Smokey Robinson served as the founder and frontman of the Miracles for almost 20 years, eventually leaving the group to pursue his career as both a solo artist and Motown’s vice president in 1972. His contributions to music, whether as a singer, a writer, or a record producer are hard to overstate. Described by Bob Dylan as “America’s greatest living poet,” he’s created some of the most enduringly popular and beloved songs of the last 75 years. Here, we pay tribute to his career as we take a look at the 10 best Smokey Robinson songs of all time.
10. From Head to Toe
The 1965 album Going to a Go-Go was a first-rate effort, sprinkled with Top 20 hits like Ooo Baby Baby, The Tracks of My Tears, Going to a Go-Go, and My Girl Has Gone. Of all the Miracles albums, it was the only one to break into the Top 10 on the Billboard 200, where it hung around for an impressive 40 weeks. From Head to Toe isn’t quite as well known as some of the album’s other tracks, but it’s still a lovely thing, with an upbeat rhythm and some sweet (if cheesy) lyrics about the joys of being in love.
9. Being With You
Ranked as one of the best Smokey Robinson songs of all time by smoothradio.com, Being With You scored Robinson a major comeback hit on its release in March 1981. Released as the lead single from the Gold-certified album of the same name, it spent an impressive five weeks at No. 1 on the Hot Soul Singles chart and peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Somewhat ironically, the only thing that stopped it from reaching No. 1 was Bette Davis Eyes by Kim Carnes, who Smokey had originally intended to give Being With You to until his producer convinced him it was too good to give up.
8. The Tracks of My Tears
If you want to wallow, The Tracks of My Tears is the Smokey Robinson track to do it too. Melancholy aside, this masterful insight into a man who seems the life and soul of the party but whose heart is breaking is a beautiful thing, with an inspired lyrical turn and sumptuous arrangements. According to Rolling Stone, (who’ve voted it the 50th best song of all time), Pete Townshend of The Who was so obsessed with the way Robinson put across the word “substitute” (“Although she may be cute/She’s just a substitute”), he “decided to celebrate the word with a song all its own” — which is how he came to write the Who’s 1966 hit “Substitute.”
7. The Love I Saw in You Was Just a Mirage
The first single from the Miracles to bill the group as “Smokey Robinson” & the Miracles is The Love I Saw in You Was Just a Mirage. Released in 1967 from the album Make It Happen, it was a major hit, reaching the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 and the Top 10 on Billboard’s R&B singles chart. A heartbreaking tune about a man who’d been deceived by a woman who showed “the promise of love” but who later discovered the love was “just a mirage,” the song has become one of Robinson’s most covered hits, with everyone from the Jackson 5 to The Uniques giving it a shot.
6. Mickey’s Monkey
Like Going To A Go-Go, Mickey’s Monkey is an upbeat, rollicking number with a warm heart and upbeat tempo. Robinson described it as “One of our biggest records ever in life”, which seems a pretty accurate summation. Released as the (almost) titular track of the 1963 album The Miracles Doin’ Mickey’s Monkey, it was a huge hit, reaching No. 8 in the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 3 in the R&B charts.
5. Ooo Baby Baby
Who can resist a Smokey melody at its finest? Ooo Baby Baby doesn’t just have the melodies, it’s got the harmonies too, to say nothing of an achingly tender vocal turn from Smokey that injects just the right amount of emotion into each line. When he sings about having done his baby wrong, you can hear the regret in every syllable. The original didn’t perform quite as well as Linda Ronstadt’s rendition (which peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1979), but it was still reached a respectable No. 16 in the pop charts.
4. The Tears of a Clown
When Stevie Wonder and Motown producer Hank Cosby came up with the music to The Tears of a Clown, they knew they had a hit on their hands. The only thing they lacked was the lyrics and the singer. Smokey Robinson supplied both, borrowing thematically from The Track of My Tears but adding enough unique flourishes to make it a standalone effort. Originally buried away on the 1967 album Make It Happen, it came into its own three years later when Motown released it as a single. The result was a No. 1 hit on the UK Singles Chart, the Billboard Hot 100, and the R&B Singles Chart.
3. I Second That Emotion
In 1967, Smokey Robinson scored his biggest hit since 1961’s Shop Around with I Second That Emotion. A groovy, slinky little number that finds Smokey turning down a one-night stand with the caveat “if you feel like giving me a lifetime of devotion, I second that emotion,” it peaked at No.4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 3 on the Cash Box Top 100. A couple of years later, Diana Ross & the Supremes would enjoy a Top 20 hit in the UK with their rendition of the song.
2. My Girl
Named as one of the best Smokey Robinson songs of all time by azcentral.com, My Girl has reached such a level of ubiquity, it needs no introduction. “I can be in a foreign country where people don’t speak English and the audience will start cheering before I even start singing “My Girl.” They know what’s coming as soon as they hear the opening bass line,” Smokey has said. Obviously, its most famous version is by the Temptations, but Smokey’s live version is just as delightful.
1. You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me
A year after Robinson recorded You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me, the Beatles did their own take on the song. Since then, various artists have done the same, turning it into one of Smokey’s most covered tunes. None have quite managed to best the original though, which peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart. The first Smokey and the Miracles song to sell over a million copies, it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998.