The Singer: Along with Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson was a triple threat for Motown Records: a great singer, hit songwriter and an architect of the label's sound. Most people can name a half-dozen songs Smokey sang with the Miracles in the '60s, but his solo career pointed his smooth delivery and trembling timbre in a new direction. His "Quiet Storm" provided the template (and title) for a new genre of low-lit R&B, and "Cruisin'" remains a karaoke-bar standard.
The Song: Taken from the 1981 album of the same name, "Being with You" captures what Smokey was all about in the '70s and early '80s: soft, smooth soul that gently but persistently percolates throughout. The song also contains one of his all-time best couplets: "I've heard the warning voice from friends and my relations / They tell me all about your heart-break reputation."
The Video: I
stopped looking for narrative in these Slow Jam videos a long time ago,
but this clip still puzzles me. I can hang with the initial conceit - a
regrettably mustachioed Smokey walks around his beach-front property
picking flowers, shooting pool and walking on the beach; so far, so
good. But who is that mysterious woman watching Smokey at the video's
end? If he's singing a song about being with her, why is he on the
beach while she's in the house? Is she an intruder or a jilted lover
plotting her revenge? We may never know.
Hipster Cachet: Smokey
became something of a hero to British new wave bands helmed by blond,
slightly effeminate front men: The English Beat scored big with a cover
of "Tears of a Clown," and ABC paid tribute to him in "When Smokey Sings."