Analysis: Going to the Outer Limits With Smokey Robinson

Smokey Robinson’s music has had a big influence on my life. The songs he has written are something that I have analyzed to death, over and over again, every which way from Sunday. Just ask anyone who knows me….lol

Please bear with me…

I ask your forgiveness, but I’m just trying to work out a few ideas to help me get to where I need to go, because I have a very specific task that I have to accomplish, that involves me laying out a few ideas and placing a context around things…

(Although it might not appear to be so, I am actually trying to get to a very specific thing, it’s not just “random conversation about Smokey Robinson”)

I’ve been actually trying to work this entire thing out in my mind for many years and you can see some of my earlier attempts when the site first began on the following web pages, which you may remember from our old site: (Note the links no longer work)

Those three web pages are actually incomplete and left incomplete on purpose. In fact, right now you can’t access them. Those 3 pages are very “raw” and they are the result of a “stream of consciousness” which occurred at around 3am one night, with the 3 disc Smokey Robinson and the Miracles “Anthology” blasting in my headphones, back in 1998 when I first decided to actually put something about the Miracles on the web….lol

Since that time I have pretty much left Smokey Robinson alone, in terms of doing anything beyond something superficial.

And now I return to one of my very favorite topics…

Smokey Robinson is truly a unique artist in my eyes. I first became a fan of his music when I was about 10 years old (1967). As I have stated many times, the foundation of the Soul-Patrol website is built upon the music & ideas of three artists:

  • Miles Davis
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Smokey Robinson & the Miracles

Those three are not arbitrary. There is a specific reason for each of the three.

Smokey Robinson’s music has had a big influence on my life. The songs he has written are something that I have analyzed to death, over and over again, every which way from Sunday. Just ask anyone who knows me….lol

And because he is BOTH the “singer” and the “songwriter”, the songs are executed EXACTLY as he wants them to be. The songs themselves are majestic 3 minute parables. But that’s only part of the story.

And understanding the rest of the story means that I had to seek out both the “horizontal” as well as the “vertical”.

Like most artists, Smokey Robinson’s music is usually presented as a “vertical thing”.

  • a song
  • an album
  • an isolated performance
  • a chart position
  • etc.

Usually viewed as a singular thing in a vacuum, out of context and therefore outside of the realm of true focus & clarity. Therefore the true value of his artistic contribution is totally misunderstood, even by people who think he is a great artist.

Even Bob Dylan’s famous quote about Smokey is insufficient. Don’t simply think of Smokey as a mere “poet”. Think of him as a writer/storyteller on the same level as someone like James Joyce. (Remember how surprised you were the first time you read “Ulysses” and found that when you reached the end of the book, that you were right back at the beginning?)

You see it’s the music of Smokey Robinson that taught me to look at things in life in a “horizontal fashion” in addition to looking at life in a “vertical fashion”.

That’s because all of his songs are connected to each other, not only across albums, but even across decades. There are also no clear answers in his songs. Life is a complex thing. The questions are easy. The answers are elusive.

In short if you take a close look at the songs of Smokey Robinson, he is actually telling a huge story (a novel if you will) about not only love, but life itself.

He’s laying out the “rules of engagement for life”, via the vignettes that comprise the individual songs. Taken individually there are many great songs by Smokey Robinson that we have heard presented to us. However we have never actually seen the complete story laid out for us. In other words, the songs of Smokey Robinson actually provide a complete tapestry.

But that complete & complex story is there.

Here is a small example…

Starting with “Bad Girl” (“She wasn’t a BAD girl at first….so GOOD at the start now we must part …oh yes she’s BAD….bad girl cuz she’s BREAKING MY HEART…)in 1957. Threading it’s way thru “You Really Got a Hold On Me” (I don’t like you, but I love you”) & “Shop Around” (“Before you ask some girl for her hand you betta shop around for as long as you can”) in the early 60’s. To the late 60’s with “The Love I Saw In You was Just a Mirage” (“The promise of LOVE was written on your face. You led me on with UNTRUE kisses. ..You held me CAPTIVE with your FALSE embrace. ….Quicker than I could bat an eye you were tellin me GOODBYE…”). Right to “Quiet Storm”.

  • All of these songs are connected “horizontally”, and in my opinion when taken together Smokey is saying something that is quite dark & sinister about the way some females sometimes behave!!!
  • I have no idea if he is talking about the same woman or multiple women thru this entire sequence? I have no idea if he is talking about his own relationships or those of other people he knows?
  • We never really find out, because in the songs he never really tells us what his own involvement may or may not be. In the end, that part of it isn’t really important, because if it were, then he would have told us.
  • What is important is his horizontal thought process.

He is delivering a consistent message [even if you disagree with him] that spans decades and he did it within the context of a music industry that only places importance on “vertical thinking” (ex: a single hit record). It’s actually easy to see when you “connect the dots” between the songs.

This is only an example of one of these “horizontal threads” that connect the seemingly unconnected songs of Smokey Robinson together. There are in fact many more. Most are not as “dark & sinister” as the “Bad Girl” thread, but they are there.

And on a personal level once I understood this thought process, it changed my life forever…

There is a kind of genius at work here that is comparable to the 1950 – 1951 CCNY Basketball team, which to this day is STILL the ONLY college basketball team to ever win BOTH the NIT & NCAA Championship in the same season. Not only did they will all of their games in BOTH tournaments, but they also covered the “point spread” because every single player had taken a “dive” with gamblers. And like the 1950 – 1951 CCNY Basketball team, the totality of Smokey Robinson’s accomplishment on BOTH the “horizontal & vertical tip” is actually difficult to comprehend anyone else duplicating!!!

Once I came to that realization about what Smokey was actually doing, not only did I begin to understand the magnificence of it all, but I also learned that it was important to “connect the dots” together across multiple ideas/concepts in order to gain understanding of people and situations.

And to this day it remains exactly how I think about the world, as a huge and complex matrix of ideas, people, places, events, etc.

In other words, the shortest distance between two points is rarely a “straight line”. Instead it’s really a “complex matrix (or web)” of interconnected “things” that on the surface seem to be disconnected.

People have asked me why I have never interviewed Smokey Robinson, given the overall importance of his music to the development of the website. Cuz this topic is what I would want to talk about with him and to discuss it with him in excruciating detail. And I’m afraid that he wouldn’t give me enough time to answer my questions….lol

  • Maybe when he left the Miracles, he thought that he had completed the entire story?
  • Maybe he came back as a solo artist because, he realized that he had more to tell.
  • Maybe the reason why his albums have been so inconsistent for the past 20 years or so, is because he doesn’t know how to complete the entire story?
  • Maybe he will tie it all together for us at some point?
  • Maybe he won’t?
  • etc.

And of course I would want to write it all down. All of the questions, all of the answers.

Cuz nobody has ever written down the “the horizontal view” on Smokey. Only the vertical. Perhaps in the end, the “the horizontal view” on Smokey, isn’t supposed to be written about. Perhaps it is something that is only learned via the discovery process?

 These songs are all very personal to me, because more than anything else, they have given me a framework for thinking. And that is something that you can never thank a person enough for!

Just like the old TV show called the “Outer Limits” said…

  • “Do not adjust the vertical”
  • “Do not adjust the horizontal”
  • “We are in control…”

–Bob Davis

NOTE: This page is dedicated to my friend, the late Michael Burt, with whom I used to have these kind of conversations about the music of Smokey Robinson and who is no longer around for me to talk to 🙁

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