Smokey Robinson Takes Us Back

  • Playlist
  • Embed
    <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

The 12th and final cut on Smokey Robinson's new album, Time Flies When You're Having Fun, isn't even mentioned on the CD jacket. Why the secrecy? The song is Robinson's take on The Jackson 5's first hit, "I Want You Back"; he recorded it a year ago but decided not to list its title, so he wouldn't seem to be capitalizing on the death of the man he calls his "little brother."

Tuesday's Pick

  • Song: "Bonus Track (I Want You Back)"
  • Artist: Smokey Robinson
  • CD: Time Flies When You're Having Fun
  • Genre: Soul
Smokey Robinson i

Smokey Robinson's cover of The Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" has taken on a new air of poignancy. Nick Spanos hide caption

toggle caption Nick Spanos
Smokey Robinson

Smokey Robinson's cover of The Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" has taken on a new air of poignancy.

Nick Spanos

How did "big brother" treat this nugget of bubblegum pop? Well, with the kind of masterful touch that might be expected from Motown's ultimate ladies' man. He slows it down, employs minimalist instrumentation and shows off his silky, seductive falsetto. Robinson may not soar quite as high as he did back in the days of the Miracles and, sure, there's a tiny hint of rasp once in a while. But during his choice moans in "I Want You Back," it's clear that the 69-year-old singer has still got it.

The song kicks off with Robinson's soulful finger-snapping, conjuring up the doo-wop that inspired him as a young musician and setting a deliberate pace that feels very "quiet storm." As he makes his way through the familiar lyrics, Robinson knows when to keep the melody the same and when to take liberties, as in the sexy way he sings "back in your heart" in unison with his female backup singers. This slowed-down "I Want You Back" underscores the poignancy of a man begging for one more chance. The ironic timing of the song's release adds another layer of meaning: The listener can't help but think that what Smokey Robinson really wants back is the singer who made the song famous.

Listen to yesterday's Song of the Day, and subscribe to the Song of the Day newsletter.

Purchase Featured Music

Time Flies When You're Having Fun

Purchase Music

Purchase Featured Music

Time Flies When You're Having Fun
Smokey Robinson

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?




Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from