Feb 272020

‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

smokey robinson covers

The story goes that Bob Dylan called Smokey Robinson “America’s greatest living poet.” Not so, it turns out, but it sure seems like something he would say – it sounds a note of contrariness, but it also has the ring of truth.

Smokey Robinson turned 80 this month, and his legacy as one of the architects of the Motown sound has long been assured. Not only did he have a silken falsetto that conveyed sunshine and rain with equal ease, he also wielded a pen with a similar level of genius. Whether writing for The Miracles, the band that he led throughout the sixties, or the other members of the Motown stable, he came up with songs that became not just a part of music history, but a part of our nation’s history. As Smokey said, the Motown slogan was not “The Sound of Black America,” but “The Sound of Young America,” and that sound has rung down through the corridors of time as surely as the sound of the Liberty Bell.

No further proof is needed than the number of covers of Smokey’s songs – covers of his own recordings or covers of the original recordings by The Temptations or Marvin Gaye or the many other singers who benefited from his pen. His voice has spoken to other artists for decades, and when those artists tell us what he told them, those songs are just as fresh as they were the day he first set them down. We found thirty superlative covers of songs that Smokey wrote and/or sang, but, as we could have found thirty great recordings of “My Girl” alone, we know we’ve missed a few along the way. Whether you’re steamed at what we missed, or excited to discover what we found, we can agree on one thing: Smokey Robinson is one of the all-time greats, and we’re fortunate to have the privilege to listen to the songs he wrote for the rest of our lives.

– Patrick Robbins, Features Editor

The list starts on Page 2.

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  7 Responses to “The Best Smokey Robinson Covers Ever”

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  1. […] Smokey Robinson was the next subject of our “Best Of” series, and I wrote about: No. 27, John Hiatt and Loudon Wainwright’s acoustic version of “My Girl,” No. 15, Billy Bragg’s also acoustic “Tracks of My Tears,” No. 6, The [English] Beat’s ska cover of “Tears of a Clown,” and the No. 1 pick, Peter Tosh and Mick Jagger turning “Don’t Look Back” into a reggae hit.  And then we put a twist on the format, writing about covers recorded by Aretha Franklin.  I wrote about No. 38, her version of “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” originally from Carousel, then covered by many, including Gerry & the Pacemakers, before becoming associated with Liverpool F.C. and football teams around the world, No. 25, her funky cover of “The Weight” featuring a pre-Allman Brothers Duane on slide and the Muscle Shoals rhythm section, and No. 7, a full on gospel version of “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” that Paul Simon loved, but not as much as the original.  Most recently, I wrote about Tom Waits’ “Way Down In The Hole,” which was used as the theme for The Wire, for a Q&A about covers used in movies or TV shows.  Coming soon–Best John Prine covers. […]

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