Monday, 6 May 2013

Classic albums: Smokey Robinson & the Miracles - Going to a Go-Go

Motown's Greatest Sixties Album


(Work in progress, March 2019. Links need updating to Spotify. If you like the article, leave a comment or click on an advert - it helps the motivation!)

1. Introduction
2. Track list
3. The artists - Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
4. The album
5. The music online
6. Bonus tracks to make up a CD


An album that opens with one of Motown's greatest songs - "Tracks of My Tears" -  promises to be a decent album, but when that album's next two tracks are "Going To A Go-Go" and "Ooo Baby Baby", you know it's heading to be a classic. That the rest of the album contains songs from  Smokey Robinson at his peak, confirms this as the best album released by Motown in the Sixties. Motown was not really a record company that focused on albums - especially in the early years; they concentrated on creating hit singles which would then be re-released on cash-in albums, which might consist of a hit single with some filler or failed singles, or compilations of  successful singles. That this album is so artistically complete is testimony to the ability and energy of Smokey Robinson. He was at his peak, writing top song after top song, and even his weakest songs were often better than most of the songs out at the time. He was smokin', and this album is on fire. Rolling Stone listed it at 273 on their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, saying: "Motown at its most debonair and sexy. Robinson works his sweeping soul falsetto over unbelievably sad ballads."

Track list 

Smokey wrote or co-wrote all the tracks, apart from "My Baby Changes Like the Weather", which was written by two other Motown writers, Hal Davis and Frank Wilson. Smokey's main writing partner was his childhood friend and co-founder of the Miracles,  Warren "Pete" Moore, who worked with him on seven of the album's twelve tracks. The other writers are, Marv Tarplin, the Miracles' lead guitarist, who created the evocative opening chords of "The Tracks of My Tears"; Bobby Rogers, a singer in the group; Ronald White, another singer in the group; and William "Mickey" Stevenson, a Motown songwriter and producer.
Side one
  1. "The Tracks of My Tears" (Moore, Robinson, Tarplin)
  2. "Going to a Go-Go" (Moore, Robinson, Rogers, Tarplin)
  3. "Ooo Baby Baby" (Moore, Robinson)
  4. "My Girl Has Gone" (Moore, Robinson, Tarplin, White)
  5. "In Case You Need Love" (Robinson)
  6. "Choosey Beggar" (Moore, Robinson)
Side two
  1. "Since You Won My Heart" (Robinson, Stevenson)
  2. "From Head to Toe" (Robinson)
  3. "All That's Good" (Moore, Robinson)
  4. "My Baby Changes Like the Weather" (Hal Davis, Frank Wilson)
  5. "Let Me Have Some" - (Robinson, Rogers)
  6. "A Fork in the Road" (Moore, Robinson, White) 

 The artists - Smokey Robinson & the Miracles

William "Smokey" Robinson was born into a poor family in Detroit in 1940. He was brought up by his elder sister and her husband, after his parents split up, and his mother died of a brain haemorrhage. He formed the Miracles, then called the Five Chimes, in 1955 while still at school. An early inspiration was Clyde McPhatter singing the high notes in Billy Ward & the Dominos' hit Have Mercy, Baby. He met Berry Gordy at a failed audition in 1957. Gordy was impressed that Smokey was writing his own songs, and gave him some tips. They remained in contact, and when Gordy formed Motown Records in 1959, Smokey's band was the first act he signed. Called the Matadors at that time, they changed to the Miracles on joining Motown. Smokey's skills as a songwriter and producer led to many hits for the record company, and by 1963 Gordy had made him vice-president.

More information on Smokey Robinson at WikipediaRolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly.  More information on the Miracles at  Wikipedia.

The album

The album was released in 1965 and was the first to feature Smokey's name as part of the group - previously records had been released as the Miracles, from now on they would be released as Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, indicating not only Smokey's importance within the group, but also the public perception of him as being the figure of interest - after all, it was Smokey's voice and lyrics that people were swooning to.
The first four tracks were all Top 20 hits, while "Choosey Beggar" reached 35 in the Billboard R&B chart, and "A Fork in the Road" had regional successes. The album itself was the most successful album release of the Miracles, and the most successful Motown album of the Sixties, reaching number eight of the Billboard album chart. It was ranked number 271 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

More information at Wikipedia, Allmusic, and BBC. 

