Smokey Robinson & The Miracles “Can You Love A Poor Boy?” (From the LP Away We Go-Go, 1966)
There’s no other way to address Smokey Robinson other than as the first gem in the Motown Crown. The Pisces Poet and Prophet of the Motown sound turns a rather youthful 76 years old today. In 60+ years of performing, music appears to be his fountain of youth, as he continues to record, tour and regale us with his immense talents.
Had it not been for Smokey saying to Berry Gordy to just cut out the middle man, there’d probably wouldn’t have been a Motown Records, or at least at the moment he suggested so in 1958. Proving his talents were wide ranging, he rose to Vice-President of Motown Records by the late 60’s.
All of this means there’s so much content to look at his life as a performer, recording artist, producer and executive. Maybe its a little awkward for me to choose an LP track that he didn’t write as a song to feature for his birthday post, but the sign of a true artist is to be able to inhabit your work so immensely that it doesn’t matter exactly the source of inspiration.
Also, there’d long been a theme of working class struggles within Smokey Robinson’s work with The Miracles. Early notable songs like “Got A Job,” “Way Over There” and “Everybody’s Gotta Pay Some Dues” had a tangible tingle of austerity and romance living side by side. Starting in the leanest days in the Motown history, The Miracles were far more aware of the financial sacrifices one makes for their art.
That thread inhabits this Ivy Jo Hunter and Stevie Wonder written gem about love conquering all, even capitalism, in 1966 America. Its quietly political and revolutionary in highlighting the activities and tangibles still accessible by uniting despite the lack of money coming in. Nevermind its beautifully and tenderly rendered, as expected by Smokey and crew, including then wife Claudette, who had stepped off the road at the end of 1964 due to a series of miscarriages. When Smokey and The Miracles hit on these threads of surviving and loving despite strife, they lifted the mere act of a pop song into prayers that could be said over and over again.
Thanks for all the work you’ve done and continue you to do, Poet Laureate of Motown.