Feb 272020

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30. Laura Nyro and Labelle – You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me (The Miracles cover)

To this day, Laura Nyro is better known for the songs others covered than her own versions – FM radio still plays songs like “Wedding Bell Blues” (a.k.a. “Marry Me Bill”), “Stoned Soul Picnic,” “And When I Die,” and more. She did well interpreting the songs of others, too – in 1971, she released the all-cover Gonna Take a Miracle, produced by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff of Philly-soul fame and featuring a pre-fame Patti Labelle. Her cover of “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” brings out a lot of that soul, especially in the vocal coda, and proves once more that the power of Nyro’s voice isn’t limited to the pen. – Patrick Robbins

29. Japan – I Second That Emotion (The Miracles cover)

I love a wonky vocal, and David Sylvian gives good wonky, although this early example is really quite restrained, making me sniff more than a hint of Bryan Ferry, both in the delivery and in the idea that a wonky Motown cover might provide a hit. Which of course it did, perhaps (and intentionally) propelling punters toward their decidedly less commercial original material. And that is no bad thing (although I may question the perseverance of ’80s fans into Sylvian’s now wholly more difficult ambient output). Actually this is a pretty straight cover, adding little, but at a time when I was still too proud to allow myself any love for Motown, it did the job for me. A little more of Mick Karn’s exquisite fretless bass noodlings and I would be more ecstatic. – Seuras Og

28. Lynn Carey & Neil Merryweather – Shop Around (The Miracles cover)

This song gave The Miracles and Motown their first million-seller. The sock-hop groove gets an edgy twist with this cover. The lighthearted original hardens when performed by this duo, right from the opening chords and announcement of “just because.” Although both the original and this cover are mostly focused on vocals, heavy wailing of the electric guitar replaces the original saxophone solos. Merryweather and Carey aren’t accompanied by crooning background vocals; rather, they build off of one another’s voices, sometimes bordering on yelling more than singing. – Sara Stoudt

27. John Hiatt and Loudon Wainwright III – My Girl (The Temptations cover)

Presumably, this duet was recorded in 1987, because it was the B-side to the UK release of John Hiatt’s single, “Thank You Girl,” from that year’s fine album Bring The Family. The original version by The Temptations is, of course, a classic Motown soul/pop love song, but Hiatt and Wainwright slow it down, and perform it only using piano (Hiatt) and acoustic guitar (Wainwright), swapping vocal lead on the verses. No longer peppy and upbeat, the cover is contemplative and compelling. – Jordan Becker

26. The Action – Since I Lost My Baby (The Temptations cover)

’60s British Mod-sters The Action never got their rightful day in the sun. With their requisite handsome haircuts, bespoke suits, and a soulful sound that rivaled their celebrated contemporaries Small Faces, they seemed on the surface to be destined for great things. But despite being the beneficiaries of positive press and releasing a spate of singles, chart success eluded them. The band imploded in 1968 and remain one of the finer British groups of the ’60s to never have hit the big time (and to have never even released a proper album). More’s the pity, since the bands lead vocalist Reg King was arguably one of the finest British white boy singers of the ’60s, ranking right up there with the best of the era, Steve Winwood and Steve Marriott. The legendary George Martin produced the band’s cover of the Temptations hit “Since I Lost My Baby” in 1966, slowing things down and molding it into something considerably leaner and sadder than the original. Reg King’s vocal is an undeniable thing of beauty here, the word-stretching on the last chorus alone swoon-inducing. – Hope Silverman

25. Thao – You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me (The Miracles cover)

While Thao’s version of this classic is certainly not the mainstream favorite, it’s just quirky enough to earn its place among the more famous covers. The track lurches along slower than the original and Thao Nguyen’s distinctive warbling voice is full of desperation. She covers a pretty great range here, nearly whispering at points and really letting loose at others, albeit briefly. Those brief breaks into her upper range hit at various points throughout the song and are worth the wait. – Mike Misch