Allmusic comments

Though its title track ignited a nationwide fad for go-go music, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles' Going to a Go-Go LP certainly wasn't just a cash-in effort. It's one of the best records the group put out, and the first six songs make for the best side of any original Motown LP of the '60s (granted, all but one are also available on dozens of Miracles compilations). The four biggest hits were among the best in a set of Miracles archetypes: the throwback to the aching '50s doo wop ballad ("Ooo Baby, Baby"), the flashy up-tempo dance song ("Going to a Go-Go"), the dancing-with-tears-in-my-eyes jerker ("The Tracks of My Tears"), and the mid-tempo orchestral epic ("My Girl Has Gone"). "Choosey Beggar" is one of the sweetest of all Robinson's lead vocals, with stunning background work by the rest of the Miracles. Even the album tracks shine, with "All That's Good" and "Let Me Have Some" working as excellent additions to the program.

BBC comments

The group’s most consistent album, and among Motown’s most uplifting releases.
Daryl Easlea 2010-02-15
Going to a Go-Go, complete with Smokey Robinson being pushed on a skateboard by his group on the cover, is his best early work. Writing or co-writing 11 of the album’s 12 compositions, Robinson was spurred on by the phenomenal hit rate of Motown, his in-house competition from the Holland-Dozier-Holland writing team and encouraged by compliments paid to him by Bob Dylan and The Beatles.
The album’s opening track, The Tracks of My Tears, remains unassailable, from co-writer Marv Tarplin’s faltering, fragile guitar introduction to its emotive chorus. Although the smile is visible, if you look beyond the protagonist’s bravado, you can clearly see the track marks left by the tears he cries alone. The sumptuous Ooo Baby Baby is in a similar vein: Robinson pleads, “Mistakes, I’ve know I’ve made a few, but I’m only human, you’ve made mistakes too,” before whimpering and adding, “I’m crying”. In a genre where all males were supposed to be alpha, these very visible tears showed great sensitivity. It is this vulnerability that set Robinson apart from his peers.
It is not, however, one long snuffle; the title-track was written by Tarplin after hearing The Rolling Stones, complete with his 12-string electric guitar adding a bit of in-era Byrds jangle. From Head To Toe – covered by Chris Clark and, later, Elvis Costello – has snap and pop sensibility, call-and-response vocals and Broadway musical overtones. The remaining eight songs are anything but filler. For example, its only cover, the Frank Wilson-penned My Baby Changes Like the Weather, is a fantastic northern soul stomp.
When Going to a Go-Go was released in the UK in February 1966, it rode the wave of interest sparked for Motown thanks to the patronage of The Beatles and Dusty Springfield.  Robinson gave his rock peers a run for their money. For a group widely seen as a singles-only or compilation act, Going to a Go-Go is Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ most consistent album. Although it’s a record where you are only a heartbeat away from heartbreak, it succeeds in being one of the Motown’s most uplifting Motown releases.

The music online

File:Logo RR3Net Florian Pittis.png
Album at Radio3Net. Click on the album name to play.   (Radio3 have changed their format, and this link is currently not working)

YTD Youtube Downloader
Tracks on YouTube - downloader and converter available.

The Tracks of My Tears
Going to a Go-Go
Ooo Baby Baby
My Girl Has Gone
In Case You Need Love
Choosey Beggar

Since You Won My Heart
From Head to Toe
All That's Good
My Baby Changes Like the Weather
Let Me Have Some
A Fork in the Road

Bonus tracks to make up a CD

The Miracles made a number of other great tracks - the most memorable being "I Second That Emotion", "You Really Got A Hold On Me", and "The Tears Of A Clown", which make obvious choices for bonus material to fill up a 45 minute CD. I've added in what I feel is the best of the rest of the hits of the Miracles.

I Second That Emotion (there is a live version, but Smokey's voice is not good)
Baby Baby Don't Cry
Got A Job - 1958; first single, released on Smokey's 18th birthday, the year before signing to Motown
Shop Around - 1961; first hit for the Miracles, and a million selling song that paved the way for Motown's success
I Like It Like That
Mickey's Monkey
If You Can Want
I Gotta Dance To Keep From Crying
You Really Got A Hold On Me
From Head To Toe
The love I saw in You Was Just A Mirage
I've Been Good To You
(Come 'Round Here) I'm The One You Need
Who's Lovin' You
The Tears Of A Clown

284 April 2019

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