If any artist could brag about his contribution to the pop culture canon, it’s Smokey Robinson. His career is filled with so many “he was there” moments it’s a wonder he doesn’t recall them with the swagger of a conquering hero: songwriting and singing as a teenager in Detroit; co-founding Motown Records with Berry Gordy; creating 26 Top 40 hits with his group The Miracles; helping to spark racial integration of popular music in the 1960s; discovering hitmakers like Diana Ross and the Supremes; penning tunes for a jaw-droppingly diverse group of artists including Marvin Gaye, The Beatles, The Jackson Five, Kim Carnes, Linda Ronstadt; and releasing smash hits as solo artist well into the 1980s.
But surprisingly, and delightfully, Robinson is as awed by his success as we are listening to him describe it. He guides us through his extraordinary career with the same giddy sense of discovery and delight that music fans recall the first time they heard one of his infectious tunes.
He takes us back to his group’s first, disastrous performance at the Apollo Theater, opening for a brilliant and generous Ray Charles. He describes daily life at the famed Hitsville studio in Detroit, where a young Diana Ross or Martha Reeves could be found working as the receptionist. He shares his pride in being an influence on the Beatles and hearing his songs on their album - a transforming moment for the Motown sound. “I ain't never heard no popular white boys say anything like that ever. For them to come out and tell the world? They were my guys from then on.”
And, of course, he takes us inside his songs. He describes where he was - shaving in the mirror at home - when “The Tracks of My Tears” finally came together. He remembers taking the wheel on the last 150 miles back to Detroit after a tour, humming the melody that would become the Temptations hit “The Way You Do the Things You Do.” He recalls being floored by the way a 10-year-old Michael Jackson brought a depth and soul to “Who’s Loving You.” And he explains where the term “Quiet Storm” originated, a song title that went on to become an entire musical genre.
It’s a journey Robinson revisits with a grateful, humble heart. He has no agenda to push, no axes to grind, no scores to settle. He reflects on the ups as well as downs, and looks back with appreciation for the people who put love in his life. That makes listening a distinct pleasure: You get to spend time with a hugely influential artist who is warm, upbeat, and proud to have built a life and career through his art.