Feb 272020

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10. Linda Ronstadt – Tracks of My Tears (The Miracles cover)

This was the pivotal moment in my belated understanding that, let’s call them, soul and country music were and are one and the same, two genres musically divided by little more than instrumentation (okay, maybe some socio-political divides as well). When I bought Ronstadt’s Prisoner in Disguise in 1976, the scales fell from my eyes, courtesy this song. Losing the horns and orchestration, and replacing them with pedal steel… it was suddenly so obvious. I was hooked. Ronstadt’s vocal carries possibly more grief than Smokey’s more accepting rendition, but it’s the arrangement, the transformation, the semblance sublime. I’m still crying. – Seuras Og

9. Terence Trent D’Arby – Who’s Loving You (The Miracles cover)

Terence Trent D’Arby delivered our fifth favorite cover of 1987 with “What a Wonderful World.” It only barely beat out another stunning cover he delivered that same year, “Who’s Loving You” – which, unlike “World,” made his best-selling debut album Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby. The album version is impressive enough, but check out this tour de force live version from around the same time, which also incorporates the Sinatra classic “Young at Heart.” – Ray Padgett

8. She & Him – You Really Gotta Hold On Me (The Miracles cover)

She and Him, aka Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward, do good cover, and this is no exception. Truth be told, though, She alone may have been a cleaner aural treat on this delicious swoony, Spectoresque rendition. (Him’s background groaning here tends to draw some of the joy away.) She is arguably better known as an actor, but has clear and compelling pipes, not a thousand sonic miles from Lana Del Rey. What I hadn’t realized was that the majority of their material is written by Deschanel – give or take a couple of Christmas albums and a Great American Songbook splurge – with at least three albums mainly her work. M. Ward clearly keeps his stuff for his myriad solo output. But back to this song: voice(s), a guitar and shedloads of echo just deliver the goods, simply and without fuss. (The near a cappella on MTV Canada, just a tad faster, is better still.) – Seuras Og

7. Reneé Dominique – My Girl (The Temptations cover)

Renee Dominique was a new name to me, but with over a million YouTube views of her version of “My Girl,” she’s clearly a known commodity to many others. Deservedly so, too, judging by her performance here (and elsewhere – check out her channel for more covers). Not yet 20 when she recorded this, she handles her guitar with aplomb and lets her beautifully evocative voice take care of the rest. – Patrick Robbins

6. The Beat – Tears of A Clown (The Miracles cover)

Known in the US at the time as The English Beat, to distinguish them from the power pop band The Beat led by Paul Collins (remember them?), the band initially used “Tears of a Clown,” played in their signature upbeat ska style, during rehearsals, as a way for them to gel as a band before they ever played a gig. They got so good at the song that it became a mainstay of their live shows. Released as a single in the UK – because the record label insisted that they couldn’t put the single on their first album, and they wanted to make sure that “Mirror In The Bathroom” was on the album – it became a big hit in the winter of 1979. “Tears” was added to the US release of that album, I Just Can’t Stop It, and all subsequent CD releases, because (a) it is great, and (b) the record company’s rule was dumb. – Jordan Becker

5. Solomon Burke – I’ll Be Doggone (Marvin Gaye cover)

Robinson sure knows how to write ‘em. This song became Marvin Gaye’s first record to sell a million copies and his first single to reach number one on the R&B charts. Burke adds blues elements to his cover and slows the tempo down a bit, creating a more laid-back and resigned version of the song. The percussion is more prominent in this version, keeping the steady rhythm to “work all day” to. The harmonica makes an appearance with mournful keening; it just wants us to be true. – Sara Stoudt

4. Elvis Costello – From Head to Toe (The Miracles cover)

In his liner notes to Imperial Bedroom, where “From Head to Toe” eventually turned up as a bonus track, Elvis Costello notes that the arrangement owes much to the Escorts, a minor Liverpool group who, for this one track, featured a certain P. McCartney on tambourine. That may account for the loss of soul, but when it comes to the romance of the lyrics, E.C. sticks the landing. – Patrick Robbins

3. Run C&W – I Second That Emotion (The Miracles cover)

This song was a hit for the trifecta of The Miracles, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and the Temptations. A (mostly) light bluegrass touch frames this version. Beyond the banjo, the style is actually pretty similar to the original. Background vocals fade in and out while the main lyrics are sung earnestly. The slightly quirky ambiance induced by the country twang matches the play on words that inspired the song: co-writer Al Cleveland once misspoke saying “I second that emotion” instead of the more common turn of phrase “I second that motion.” – Sara Stoudt

2. Fanny – Ain’t That Peculiar (Marvin Gaye cover)

As an all-female hard rock outfit in the early ‘70s, the band known as Fanny was considered an oddity at the time. If the band is remembered for anything these days, it should be for their stellar musical chops. The group opened its 1972 third album Fanny Hill with this blistering cover of “Ain’t that Peculiar.” They include some ripping slide guitar and gut-wrenching vocals, proving they were equally adept at rocking as their male counterparts. Too bad they did not get the credit, or attain the same levels of fame, as their talents deserved. – Curtis Zimmermann

1. Peter Tosh feat. Mick Jagger – Don’t Look Back (The Temptations cover)

In 1978, Rolling Stones Records signed reggae star Peter Tosh and released his album Bush Doctor. The leadoff track from that disc was a duet featuring Tosh and Mick Jagger performing a parenthetically enhanced reggae version of The Temptations’ classic, which Tosh had sung in a mellow ska style with The Wailers back in 1966 (just a year after the original was released). While it may be hard to watch Jagger’s preening in the cheesy late-70s video for the song, the performance remains rooted in Tosh’s reggae sound. And if it helped gain airplay and recognition for Tosh, and reggae, so much the better. – Jordan Becker

Check out more installments in our monthly ‘Best Covers Ever’ series, including Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Radiohead, and Pink Floyd.

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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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