Tracks of My Tears – Smokey came up with this gem when he was shaving in the mirror. Robin Quivers memorably covered this song during a Stern Show Karaoke segment a few years ago.

Tears of a Clown – The music was actually written by Stevie Wonder, but Stevie couldn’t come up with any lyrics. Smokey did and the song was a big hit for the Miracles.

I Second That Emotion – Smokey was in a department store with a friend and his buddy said ‘I second that emotion’ instead of ‘I second that motion’. Smokey thought it would be a good shorus to a song. He was right.

Newswoman Robin Quivers mentioned that ‘Second That Emotion’ was the point when she ran from her cheap seats all the way to the stage during ‘the Miracles’ live show in Baltimore. She revealed herself as an extreme fan of Smokey and his music.

Check out Smokey’s new album ‘Smokey & Friends’ and don’t miss the new three-disc Motown 25 DVD.