Our resident Motown expert, Sharon Davis focuses attention on the debut solo album by the legendary Smokey Robinson entitled “Smokey” released in 1973…
With his last group single being “I Can’t Stand To See You Cry” in November 1972 and his replacement in The Miracles named as William Griffin, Smokey Robinson hung up his microphone to retire from the music business to spend more time with his family. However, no matter the reasons, his self-imposed retirement lasted all of a year. And Marv Tarplin (the longtime guitarist with Smokey and The Miracles and a co-writer with Smokey on a number of Motown classics such as “Tracks Of My Tears” and “Ain’t That Peculiar”) must shoulder some of the blame or, as more likely, our thanks, for giving Smokey the means to think again. All it took was a tape full of songs. With said Mr Tarplin at his side and the production skills of Willie Hutch, Smokey recorded his first solo album earmarked for release mid-1973.
I must say, all credit to Smokey for opening the door to new ideas, and with a tentative step into the next phase of his recording career, Smokey’s memories of his past were well placed here also. “Just My Soul Responding” with “Sweet Harmony” on the flip – a tribute to The Miracles – was his first British single in January 1974. The latter was his American debut outing, rewarding him with a top fifty pop hit. “Just My Soul Responding” was uncharacteristic for Smokey as he dealt with the downside of American history from ghettos to reservations. While not on the same scale as his colleagues Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye who took social injustices to a significant level, altering the face of music, Smokey’s was a passive but positive dig.
Four months after his UK solo debut, “A Silent Partner In A Three-Way Love Affair” and “Baby Come Close” were issued as one potent single in total contrast to the previous single. Smokey returned to his comfort zone with one of life’s strongest emotions. The topside covered the entanglement of being in love with the girlfriend of a best friend, said to be based on Smokey’s personal experience while he was still married to Claudette. Subsequently, the raw, emotive lyrics were beautifully styled in his typical fashion bursting with the heart-tugging dilemma of being the ‘silent’ partner.
With the medley “Never My Love”/”Never Can Say Goodbye” and a nod at The Shirelles with “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, Smokey delivered feasible recycled versions. However, it’s original material we craved and he didn’t let us down with solo compositions and a clutch penned with Marv Tarplin. Also, his working relationship with Willie Hutch ensured lush, often snappy productions, as he guided Smokey through his transitional elpee which gave a fair indication of what was to come. It was just a pity it took eight years for the Motown star to hit the jackpot with “Being With You”.