20 ESSENTIAL ALBUMS
Who: Smokey Robinson & the Miracles.
What: The group’s ninth album, and the first to carry their leader’s name in the credits.
When: Going To A Go-Go was released November 1, 1965, as the Miracles’ third single that year, “My Girl Has Gone,” was en route to the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100. The album was the group’s first to reach the Top 10 of the pop LP best-sellers, which it did as its fourth 45 – the title track – took its chart peak in February ’66. (For more about Smokey Robinson, read here.)
Where: The recording studio inside Motown’s Detroit headquarters was Smokey’s workplace for much of 1965, beginning in January when he crafted the basic track for “The Tracks Of My Tears” with the Miracles’ guitarist, Marv Tarplin. Robinson remembered starting the song on a Friday, working on it over the weekend, and playing it to Berry Gordy on a Monday. Detroit was where all but one of the 12 tracks on Going To A Go-Go were laid down; the exception was “My Baby Changes Like The Weather,” which the group cut in Los Angeles in late 1964 with Motown’s California team players, Hal Davis and Frank Wilson.
Why: Smokey was also at his most inspired in ’65, not only with the material on Going To A Go-Go, but also sending Marvin Gaye’s career to new chart heights with “I’ll Be Doggone” and “Ain’t That Peculiar,” which Robinson co-wrote and produced. He was swift to credit his collaborator on those songs and three of the hits from the album. “Marv Tarplin is a monster musician,” Smokey declared in his autobiography, Inside My Life. “He’s inspired me all my life, and, especially in these formative years, he kicked my bass, coming up with music just begging for words.”
What else: This album’s masterpiece is “The Tracks Of My Tears,” the song which just may define the poetry of Smokey’s work for all time. It has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. “It is my favorite song of theirs,” wrote Motown founder Berry Gordy about Robinson and Tarplin in his autobiography, To Be Loved. Others evidently agree: since the original’s release, “The Tracks Of My Tears” has been recorded by artists ranging from Aretha Franklin to Linda Ronstadt, from Bryan Ferry to Rod Stewart, from Boyz II Men to Michael McDonald. Stewart cut a version with Robinson himself in 2009, and Smokey did the same on his Smokey & Friends album in 2014, with Elton John.
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?