20 ESSENTIAL ALBUMS
Who: Smokey Robinson.
What: The third solo album by the leader of the first group – the Miracles – managed by Motown founder Berry Gordy before he started his own record company in 1959. A Quiet Storm became Robinson’s first major LP success of the 1970s, and also included the No. 1 R&B hit, “Baby That’s Backatcha.”
When: The title track of A Quiet Storm made its chart debut on the Billboard Hot 100 on January 17, 1976, four years after Smokey had left the Miracles. It was the album’s third single, with a song written by Robinson and his sister, Rose Ella Jones. Another track, “Wedding Song,” was composed for the marriage ceremony on December 15, 1973, of Jermaine Jackson and Berry Gordy’s youngest daughter, Hazel Joy.
Where: Smokey Robinson recorded A Quiet Storm in Los Angeles during 1974, with musicians including guitarist Marv Tarplin, whose intro on the Miracles’ “The Tracks Of My Tears” is among the most recognised riffs in 20th century music.
Why: “People considered me to be a quiet singer,” said Smokey, “so I said to myself, ‘I’d like to go back and take the business by storm.’ One of my sisters helped me finish it up. Then I extended the concept until it linked the album. The storm, that wind, that thunder, was blowing through everything – through the entire album, through my entire life.” (For more on Smokey Robinson, read here.)
What else: The title and mood of the album inspired the birth of a radio format, which made its late-night debut at WHUR-FM in Washington, D.C. in 1976 with host Melvin Lindsey. The format combined mellow R&B and light jazz, and was adopted by other radio stations across the U.S.
What are the 20 most essential Motown albums? It’s a difficult choice, but this is ours, picked and presented through the course of this 60th anniversary year. Each album is featured with its background story, keyed to a relevant date in its history. This is not a countdown, leading to a “winner.” It’s just a way to showcase some of the finest music ever made. After all, isn’t that why you’re here?