24. Marshall Crenshaw – I’ve Been Good to You (The Miracles cover)

A deep track from the Miracles’ second album, “I’ve Been Good to You” showed up on Marshall Crenshaw’s set lists two decades later. Crenshaw’s steeped in power pop, not R&B, but the song survives the transition beautifully, the boy-loses-girl dynamic being a universal motif in popular music. Crenshaw sings from the heart and brings the song’s message home. – Patrick Robbins

23. Alias Ron Kavana – Ain’t that Peculiar / Foxhunter’s Reel (Marvin Gaye cover)

I didn’t even know this was Smokey, assuming always it some old rock’n’roll staple from the ’50s, a way for Irish maverick Ron Kavana to acknowledge one tranche of his multi-stranded influences. And this version (there are two) shines a light on the little-known Cajun delta of Kerry and Clare, propelled by accordion and Kavan’s laconic vocal. For a brief window in the ’80s into ’90s, Kavana was everywhere in the UK folk-roots world, scooping up awards for his blistering sets, latterly disappearing, deemed missing in action. But I have it on good authority he is still out there, under the music biz radar, performing mainly for pleasure, at his own pace, last cropping up as right side man for similar whatever-happened-to man Terry Reid. (The second version, a live one from a few years later, reprises the accordion for fiddle, the vocal even more laid back. I think I like it better.) – Seuras Og

22. Nnenna Freelon – The Tears Of A Clown (The Miracles cover)

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ original recording of “The Tears of a Clown” plays like a giant ruse. Underneath the danceable Motown beat is a sad song, with lyrics about loneliness and isolation that get buried under the upbeat arrangement. With her live recording, jazz vocalist Nnenna Freelon strips away this happy veneer to reveal the song’s emotional core. She plays the first part with a slow, bossa nova-type groove, telling us: “Now if I appear to be carefree/It’s only to camouflage my sadness.” She then picks up the tempo and the emotional intensity when she reminds us that “Just like Pagliacci did/I try to keep my surface hid.” Near the finale, she even quotes The Who’s Tommy with the words, “See me, feel me, touch me.” At the end, she thanks the crowd for their applause, but they should have thanked her for capturing the true essence of Smokey’s words. – Curtis Zimmermann

21. Mother’s Finest – Mickey’s Monkey (The Miracles cover)

One of the few Miracles hits not written by Smokey, the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team gave Smokey & Co. their third million-selling single, the one with the “Lum-de-lum-de-lai-ai” hook that you just sang to yourself as you read it. Mother’s Finest, a hard rock / funk outfit from Atlanta, kept that hook in their cover, but they added something else – the backing track is their cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Custard Pie.” They didn’t credit Zeppelin, either. It must have felt strange for Zeppelin to have the plagiarism shoe on the other foot; maybe that’s why they didn’t sue. – Patrick Robbins

The list continues on Page 3.

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  7 Responses to “The Best Smokey Robinson Covers Ever”

Comments (6) Pingbacks (1)
  1. That one by Loudon Wainwright and John Hiatt is insane, the best cover of any song I’ve ever heard!

  2. Big Country’s version of Tracks of My Tears belongs in the Top 10.

  3. Linda Ronstadt’s voice and vibe…sigh…especially Live. Divine.

  4. I have a longest train to nice Smokey and Aretha Franklin you know I feel him on that one yes it hurts a lot to see your friends go before you that you grew up with and yes Smokey is one of the greatest poets of all time

    • Sometimes we make mistakes but I meant to say I have one of the longest living friends like Smokey and Aretha Franklin and yes it hurt to see your friends gold you grew up with I feel you on that one Smokey

  5. There’s one comment about Smokey Robinson he’s been my favorite singer song write since was 12 years old l’m 68 years old l don’t care who has come before him or after he’s mine favorite for all times his music and his voice is therapeutic for spirit and soul and l love s Smokey Robinson and l always will.

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