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Smokey Robinson and the Miracles Week No 3: Way Over There

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles started out as just the plane old "Miracles" but right from the start there was never any doubt who was the boss and driving force of the band, lead vocalist and songwriter William "Smokey" Robinson. This is one of their earliest singles, originally recorded in 1959, but rereleased on Tamla in 1962 when it became a smidgeon of a hit, peaking in the Billboard Hot 100 at number 94. More significantly, it is one of the earliest clear examples of the partnership between Smokey and Motown boss Berry Gordy, the rock on which the Motown empire was founded. While here they shared the writing credits, starting under Gordy's wing, Robinson became the label's most accomplished producer of its early years, with acts such as Mary Wells, the Temptations and the Marvelettes, before moving up the executive ladder to become Vice President of the Motown Corporation. But here's one of their early moments, for that's what its is, as much a recording of a moment, something that happened at a particular time: the Motown is sound not quite developed, but the ingredients are there: a poppy, catchy tune, a deep (literally), soulful vocal groove from Smokey himself, total toe tapping danceability, the embryo Funk Brothers as the backing band plus great singalong words.

Add to that the almost Arabic string arrangement and the call-and-response style backing vocals audibly led by Smokey's soon-to-be wife and fellow Miracle Claudette and you have a mini masterpiece.

It's a top notch opening couplet, the prodigious length of the phrases defining the song, making it breathless and exciting, and therefore passionate:

"I've got a lover way over there on the mountain side and I know that's where I should be and don't you know I've got a lover way over there across the river wide I can hear her calling to me."

And then there's the first of those famous Motown in-house jokes, in that Claudette - Smokey's actual lover - is the one who in the song is calling to him:

Smokey: Oh, she's calling my name...

So sweet so plain I can hear her saying

Claudette: Come to me, baby

Smokey: I'm on my way

Claudette: Come to me baby

Smokey: I'm gonna stay

Claudette: Come to me baby

When they recorded this, Smokey was 18 and Claudette was 16, and maybe it's their young love that gives the track its sense of excitement, or maybe it's the collective excitement of all the participants, an awareness of something longlasting and remarkable being born.

And those short bursts of funky handclapping halfway in.

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