Happy Birthday William “Smokey” Robinson, Jr.! (born February 19, 1940)
Portrait of the musical group Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Printed on front: “Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Tamla Recording Artists. Direction: International Talent Management, Inc. (ITMA), 2652 W. Grand Boulevard, Detroit, Michigan 48208. James J. Kriegsmann, N.Y.” Handwritten on front: “Yours forever, Smokey; Always, Pete; Love ya!, Bobby Miracle; Ronnie.”
Courtesy of the E. Azalia Hackley Collection of African Americans in the Performing Arts, Detroit Public Library
On this day in music history: January 13, 1968 - “I Second That Emotion” by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 1 week, also peaking at #4 on the Hot 100 on December 16, 1967. Written and produced by William “Smokey” Robinson and Al Cleveland, it is the third R&B chart topper for the legendary Motown vocal group. As with a number of classic songs written by the ever prolific and poetic Smokey Robinson, his wife and Miracles member Claudette will provide the inspiration for another hit. High school sweethearts and married in 1959, Smokey and Claudette will try unsuccessfully for years to start a family, with Claudette having suffered several miscarriages. It’s after one of these that she will retire from touring with the group, though will continue to sing in the studio on The Miracles records. During the Christmas holiday in 1966, Smokey is out shopping with fellow Motown staff songwriter Al Cleveland at Hudson’s Department Store in Detroit, looking for a gift for Claudette. Robinson will pick out a string of pearls for his wife, expressing to Cleveland that he hopes she’ll like them. Cleveland will reply with, “I second that emotion!”, making both of them laugh. But immediately, it will set the wheels turning in Smokey’s head, thinking that phrase would make a great song title. The pair will return to Robinson’s house and write the song. The track is recorded at Motown Studio A in Detroit on September 21, 1967 with The Funk Brothers providing musical support. Released as a single a month later on October 19, 1967, it quickly becomes another smash for the group. Smokey’s writing partnership with Al Cleveland will be a very successful one as the pair will write several more hits for The Miracles including “Special Occasion”, “If You Can Want”, and “Baby, Baby Don’t Cry”. And after years of trying, Smokey and Claudette will finally become parents when she gives birth to a son named Berry, after the Motown Records founder later in 1968. A year later, they will welcome a daughter named Tamla (after the Motown label of the same name). “I Second That Emotion” will become one of the most frequently covered songs in the Motown catalog with versions recorded by Diana Ross & the Supremes And The Temptations, The Grateful Dead (live in concert), and British new wave band Japan.