Feb 272020

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20. Ana Roxanne – Ooh Baby Baby (Live at Union Station) (The Miracles cover)

Los Angeles ambient artist Ana Roxanne digs deep into the catalog for this rarely-covered gem. She needs only swirling synthesizer textures to undergird her soaring vocals. – Ray Padgett

19. David Allan Coe – My Girl (The Temptations cover)

The album version of self-described “Longhaired Redneck” David Allan Coe’s country cover of “My Girl” is a fairly subdued affair. This live video from Austin City Limits is another story entirely. Wearing a Rick James-style outfit, Coe proves that Nashville and Motown can peacefully coexist. He and his band reinvent the song as a fusion of country, funk and Southern rock. If you watch closely, you’ll see the guitar solo is handled by future jamband king Warren Haynes. Who knew country music could be so darn funky? – Curtis Zimmermann

18. Wishbone Ash – Get Ready (The Temptations cover)

This was the last song that Robinson wrote for The Temptations. Since it didn’t reach the top 20, Robinson was replaced. The song fared better in a rock format with a cover by Rare Earth a few years later. In the spirit of Motown turned heavy rock, this subsequent Wishbone Ash cover contributes some hardcore electric guitar chords to drive this cover. Starting out with an opener very similar to the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” this cover builds in intensity. The ominousness contrasts the cheery original. What are we getting ready for exactly? Oh, we should be “looking out”? That seems worrying. A guitar solo in the middle paradoxically sounds a tad techno, bordering on rock bluegrass. It’s a jarring interlude, but the hardcore rock identity returns to close things out. – Sara Stoudt

17. The Beatles – You Really Got A Hold On Me (The Miracles cover)

Those familiar with the Beatles’ origin story know that the Fab Four got their start playing covers of American rock and roll, soul, and even country tunes. This formula spilled over into the band’s early albums, filled with such great covers as the group’s take on The Miracles’ “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me.” The track was included on the band’s second U.K. album With The Beatles in 1963 and the group’s second U.S. release on Capitol Records in 1964, aptly titled The Beatles’ Second Album. As with many of their covers from the era, the song plays like a quintessential Beatles track with plenty of guitar and the group’s signature vocal blend. It may have been the early days of Beatlemania, but they had definitely discovered their sound. – Curtis Zimmermann

16. Kim Carnes – More Love (The Miracles cover)

Smokey and the Miracles’ original version of “More Love” from 1967 exudes sweetness from its every pore with its handsome foundation of a bass line and yearning vocal, and remains a truly beautiful declaration of the everlasting love thing. Despite all its innate beauty, it only managed to get to #23 in the pop chart, which at that point, as far as Motown classics went, only ensured it a place on the “B team,” with an added dollop of cult classic on the side. That is, until 1980, when raspy voiced Kim Carnes gave it new life and turned it into a top 10 smash. In Carnes’ hands, this lovely pastel-colored balloon of a Smokey song is transformed into a gigantic mylar heart filled with helium and sunshine. It’s a ridiculously plush affair from its opening, for lack of a better term, synth-tro, with a laid-back disco beat and bonus big fat sax solo in the bridge. All the elements work together to create a feeling of unbridled joy. The original is reassuring salve. Carnes turns it into celebration. – Hope Silverman

15. Billy Bragg – Tracks Of My Tears (The Miracles cover)

The last song on Billy Bragg’s 2002 album England, Half English with The Blokes (which included, among others, Ian McLagan, Ben Mandelson and Lu Edmonds) is “Tears of My Tracks,” which musically cribbed from Smokey’s similarly titled song. It used the sale of a record collection as evidence of poverty and as a metaphor for lost love. A few years later, Bragg included a spare, acoustic version of the actual Miracles song on the bonus disc for the re-release of his 1986 album Talking With the Taxman About Poetry. I don’t know whether this was recorded before or after England, Half English, but it is clear that the song’s painful message strongly affected Bragg. – Jordan Becker

14. Thair – My Guy (Mary Wells cover)

Last year, a bunch of college kids studying the music industry put together a Motown tribute album. Learning-by-doing A&R, they found independent artists to remake a whole bunch of the label’s biggest hits in a variety of genres, aiming to pitch film and TV placements. This business-minded endeavor understandably led to hit-and-miss recordings, but one of the standouts was Chicago singer Thair Thompson doing a dance remake of “My Guy.” – Ray Padgett

13. The Jerry Garcia Band – The Way You Do The Things You Do (The Temptations cover)

The opening track to the Jerry Garcia Band’s 1991 self-titled live album feels like a celebration. In the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, the troubled singer/guitarist briefly got his groove back, sparking the Dead’s and his own late-career renaissance. He sings as though he’s enjoying every moment, and his backup singers help with the high notes. The band keeps the track to a mere eight minutes (short by JGB standards), which gives them plenty of time to jam without going too far astray. – Curtis Zimmermann

12. J. Geils Band – First I Look at the Purse (The Contours cover)

The opening track from the J. Geils Band’s Live: Full House gets their first live album off to a roaring start. Recorded in Detroit, “First I Look at the Purse” gives Motown back to Motown, taking the Contours tune Smokey co-wrote and making it cook like nobody’s business. By the time it’s over, everybody in that room wants to hear more. – Patrick Robbins

11. Patti Smith – The Hunter Gets Captured By the Game (The Marvelettes cover)

If you can stomach shakily-recorded live bootlegs – and you’re missing out if you can’t – you’ve gotta track down Patti Smith performing the last-ever show at CBGB. Over the course of a mammoth three-hour set, she paid tribute to all the punk legends who had graced the iconic stage, covering the Ramones, Dead Boys, Television, Blondie, and many more. She also looked back at her own formative years there, reviving a song she used to perform in the ’70s: “The Hunter Gets Captured By the Game.” Though her performance there was beautiful, let’s go back to the source, a 1975 version she did for a New York radio broadcast. Despite it being a Marvelettes song, Smith knows enough music history to shout out Smokey at the end. – Ray Padgett

The list continues on Page 4.

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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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