Skip to main content

Holland, Dozier and Holland: Motown's Writers

Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland wrote many early Motown hits, and helped turn the company into a powerhouse. Their songs include "You Can't Hurry Love," "Reach Out I'll Be There," "Baby, I Need Your Loving," "Heat Wave," and "Stop! In the Name of Love." Diana Ross & The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops and Martha Reeves & The Vandellas recorded their songs. In 1990 they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They have a new 3-CD box set called Heaven Must Have Sent You... the Holland/Dozier/Holland Story on Hip-O Records. This interview originally aired on May. 12, 2003.

08:09

Other segments from the episode on December 25, 2006

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 25, 2006: Interview with Smokey Robinson; Interview with Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland and Eddie Holland.

Transcript

DATE December 25, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Smokey Robinson talks about being a songwriter, giving
in depth reminiscence on many of his songs, such as "Shop Around"
and "You Really Got a Hold on Me"

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Merry Christmas! Today we begin our holiday week series "Teller of Songs"
featuring recent interviews with pop, soul, punk and hip-hop songwriters and
singers. We begin the series with the great soul singer and songwriter Smokey
Robinson, who was one of the most important figures in the development of
Motown Records. He had the label's first big hit "Shop Around," which he
followed with many more hits including "You've Really Got a Hold on Me,"
"Mickey's Monkey," "Oh, Baby Baby," "The Tracks of My Tears," "I Second That
Emotion," and this one, "Tears of a Clown."

(Soundbite of "Tears of a Clown")

Mr. SMOKEY ROBINSON: (Singing) Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Now if there's a smile on my face,
It's only there trying to fool the public,
But when it comes down to fooling you,
Now, honey, that's quite a different subject.

But don't let my glad expression
Give you the wrong impression.
Really I'm sad.

THE MIRACLES: (Singing) Sad, sad, sad, sad.

Mr. ROBINSON: (Singing) Oh, sadder than sad. I'm so sad.

THE MIRACLES: (Singing) I hurt so bad.

Mr. ROBINSON: (Singing) You're gone and I'm hurting so bad.

THE MIRACLES: (Singing) I pretend to be glad.

Mr. ROBINSON: (Singing) Like a clown I pretend to be glad.

THE MIRACLES: (Singing) Sad, sad, sad, sad.

Mr. ROBINSON: (Singing) Now there's some sad things known to man,
But ain't too much sadder than the tears of a clown, when there's no one
around.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: In addition to writing and producing most of his own records, Smokey
Robinson also wrote for other Motown acts like The Temptations, The
Marvellettes, Marvin Gaye and Mary Wells. From 1961 until 1988 Robinson was a
vice president of Motown. Earlier this year he released a new CD of jazz and
pop standards called "Timeless Love." Earlier this month he was one of five
recipients of the Kennedy Center honors. CBS will broadcast the awards
ceremony tomorrow night.

Smokey Robinson has said that when he was a kid, instead of spending money on
candy he saved money for Hit Parade magazine. I asked him what was in the
magazine that was so important to him.

Mr. ROBINSON: Songs. I've always loved music and songs and songwriters.
And whenever I would buy records, I would look to see who wrote the songs.
And so I would spend my money to buy "Your Hit Parade" magazine because it had
all the latest songs in there. Not until I became a professional songwriter
myself and saw my songs in some of those magazines did I realize a lot of
times they had the lyrics wrong. But, yeah, I used to do that.

GROSS: So you were--I mean, when I was young I don't think I was very aware
of songwriters. I was aware of, like, the singers. But, so when you were
young you knew that songs were written by people...

Mr. ROBINSON: Yes.

GROSS: ...and you were interested in who those people were.

Mr. ROBINSON: Yes, I was. And, see, that's what I'm talking about. See,
you're right in line with what I'm talking about, Terry, because most people
do that. Most people, their concentration and their focus is on the artist.
But in those days, when these songs were written, the focus was on the song
man. Somebody, you know, like Irving Berlin wrote a hit song and all the
artists jumped on it to sing it. And that's when these songs were written.
So, but you're right with everybody else because most people do that.

GROSS: So, when you were a kid, did you try writing songs in the style of
Irving Berlin and the Gershwins and Rodgers and Hart?

