Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
The Ultimate Collection



by RobotFrank USER (27 Reviews)
October 8th, 2009 | 7 replies

Release Date: 1998 | Tracklist

Review Summary: With a retrospective of Miracles hits, The Ultimate Collection makes the case for Smokey Robinson to be declared once and for all the MVP of Motown Records.

1960, Detroit, Michigan was a very important time and place in the storied history of popular music. As rock and roll (a young genre, still finding its way) was changing direction, a window had opened for a fresh, entirely American sound to take shape. The groundwork for this style of music had already been laid in the compositions of artists like Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Jackie Wilson, the Platters and the Drifters. Doo-Wop was the sound on the streets, as seemingly every corner had its own aspiring singing group. In one particular neighborhood off Woodward Avenue, on the East Side of Detroit, the talent was so densely populated that over a dozen of its residents would achieve careers of international fame. On any given day, you could have been witness to an impromptu street performance by The Primes (Temptations), The Primettes (Supremes), The Blenders (Contours), The Four Aims (Four Tops), or The Matadors (Miracles). All of these groups would go on to sign and record with local songwriter and business man, Berry Gordy, and his Motown label.

As leader of famed group, The Miracles, Smokey Robinson was more than just a class act vocalist to his band and Motown record label. Smokey was an executive, a producer, a songwriter and above all else - a poet. A wordsmith of the highest order, Robinson penned the dazzling lyrical wordplay and melodies to some of the most significant and beloved songs in the history of popular music. Smokey made fans of people like John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan - who cited him as “America's greatest living poet.” Possessing an ability to braid a chorus of flowing rhyme like no other, Smokey Robinson provided a legendary career's worth of hits for his Miracles, while putting the upstart Motown label on his back. With hits written and produced for his Miracles, The Temptations, Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye and some of the earliest Supremes singles, Smokey's talent was far-reaching on the label as well as the the record charts.

Thankfully, Smokey didn't give away all of his best songs to his fellow Motown artists; He saved some of his greatest compositions for The Miracles. On The Ultimate Collection, twenty-five of his signature songs are presented out of chronological order, creating a flowing mix that remains engaging throughout its 70+ minute runtime. Bursting out of the gates with a rich, pounding drumbeat that defined an era, “Going to a Go-Go” transports the listener back to the carefree days of youth and innocence in a young America. A party tune through and through, “Going to a Go-Go” has the same timeless ability to put the shake and groove in your dancing bones as it did half a century earlier. Promising to keep the kids on the floor indefinitely, “I Second That Emotion” follows it's predecessor with a dance inducing blend of percussion, guitar and horn work, courtesy of legendary Motown house band, The Funk Brothers, who performed, uncredited, on more chart-topping hits than anyone in the history of pop music. Smokey's unique ability to twist and mold words to his will is executed masterfully in the chorus, “If you feel like loving me / If you've got the notion / I second that emotion.” Rounding out a trio of infectious dance numbers, “Shop Around” is a moving and grooving tune that put Smokey and the Motown label on the map. The first million-selling single on the Motown Label, “Shop Around” features a vocal performance that showcases the best use of Robinson's smooth-like-butter tenor serenade. Smokey takes it high, low, up, down and back around before launching into one of the best trademark rapid-rhyme outroes of his impressive repertoire: “Before you let 'em take your hand my son / Understand my son / Be a man my son / I know you can my son / I love 'ya.”

“Way Over There” shifts gears from the high-tempo, dance sound Motown was famous for and introduces the doo-wop rooted side of The Miracles. With beautiful background vocals featuring Smokey's wife and fellow Miracle, Claudette, backed with a hand-clapping percussion, “Way Over There” is a swirling, time-warping flood of melody. A similar-styled composition in the doo-wop vein, “I'll Try Something New” is a lesser-known hit that is carried by the silky-smooth voice only Smokey can produce. Songs like “I'll Try Something New” and “Way Over There” are what make The Ultimate Collection so worth the time and value invested into acquiring and experiencing the album. While the smash hits are the draw, songs like these are what make the collection so rich.

