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TRIPLE CROWN WINNER : Smokey Robinson Doesn't Play Baseball, but He's Sure Had His Share of Hits

October 01, 1992|MIKE BOEHM | Mike Boehm covers pop music for The Times Orange County Edition.

Smokey Robinson's chief ambition during his boyhood in Detroit was to be a professional baseball player. As it turned out, he became one of the pivotal players in launching a hometown franchise--Motown Records--that was nearly as prolific as the beloved Tigers when it came to knocking out hits.

With Motown, Robinson earned a Triple Crown that few pop figures ever attain, writing, singing and producing numerous songs that became instant standards.

Besides being a sports fanatic as a kid, Robinson spent time at home listening to singers such as Billy Eckstine, Sarah Vaughan and Clyde McPhatter. He was still in grade school when he began writing songs.

In 1955, he started a singing group called the Matadors with four of his high school buddies. By 1958, they had changed their name to the Miracles and signed with Berry Gordy Jr.'s fledgling local R&B label.

The Miracles' recording of "Shop Around," co-written by Robinson and Gordy and released late in 1960, was the first in Motown's torrent of hits.

Besides fronting his own group on such gems as "Tears of a Clown," "The Tracks of My Tears," "Ooo Baby, Baby" and "Going to a Go-Go," Robinson lent his talents as a songwriter and producer to other Motown acts, tailoring hits for the Temptations ("My Girl," among many others), Mary Wells ("My Guy"), Marvin Gaye ("Ain't That Peculiar") and the Marvelettes ("Don't Mess With Bill").

Bob Dylan described Robinson as "America's greatest living poet." While that was hyperbolic, it's not hard to see how an effusive word-spinner such as Dylan would admire Robinson for his ability to construct a memorable and meaningful song around a simple twist of phrase.

Take Robinson's most famous couplet--"I've got sunshine on a cloudy day/When it's cold outside, I've got the month of May"--from "My Girl." It's sweet, it's pithy, and its use of oppositions, a frequent Robinson device, immediately piques interest.

Robinson left the Miracles in 1972 and has carried on with a career that has yielded a few more standards, notably the delightful "Being With You," a fine example of his creamy but sincere romanticism.

In 1988, Gordy sold Motown, which had long since lost its chart-banging, home-run swing.

Robinson defected a few years later, signing with SBK Records, which a year ago released his most recent album, "Double Good Everything."

While not a hit, it was an appealing effort that found Robinson, 52, in good form doing what he does--which is just about everything that goes into the record-making process.

Who: Smokey Robinson.

When: Sunday, Oct. 4, at 7 p.m.

Where: The Celebrity Theatre, 201 E. Broadway, Anaheim.

Whereabouts: Take Harbor Boulevard south from the Riverside (91) Freeway or north from the Santa Ana (5) Freeway and head east on Broadway. The Celebrity is on the left, just past Anaheim Boulevard.

Wherewithal: $33 and $30.50.

Where to call: (714) 999-9536.

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