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by Josh Friedberg
Smokey Robinson was called the greatest and most influential songwriter in R&B history by Rolling Stone, and he has often been acclaimed for bringing exceptionally sophisticated lyrics to many Motown hits of the 1960s. In fact, in addition to his hits with the Miracles, he wrote or co-wrote hits for the Temptations (including the immortal “My Girl”), Marvin Gaye (“Ain’t That Peculiar”), and Mary Wells (“My Guy”), among others.
I don’t know if 2005’s My World: The Definitive Collection was the first single-disc overview of Robinson’s entire career, but it is a satisfying listen with some all-time classic moments, including “Cruisin’,” “The Tracks of My Tears,” and “I Second That Emotion.” It can feel surprising, as it is not in chronological order, so the transitions between the Miracles’ classics and the solo material can be slightly jarring, but overall, this is an excellent compilation whose material deserves many listens.
The collection opens with two new recordings, “My World” and “Fallin’,” and the classic R&B style of the former—with electric piano and a bass-saturated groove—is complemented by the more jazz-influenced chords of the latter. The lyrics on both are spare, and though some might laugh at a line like “Palpitations, heart beating so erratic/ Whenever I think about you, these things are automatic,” it works with Robinson’s classic falsetto and smooth delivery.
“Cruisin’,” from 1979, is the first older recording on the CD, and it deserves note as one of the greatest R&B records ever made. The six-minute album version is gratefully included here, and the spare guitar, the lush strings, the thick electric piano, the sensual lyrics, and the long climax all make for a sumptuous, smoky (no pun intended) vibe and a perfect record.
After these three tracks, My World can feel a little disjointed, but there are multiple standout moments, including a few of his classic tracks with the Miracles: “The Tracks of My Tears,” “I Second That Emotion,” “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” and “Ooo Baby Baby.” “The Tears of a Clown,” while an excellent piece of pop craftsmanship and Robinson’s only #1 pop hit, has never been a favorite of mine, possibly because of the circuslike arrangement (which, I read recently, was done by Stevie Wonder).
Most of the high points of this collection, to my ears, are with the Miracles, but there are also some classic moments from his solo career collected, including “Cruisin’,” “Baby Come Close,” and “Quiet Storm.” These records were often longer than his early hits with the Miracles, and they experiment with jazz elements and sexier musical settings, often with great success.
Overall, this is an excellent compilation with a solid roadmap of Robinson’s career.
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