Planted deep in a garden of exuberant pop arrangements lie the songs that represent the greatest achievements of The Miracles staggeringly deep catalog of great songs: The ballads. The first great ballad on the collection is track six, “Who's Lovin' You?” A heart wrenching dedication to a lost love that refuses to be forgotten, “Who's Lovin' You?” captures the longing and heartache of being unable to let go, while asking the painful question of where is she now - or worse, with whom? In another classic ballad, inspired by Sam Cooke's bluesy soul hit, “Bring It On Home To Me”, Smokey penned what could arguably the greatest song ever recorded on the Motown label. A beautifully composed and executed classic that puts the collection over the top with it's doo-wop trademark 6/8 time signature and Smokey's longing lyrical delivery, “You've Really Got a Hold on Me” is a love poem disguised as a pop song. Lyrics like “I don't like you / But I love you” and “I don't want you / But I need you” create the juxtaposition of a twisted heart, torn by conflicting emotions. Perhaps the most beloved of all The Miracle's immortal love songs, “Ooo Baby Baby” features a quivering falsetto performance of legendary proportion. Rarely has a song captured the essence of love and longing like “Ooo Baby Baby.”

A career spanning compilation that goes twenty-five songs deep, The Ultimate Collection hides some of it's greatest songs on the back half. One such track is the circus influenced “Tears of a Clown,” a collaboration between Stevie Wonder, Henry Crosby and Smokey Robinson. With lyrics inspired by the tragic story of Pagliacci the clown, “Tears of a Clown” has a bouncing, playful melody intended to mask the sorrow of its central character. “Now if I appear to be carefree / It's only to camouflage my sadness / And honey to shield my pride I try / To cover this hurt with a show of gladness.” A recurring theme in Smokey's writing, the idea of putting on a front to disguise true feelings is also found in the 1965 hit, “The Tracks of My Tears”: “So take a good look at my face / You'll see my smile looks out of place / If you look closer, it's easy to trace / The tracks of my tears.” Perhaps the most underrated song of Smokey and The Miracle's extensive catalog of hits, “Come 'Round Here (I'm the One You Need)” is another up-tempo track that captures the essence of “The Motown Sound”. With a driving percussion and passionate lead vocal, “Come 'Round Here...” is a hard-hitting song that's often overlooked when recounting the many hits by The Miracles, but deserves to be high on the list of the groups best singles. Another stand-out, youthful party anthem composed by the legendary songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, is “Mickey's Monkey.” The track features an all-star cast of backing vocals: Martha & The Vandellas, three of the Marvelletes, a couple Temptations as well as Mary Wilson of The Supremes. Other notable hits on the collection include “I'll Try Something New,” “More Love,” and “I Like It Like That.”

All of the tracks on The Ultimate Collection clock in under four minutes, with the majority of them averaging two-minutes and forty-five seconds. This was part of an effective Motown Records strategy to ensure the maximum amount of radio airplay for all of their singles. With an abundance of quality hits, The Ultimate Collection is ideal for a lifetime of repeated listens from start to finish. None of the tracks on the disk are deserving of a skip, making this an essential addition to any music connoisseur's collection.

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user ratings (6)

Comments:Add a Comment 
October 9th 2009


Album Rating: 5.0

Not much classic soul support around here, I don't think, but I owed it to Smokey to write this. The man is an icon and a legend, worthy of the highest praise. I normally wouldn't give a 5 to a compilation, but there isn't a flaw anywhere on here and I can't take half a star away from The Miracles just because it's a hits collection.

Please comment, vote, don't hate.

October 9th 2009


really well written review. will pos. don't underline though, it looks horrible.

October 9th 2009


Excellent work, don't worry about the underlining I think it looks good.

October 9th 2009


Album Rating: 5.0

Appreciate the vote and constructive criticism. I've been underlining album titles since I got here and nobody has said a word, so thanks for the tip.

[edit]A vote in favor of underlining. I'm so conflicted...

October 9th 2009


Another top notch review, you know your stuff. You're starting to get me interested in this soul malarkey!

October 26th 2013


only now realising what an incredible songwriter Smokey Robinson is.

October 24th 2018


Album Rating: 5.0

I have this album! It actually gives you a little too much imo, but all of the real classics are still on there: Going To A Go-Go, I Second That Emotion, Shop Around, Way Over There, You Really Got A Hold On Me, Mickey's Monkey, Ooh Baby Baby, Tears Of A Clown, The Tracks Of My Tears, The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage, More Love.

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