100 Greatest Singers

20

Smokey Robinson

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Born February 19th, 1940
Key Tracks "The Tracks of My Tears," "You've Really Got a Hold on Me" (the Miracles), "Cruisin' " (solo)
Influenced Al Green, Linda Ronstadt, Mick Jagger

"With his tone and delivery, you could fall in love with Smokey," says fellow Motown star Martha Reeves. As a teenager, Robinson wanted to sing Platters-style doo-wop, but he ended up inventing his own vocal style, even as he and Berry Gordy Jr. created the Motown sound: His high, delicate delivery marked him as not so much a tenor as a male soprano, able to glide into a heartbreaking falsetto that remains one of the most distinctive sounds of 20th-century pop. On Miracles hits like "The Tracks of My Tears," "You've Really Got a Hold on Me" and especially "Ooo Baby Baby" (with its near-wordless but endlessly affecting chorus), that voice made the thrills and heartbreaks of romance sound equally seductive. Said Paul McCartney, "Smokey Robinson was like God in our eyes."

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