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Guest DJ Smokey Robinson

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Smokey Robinson Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Smokey Robinson

Smokey Robinson

Courtesy of the artist

On this episode of All Songs Considered, legendary R&B singer Smokey Robinson joins host Bob Boilen to share some of the songs and events that shaped his career as well as songs from his new duets album, Smokey & Friends.

Smokey remembers a series of musical milestones in his life: "Lonely Teardrop" by Jackie Wilson who he remembers seeing for the first time when he was ten years old; Sarah Vaughan, the first singer he ever remembers hearing; and the first record he ever bought, The Spaniels' 1953 hit "Baby, It's You." Alongside these influential artists he talks about some of the most famous songs he performed with The Miracles, including "I Second That Emotion" and "Got a Job."

Smokey & Friends, which is out Aug. 19, includes collaborations with artists like Miguel, John Legend and Cee Lo Green on songs written by Robinson (and some that were originally performed by other artists, like Marvin Gaye). In the show, you can hear his duets with Elton John, Mary J. Blige and James Taylor. Does revisiting his own classics so many years later make him feel nostalgia? No, he says. "I've been doing concerts now for over 50 years," Smokey says. "Every night [those songs] are new to me."

Guest DJ Smokey Robinson

Cover for Best of Jackie Wilson, Vol. 1 1957-1965 [Collectables]

Jackie Wilson

  • Album: Best of Jackie Wilson, Vol. 1 1957-1965 [Collectables]
  • Song: Lonely Teardrops

"Jackie Wilson was my number one singing idol growing up," Smokey Robinson says.

Purchase Featured Music

Song
Lonely Teardrops
Album
Best of Jackie Wilson, Vol. 1 1957-1965 [Collectables]
Artist
Jackie Wilson
Label
Collectables Records
Released
2003

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Cover for 1944-1950

Sarah Vaughan

  • Album: 1944-1950
  • Song: Tenderly

Robinson says Vaughan was the first singer he can remember hearing. "My sisters played her all the time," he says. "Singers like her ... were instruments; they had voices that were unmatchable."

Purchase Featured Music

Song
Tenderly
Album
1944-1950
Artist
Sarah Vaughan
Label
Giants Of Jazz Recordings
Released
2004

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YouTube
Cover for Golden Hits

The Spaniels

  • Album: Golden Hits
  • Song: Baby It's You

"When I listen to old records like that now, and how simple they were, it's so amazing," Robinson says of "Baby It's You." "That sounded so modern [when it came out]."

Purchase Featured Music

Song
Baby It's You
Album
Golden Hits
Artist
The Spaniels
Label
Juke Box Treasures
Released
1994

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Cover for Icon

Smokey Robinson

  • Album: Icon
  • Song: I Second That Emotion

"I Second That Emotion" was a hit for The Miracles in 1967, and again for The Supremes two years later. But Robinson says he doesn't set out to write hits. "I want to start with a song," he says, "something that if I had written it 50 years before now, it would have meant something and today it's gonna mean something and 50 years from now its gonna mean something."

Purchase Featured Music

Song
I Second That Emotion
Album
Icon
Artist
Smokey Robinson
Label
Universal Motown
Released
2010

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YouTube
Cover for Smokey & Friends

Smokey Robinson and Elton John

  • Album: Smokey & Friends
  • Song: The Tracks Of My Tears (featuring Elton John)

Smokey Robinson says he found making Smokey & Friends a joy. Each artist on the record was asked by producer Randy Jackson to choose the one song they'd like to cover. Smokey Robinson's friend Elton John put his own spin on The Miracles classic, "The Tracks of My Tears," then sent it to Smokey, who added his inimitable voice.

Cover for Smokey & Friends

Smokey Robinson and James Taylor

  • Album: Smokey & Friends
  • Song: Ain't That Peculiar (featuring James Taylor)

"It's very folk rock," Robinson says of James Taylor's interpretation of "Ain't That Peculiar," which was a hit for Marvin Gaye in 1965. "James is a huge Marvin Gaye and it doesn't surprise me that he'd pick a song that I'd written for Marvin. ... He's a soulful guy."

Cover for 35th Anniversary Collection

Smokey Robinson & the Miracles

  • Album: 35th Anniversary Collection
  • Song: Got a Job

"Got A Job" was the first song The Miracles ever recorded, a response to the hit "Get A Job" by the Silhouettes. "Berry [Gordy] had been working with us for two or three months," Robinson says. "But this was prior to him starting Motown. I wrote this song and he and I were very excited about 'Got A Job.'"

Purchase Featured Music

Song
Got a Job
Album
35th Anniversary Collection
Artist
Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
Label
Motown
Released
1994

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YouTube
Cover for Icon

Smokey Robinson & The Miracles

  • Album: Icon
  • Song: Shop Around

"'Shop Around' was the first million seller for Motown," Robinson says of the 1960 single by The Miracles. "It started the ball rolling for many, many people and many things. [It'll] always be special in my heart."

Purchase Featured Music

Song
Shop Around
Album
Icon
Artist
Smokey Robinson
Label
Universal Motown
Released
2010

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

YouTube
Cover for Smokey & Friends

Smokey Robinson and Mary J. Blige

  • Album: Smokey & Friends
  • Song: Being With You (featuring Mary J. Blige)

Mary J. Blige was ten years old when Smokey put out "Being With You" in 1981. It was his biggest hit in decades and this duet honors the cool and soothing feel of the original.

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