It was interesting to read that Pete Townshend’s Substitute was inspired by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, The Tracks Of My Tears and the line “Although she may be cute, she’s just a substitute”. Well there’s no doubt that it’s one of the great songs from the Motown catalogue and despite the link to the previous post all the classic Motown hit singles sit comfortably next to my Only Ones and Television albums.
A few years ago I was at SXSW in Texas and to my surprise I saw that Smokey Robinson was playing amongst a whole lot of hipsters, indie hopeful’s, loons, dudes, kind Folkies, noisy leather clad long hairs, madmen, tattooed ladies, ego maniacs, naïve fools, dumb geniuses, hobbyists, future millionaires, drug fiends, vegans, gay icons, virtuosos, poets, hopeless talents, passionate fans, thieves, writers, photographers, dancers, fashion victims and aliens.
It seemed so out of context with the usual suspects at this event and having struggled to get into some trendy showcases I was both astonished and relieved at the amount of people that hadn’t bothered to come to see this living legend. He sang like an angel, the songs were such sweet, sensitive pleas and the drummer, oh my the drummer, I’ve never heard a drummer play so softly. He might have rather been caressing the skins with two feathers rather than hitting them with sticks. Robinson’s perfect falsetto was never drowned out by his band. It was such a great concert and Robinson was funny too, telling a rather amusing story about Stevie Wonder giving him a tape for some music he had written as he was struggling to find a lyric – the song was Tears Of A Clown. Yes, it was a blind joke, but told, or should I say acted out by Smokey, it was good humoured if not unexpected.
This song was written by Smokey and members of The Miracles, bass voice Warren “Pete” Moore and guitarist Marv Tarplin. The song reached No.9 in the UK chart and No.16 in the US. It was recorded by Johnny Rivers, Aretha Franklin, Linda Ronstadt and even by my favourite singer Colin Blunstone reaching No.60 in the UK chart in 1982.
Did I mention the dancing ? Last but not least, this was a time when the single sleeve didn’t need to sell the artist – that’s what the song was for.