Making It Happen

Despite Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ exalted status in the soul canon, it sometimes feels as if their 60s catalogue is largely reduced to just a few well-known songs — songs like “The Tracks Of My Tears,” “Second That Emotion,” “Ooo Baby Baby,” and maybe “Tears Of A Clown.” But Robinson and co. released more than 15 albums together before they broke up in the early 70s.  Even the 52 song Ooo Baby Baby: The Anthology, which compiles most of the big hits, contains less than a third of Smokey and the Miracles’ total output.  For most of his career with the Miracles, Smokey had the best Motown had to offer at his disposal – musicians like the Funk Brothers and a number of formidable song writers – as well as his own prodigious compositional talents, resulting in several excellent records.

One of these records is 1967’s Make It Happen, which included three hits that show up on compilations – “The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage,” “More Love,” and “The Tears Of A Clown.” But most of the rest of the album is just as worthy of attention. In particular, Make It Happen includes two of Smokey’s most upbeat recordings, neither of which are included on most anthologies.  The first, “My Love Is Your Love,” was partially written by Stevie Wonder (who also earned songwriting credits on “Tears Of A Clown”).  It seems astounding that this tune was not a huge success – and it had two chances, since it was recorded by the Isley brothers in the same year as well.

“My Love Is Your Love” jumps out of the speakers with an effortless swing.  The bass line glides on the air, while the horn section works like a boxer, hitting solidly and dancing rings around everything in its path.  Smokey’s light, high voice excels at emoting sorrow and loneliness because it is so gentle — no one who sounds like that could ever have been mean — and so easy for him to pitch it to the point of breaking.  Time and time again, he sang convincingly from the position of the abandoned lover, the regretful lover, or the lover with no one to love.  Tears and crying come up repeatedly in his songs (“The Tracks Of My Tears,” “Tears Of A Clown,” “Baby Baby Don’t Cry,” “I Can’t Stand To See You Cry”), since these images are a natural fit to his almost heart-broken voice.  But on “My Love For You Love,” Robinson uses his voice to express glorious contentment, a feeling he encapsulates with a long “yeah, yeah” that opens the song.  Sung sweetly and innocently, Smokey’s joy seems almost unattainable, impossibly pure, but also completely infectious.

The other groover on the album is “It’s A Good Feeling,” a Holland-Dozier-Holland penned track.  The Holland-Dozier-Holland team was a tour-de-force of soul songwriting in the 60s, responsible for songs like “Quicksand” by Martha and the Vandellas, “Can I Get A Witness” by Marvin Gaye, and “Where Did Our Love Go” by the Supremes (to name just a few).   “It’s A Good Feeling” slips easily into this lineage; Smokey’s pitch-perfect pipes ruminate on the pleasures of love, accompanied by a rising guitar figure, an answering horn section, and one of those impeccable Motown grooves.  Make It Happen has depth and strength extending far beyond its hits.

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