Smokey Robinson, lead singer and songwriter of '60s Motown superstars the Miracles, is one of the most successful soul songwriters of all time. In addition to penning 27 top-40 hits for his group, Robinson authored classics for many other acts, including the Temptations, Mary Wells, the Marvelettes and Marvin Gaye.
Born William Robinson on Feb. 19, 1940, in Detroit, he founded a singing group called the Matadors while in high school. The Matadors gigged in the area and sang Robinson's original compositions.
In 1957, at an audition for soul singer Jackie Wilson's manager, the Matadors were introduced to Berry Gordy Jr., an autoworker who was a part-time songwriter/music manager. Gordy liked the group's sound and Robinson's songs, and arranged for them to record "Got a Job" on End Records.
When Gordy founded Motown, the Miracles' "Shop Around" established the label and the group when it went to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topped the R&B chart. The track also presaged the Motown sound, with its smooth blend of pop, R&B and gospel. Gordy also advised the Miracles about which of Robinson's songs he thought they should record.
The Miracles' biggest hits included the ballads "You've Really Got a Hold on Me" (1963), "The Tracks of My Tears" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Ooo Baby Baby" (both 1965) and "I Second That Emotion" (1967). They also had an occasional faster-paced hit, such as "Going to a Go-Go" (1966), which was later covered by the Rolling Stones. The Beatles, Linda Ronstadt, the Captain & Tennille, Blondie and Terence Trent D'Arby are just a few of the artists who have scored with Robinson-written tunes.
Motown singer Wells had hits with Robinson's "My Guy," "The One Who Really Loves You" and others. The Temptations recorded his "Get Ready," "My Girl" (written with co-Miracle Ronnie White), "The Way You Do the Things You Do" (penned with co-Miracle Bobby Rogers, who also turns 60 today) and "It's Growing" (composed with co-Miracle Warren "Pete" Moore).
In the latter half of the '60s, the group was known as Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Their last smash was 1970's chart-topping "The Tears of a Clown." Robinson left the band to go solo two years later. The Miracles continued without him, and Robinson split his time between his post as a Motown vice president, his solo career and his growing family.
Robinson's first solo LP was Smokey (1973). Throughout his solo career, his chart success varied wildly. "Cruisin' " (1979), a #4 pop and R&B entry, was his first solo smash. Two years later, he topped the R&B chart and hit #2 on the pop chart with "Being With You," from the album of the same name. His only top-10 pop hits after that were "Just to See Her" and "One Heartbeat" (both 1987).
Coping with marital problems and battling a cocaine addiction, Robinson quit his Motown vice presidency in 1988 and stopped recording on the label two years later. In 1987, he and the Miracles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Two years later came Robinson's autobiography, "Smokey: Inside My Life."
Called "America's greatest living poet" by Bob Dylan, Robinson has arguably created more romantic soul classics than any other artist.
He recently returned to Motown and issued last year's Intimate. It was his first LP of new music in nearly a decade and featured the more adult-contemporary soul of his solo career. The album is nominated for a Grammy Award as Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance. The LP includes such tracks as the title cut and "Sleepin' In."
Other birthdays on Saturday: Bob Engemann (Lettermen), 64; Bobby Rogers (Miracles), 60; Lou Christie, 57; Pierre Van der Linden (Focus), 54; Mark Andes (Spirit, Firefall, Heart), 52; Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath), 52; Eddie Hardin (Spencer Davis Group), 51; Peter Holsapple (dB's, Continental Drifters), 44; Dave Wakeling (English Beat, General Public), 44; Holly Johnson (Frankie Goes to Hollywood), 40; Seal, 37; John Christ (Danzig), 35; and Falco, 19571998.