Mr. ROBINSON: You know what, honey? I just tried writing songs. I don't
know who I was emulating. More than likely it was them because I always tried
writing songs. The first song that I ever wrote where anybody other than me
heard it was a song when I was six years old. I had this class called
auditorium at Dwyer Elementary in Detroit. And we would do plays and have
little stage shows and stuff like that in this particular class. And we were
doing a play, and the play was, the focus of the play was Uncle Remus. And
Uncle Remus was--is a fabled old folklore guy, old black guy who told tales to
the kids about how the animals got to be how they are, how the leopard got the
spots, how the pig got the curly tail, why the monkey swings from a tree and
all that. And so I was portraying Uncle Remus in this little play that we
were having, and my auditorium teacher had this little melody that she played
at the beginning of the show and the end of the show. And I asked her if I
could write some words to it, and she allowed me to do so. So I've been
trying to write songs all my life.

GROSS: What were the lyrics you wrote?

Mr. ROBINSON: Just, `Hello little children, hello little children, hello
little children, we're going to have a play.' And then we did the play and
then at the end of it, `Good night little children, good night little
children, good night little children, it's time to go to bed.' And so that was
it. That was a hit, man.

GROSS: Who knew?

Mr. ROBINSON: You know.

GROSS: Well, that's so great. Well, we were talking about your love of
standards, but when you started singing with your own vocal groups, with your
friends, what were you singing?

Mr. ROBINSON: Oh, you know, I was writing songs then--in fact, I'll tell you
a little story about that. But we sang what was currently popular by the
groups and the people we were listening to. And the people that I grew up,
when I started to buy my records, of course, I was buying the popular people
then. My number one singing idol was Jackie Wilson, which was how I actually
met Barry Gordy, because the group that turned out to be The Miracles and I
went for an audition for Jackie Wilson's managers in Detroit. And at that
time, Barry Gordy had written all of the hit songs that Jackie Wilson had out.
And Barry happened to be at that audition, and rather than us singing songs
that were currently popular by other people, we sang about five songs that I
had written. And so Jackie Wilson's managers rejected us. They told us we
would never make it because we had a guy singing lead high and there was a
girl in our group, and there was already The Platters who were very, very,
very popular at that time. And so they had a high guy singing high and a girl
in the group, and so we would never make it because of The Platters.

And Barry Gordy happened to be at that audition and he was impressed because
he had never heard any of the songs that we sang. So he came outside
afterwards. He was there to turn in some new songs to Jackie Wilson, and he
asked where we got the songs. And I told him I'd written them and so on and
so forth. And he asked me if I had some more songs, which was a mistake on
his part because I had a hundred songs in a notebook that I had with me. And
I sang about 20 of them for Barry that day, and he just critiqued them for me.
And I told him that I had all of his music because I had all of Jackie
Wilson's music and some of the other songs he had written for Etta James and a
couple of groups and stuff like that. And we struck up a relationship and
about a year or so after that, man, we started Motown. And so that was a
fabulous time of my life.

GROSS: So, when he critiqued your songs after you sang a bunch for him, what
did he say?

Mr. ROBINSON: Well, you know, Terry, I could always rhyme. From the time I
was a little kid I could always rhyme stuff. But my songs at that time didn't
complete an idea. I would have a great rhymed-up first verse, but it had
nothing to do with the second verse, which was rhymed up really good. You
know, he made me know that I would have three or four songs in one song. And
he just taught me, basically, how to construct a song and how to make a song
one idea that carries from the beginning to the end, and the beginning and the
middle and the ending all tie in together to give a person one complete idea,
and how to construct my songs.

GROSS: Would you be willing to quote one of the songs that you now realize
didn't work?

Mr. ROBINSON: That I now realize did not work?

GROSS: Yes.

Mr. ROBINSON: You mean that we sang that day?

GROSS: Sure.

Mr. ROBINSON: I don't remember, honey. I do remember the two that we sang
which became, which were the most well constructed ones that we sang that day.
And one of them was called "My Mama Done Told Me." And that became the flip
side of our first recording, which was a song called "Got A Job." And it was
in answer to a group called The Silhouettes had a record called "Get A Job,"
which was number one in the world at that time. And so I wrote an answer
song to it called "Got A Job." And, so, those were the two songs that really
made sense that we recorded.

GROSS: Yeah. "Get A Job" had the `Yip, yip, yip, yip, yip, yip, yip'...

Mr. ROBINSON: Yeah, `Mo, mo, mo, mo, mo, mo.'

GROSS: ...`get a job.'

Mr. ROBINSON: Yeah, exactly.

GROSS: Did you have that in the answer song?

