TRACK OF THE WEEK
DAY & DATE: Recording at Motown’s Studio A started Wednesday, May 5, 1965.
SONGWRITERS: William “Smokey” Robinson, Warren “Pete” Moore.
PRODUCER: William “Smokey” Robinson.
BACKSTORY: “I think that a song should be poetic,” said Smokey Robinson. “I want to hear something that rhymes.” Motown’s master songwriter expressed that sentiment to Loraine Alterman of the Detroit Free Press the year after “Since I Lost My Baby” was recorded and released. It was, he added, his personal favorite. “There’s something about that tune that I just set it aside. It wasn’t the biggest commercially, and I can’t put my finger on what I love about it.”
Many others share Smokey’s affection for the song, even if they can’t explain it, either. (The single reached the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 in August 1965.) But he did illuminate the writing process for Alterman in that ’66 interview. “If I have the words, then in my mind I get the melody and I put it all down on tape,” he explained. “I try to stick basically to life-type situations – to something anyone could feel – without going into long, drawn-out situations. The songs are situations that I know have happened in life…I try to stick to something so that people will say, ‘That happened to me,’ or ‘That happened to Tom or Bill.’”
The writing of “Since I Lost My Baby” happened with Pete Moore, a member of the Miracles – a combination which delivered other memorable hits for Smokey’s group, including “Ooo Baby Baby,” “The Tracks Of My Tears,” “My Girl Has Gone” and “Going To A Go-Go.” For the Temptations, the pair also created “Fading Away,” “It’s Growing” and “No More Water In The Well.” For Marvin Gaye, they authored “Ain’t That Peculiar” and “One More Heartache.”
“Since I Lost My Baby” was the third consecutive Temptations hit to feature the honey-and-sandpaper lead vocals of David Ruffin. “As a producer, I was always looking for the sleeping giants at Motown, the singers being overlooked,” Smokey revealed in his autobiography, Inside My Life. Ruffin was one such giant. Robinson had co-written the Temps’ 1964 chart breakthrough, “The Way You Do The Things You Do,” which featured the voice of Eddie Kendricks. “Now I dug Eddie,” Smokey remembered, “but I saw David back there, waiting to explode.” Robinson lit the blue touchpaper with Ruffin’s incendiary lead on “My Girl,” then further fuelled the conflagration with “Since I Lost My Baby.”
REMAKES: This song’s marriage of melancholy melody to heart-wrenching lyric has attracted plenty of artists since the Temptations’ original. There were the obligatory British remakes by the likes of mod guitar band The Action and bluesman Long John Baldry during the 1960s, and – improbably – by Engelbert Humperdinck and Cliff Richard in 2014. Cleveland rock ’n’ rollers the Outsiders also warbled a version in ’66, but “Since I Lost My Baby” regained its depth and stature in ’82 with the help of Luther Vandross on his Forever, For Always, For Love album. What’s more, the strings and horn arrangement on that recording was the work of Paul Riser, the classically-trained musician responsible for arranging so many Motown milestones of sound. In 2005, when a number of contemporary singers came together for So Amazing, a tribute album following Vandross’ death in 2005, it was Angie Stone who picked “Since I Lost My Baby.”
FOOTNOTE: Temptin’ Temptations was the group’s third album on the Gordy label, with “Since I Lost My Baby” among its six Smokey productions. The package was released in November 1965, going on to spend 14 weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot R&B LPs listing. This popularity extended to the pop charts, which Temptin’ occupied for a total of 37 weeks, with a peak position of No. 11. “But,” noted the group’s Otis Williams in Temptations, his autobiography, “as much as I liked most of the tunes…I can’t look at the cover – with us in white suits and black shoes – without wincing a little. For all our style and class, we didn’t have those damn white shoes when we needed them.”