TRACK OF THE WEEK
DAY & DATE: Released as a single (Tamla 54112) on Friday, February 26, 1965.
SONGWRITERS: William “Smokey” Robinson, Warren “Pete” Moore, Marv Tarplin.
PRODUCER: William “Smokey” Robinson.
BACKSTORY: Smokey Robinson’s diary was full in January 1965. He had new music to shape, fresh tracks to lay down in the basement studio of Hitsville U.S.A. It was Wednesday, January 20 – time to get busy. First, there was a new song he had been creating with the help of his guitarist, Marv Tarplin – in fact, it was built on a riff by the musician – and with fellow Miracle, Pete Moore. Something to do with “tracks” and “tears.”
The next day, Smokey was back in the “Snakepit” with arranger Willie Shorter, directing the Funk Brothers on a couple more compositions. One was a deep, soulful ballad, formed out of a vocal signature the Miracles had perfected years earlier; the other was an uptempo number, fronted by one of Tarplin’s roof-raising workouts. The first? “Ooo Baby Baby.” The second? “I’ll Be Doggone.”
“Marv Tarplin had whipped out an especially nasty riff, a hot hook that took off the top of my head,” Smokey remembered in Inside My Life, his autobiography. “I’ll be doggone! I thought to myself, mesmerized by Marv’s music.” He continued, using his nickname for Gaye: “Went in and cut the song on Dad, who sang the shit out of it. I loved producing Marvin Gaye. He’d interpret my material like he’d written it himself, improvising and improving the original concept.”
The feeling was mutual. “Smokey wrote something in ‘I’ll Be Doggone’ that knocked me out,” Marvin recalled to David Ritz, author of the Gaye biography, Divided Soul (Ritz was Robinson’s collaborator on Inside My Life, too). “He said that a woman ought to be whatever a man wants. I believe that, though it’s a thought that’s caused me powerful grief. But I can’t blame that on Smokey.” Politically incorrect or not, “I’ll Be Doggone” was a huge hit in the spring of ’65, attaining Number One on the Billboard R&B charts – Marvin’s first – and his second consecutive Top 10 hit on the pop charts. “Dad was brilliant,” declared Smokey Robinson. Record buyers agreed.
REMAKES: As with so much early and mid-1960s Motown, the British couldn’t resist. “I’ll Be Doggone” was covered by three such bands during that decade: Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas, the Searchers, and Cliff Bennett & the Rebel Rousers. But American bands dug the song, too. Paul Revere & the Raiders turned in a version on their Just Like Us! album in 1966, while in ’78, the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir took a shine to it for his Heaven Help The Fool long-player. And if Marvin Gaye thought that a woman was there to do what a man wanted, let’s hope he heard “I’ll Be Doggone” when it was remade by Twiggy (yes, the British model) in 1977. “If I ever catch you running around/Throwing your money on a woman downtown…” she sings. And in that case, she’ll be long gone.
FOOTNOTE: Besides making hits, Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye shared another passion. “Some of my greatest times in Detroit were playing golf with Smokey at Palmer Park,” Marvin admitted in Divided Soul. “We fell in love with the game around the same time. Berry, too. Seemed like it was the leisure sport we’d won the right to play.” Motown’s master songwriter noticed something else: that Marvin when playing golf would “get hoodwinked by the hustlers. Those guys would be waiting for him, like wolves waiting for the sheep. Dad always had a plan to beat them, but never did.” Well, ain’t that peculiar.