Mr. ROBINSON: No, we didn't have the `Yip, yip, yip, yip, yip, yip, mo, mo,
mo, mo, mo.' But at the end of our verses, our bass singer sang, `Got a job.'
You know, so it was kind of like a take off on it.

GROSS: My guest is Smokey Robinson. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: We're listening back to an interview with Smokey Robinson as part of
our holiday week series "Teller of Song." When we left off we were talking
about his work with Barry Gordy in the early days of Motown. Robinson told me
how he wrote "Shop Around."

Mr. ROBINSON: What happened with "Shop Around" was the fact that we had a
big hit on a guy named Barrett Strong, "Money (That's What I Want)." And Barry
had--we had just started Motown basically, you know, we had a few hits. But
Barry wanted me to write an album for Barrett, so "Shop Around" was one of the
songs that I wrote for that particular album that I was going to record it on
Barrett Strong. And I was very excited because a lot of times songs just flow
out. "Shop Around" took me about 20 minutes at the most to write. Some songs
take longer to write. For instance "Cruisin'," one of my hits that I did
later on with my guitar player, took me five years to write a song for that
particular music that he had come up with. But "Shop Around" had flowed out.
In about 20 minutes I had it.

So, I went to Barry's office and I told him, I said, `Hey, man, I have got a
great song for Barry for his next record.' And he said, 'you have?' He said,
'let me hear it.' So we go down into the studio at the piano and I play "Shop
Around" and I sing it for him, and he got very excited about it. So he said
'Move over, man, because I want to change these chords right here,' and so on,
which is why his name would be on the particular song, on "Shop Around." And
he didn't want to put his name on it, but I insisted that he did because we
worked on it for an hour or two there. And after we got through working on
it, he said, 'I want you to sing this song.' So I said, `No, man, I wrote this
song for Barry.' So we went through that for five minutes. `No, you sing it.'
`No, I wrote it for Barry.' `No, you sing it.' So finally he said 'Well, you
just go into the studio and record this song on you and The Miracles ,and
we'll see what happens.' So, I did.

And when I sang it, when I had written it it was like a little slower and
bluesy. And so I recorded it on The Miracles and me, and it came out and it
had been out for about two weeks and it was doing fair. And Barry called me
one morning at about 3:00 in the morning and said, `Hey, man, I want you to
get the group and come to the studio, because I've already called all the
musicians and I want you to come to the studio, I'm going to re-record "Shop
Around." I'm going to change the beat, and it's going to number one.' So to
make a long story short, I did. I called the group and we went to the studio,
and everybody showed up with the exception of the piano player. So Barry is
playing the piano on "Shop Around." And we re-recorded it in his version of
it, which was the one that went to number one.

GROSS: You know, it's a great story because it was really too late. You
know, the record was out. It was already being played on the radio...

Mr. ROBINSON: Well, we did that a lot at Motown.

GROSS: ...and then Barry Gordy decides, `No, we're going to redo that.'

Mr. ROBINSON: Yeah.

GROSS: No, it's just like too late and you did it anyways, and he was right.

Mr. ROBINSON: No, no, no. You know, Terry, it's never too late because
we've done that a few times at Motown, and...

GROSS: What else did you do it with?

Mr. ROBINSON: Well, the very first Motown national record ever was a song on
The Miracles and me called "Way Over There." And it was the same thing. I
recorded it. It was doing great locally because we were not--we were just a
local company at that time. And so Barry heard it, said `I love this song,'
so we went and recorded it again and put violins on it and all that because
The Drifters had come out with their songs. And all their songs had violins,
and so they were the first group, R&B group, to ever come out, and violins
were pretty dominant in their songs so we wanted to re-record it with violins.
And so we did. And then we released it nationally, which, that was our first
national release on Motown.

GROSS: So, when Barry Gordy called you in the middle of the night and said,
`Ah, we're going to do it over. It's too slow.' Were you insulted?

Mr. ROBINSON: No, I was not insulted. I just said, `Man, are you crazy?'
And he said, you know, `I might be, but this is what we're going to do.' The
first thing he said to me was, `Hey, Smoke?' I said, `Yeah, man.' He said,
`This is Barry.' I said, `I know, man; I recognize your voice.' He said
`What're you doing?' I said, `What am I doing?' I said, `I'm asleep.' He said
`Well, I can't sleep.' I said, `I can see that.' He said, `"Shop Around" is
driving me crazy, man,' he said, `I can't get it out of my mind and I want to
change the beat. So you get the group and come to the studio and I'll call
the musicians, and we're going to re-record it.' So that's what we did.

GROSS: Well, I guess we'd better hear it. This is "Shop Around," Smokey
Robinson and the Miracles, recorded in 1960.

Mr. ROBINSON: All right.

(Soundbite of "Shop Around")

Mr. ROBINSON: (Singing)
When I became of age,
My mother called me to her side;
She said, `Son you're growing up now,
Pretty soon you'll take a bride.'
And then she said,
`Just because you've become a young man now,
There's still some things that you don't understand now.
Before you ask some girl for her hand now,
Keep your freedom for as long as you can now.'
My mama told me, you better shop around.
Oh, yeah. You better shop around.

Background Singers: (Singing) Shop, shop around.

Mr. ROBINSON: (Singing) There's some things that I want you to know now.
A just as sure as the wind's going to blow now.
The women come and the women gonna go now.
Before you tell `em that you love `em so now,
My mama told me you better shop around.
Oh, yeah. You better shop around.

Background Singers: (Singing) Shop, shop around. Shop, shop around.

Mr. ROBINSON: (Singing) Now, try to get yourself a bargain, son,
Don't be sold on the very first one.
A pretty girl come a dime a dozen,
But try to find one that's gonna give you true lovin'.
Before you take her down and say `I do' now,
Make sure she's in love with you now.
My mama told me, you better shop around.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. And Smokey Robinson has a
new CD of standards and it's called "Timeless Love."

Did your mother ever tell you to shop around?

Mr. ROBINSON: No, I kind of lied on her with that song.

GROSS: I bet she didn't mind.

Mr. ROBINSON: Yeah, no, she didn't mind, either. No. No, unfortunately I
lost my mom when I was 10.

GROSS: Oh.

Mr. ROBINSON: But I know she heard it anyway, wherever she is, she heard
that. But that was it, 3:00 in the morning, folks, that was what came out at
3:00 in the morning.

GROSS: Now, the story goes that you suggested to Barry Gordy that he start
his own record company and that's how he started Tamla, which eventually
transformed into Motown. Did you suggest that, and if so, why?

Mr. ROBINSON: Yeah, I did. Because in the beginning when we first got with
Barry he was--like I said he was a songwriter and a producer and he would
produce records on The Miracles and me and his other artists and put them with
other record companies and nobody was paying us. I mean, it was--back in
those days, you know, if you didn't have five--four, five hits in a row,
nobody paid you. They didn't even think about paying you. They just didn't
pay you. So people were not paying us. So I just told him we might as well
take a chance ourselves because, you know, we might as well--if we're going to
not make any money, we might as well not make any money with our own stuff.
And so that's why we started Motown, so people could get paid.

GROSS: And did you start doing anything different in the studio when it was
really your own operation?

Mr. ROBINSON: No. No, we just wanted to make good music. The first day of
Motown there were five of us there. There was Barry Gordy plus four other
people. And we were there and Barry said, `We are not going to make black
music; we're going to make music. We're going to make music for everybody.
We're going to make music that everybody can enjoy. We're going to make music
with some great beats and some great songs.' And that's what we set out to do.
And, thank God, that's what we did.

GROSS: And "Shop Around" was like the first big hit for Motown wasn't it?

Mr. ROBINSON: Yeah, it was the first million seller.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Well, I want to move on to another big hit for you
which is "You Really Got a Hold on Me" from 1962. And this is something you
wrote and produced. Is there a story behind the song?

Mr. ROBINSON: Yeah. Sam Cooke, who turned out to be one of my friends, was
my number two singing idol. I told you Jackie Wilson was my number one
singing idol as a kid growing up. And Sam Cooke was my number two singing
idol. And Sam Cooke had out a record called "Bring It on Home to Me"...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ROBINSON: ...which was one of those slow bluesy kind of songs. In fact,
doing the second vocal with him on that particular song was Lou Rawls. And it
was like one of those slow bluesy kind of songs, it was a really big hit. So
I wanted to write a song like "Bring It on Home to Me." So I had gone--like I
said, I was vice president of Motown at the time, and I had gone to New York
to make a deal with the publishing company there, and we were going to, you
know, intertwine some of our songs with their songs and some of their songs
with our songs and what have you, and make a publishing deal. So I'd gone
there to take care of that deal.

And I was in my hotel room that evening, after I had gone to meet with them, I
went back to my hotel room and I was trying to think of a song like "Bring It
on Home to Me," and then it came to me which was "You Really Got a Hold on
Me." And that's how that song came to be.

GROSS: Is your songwriting process like that, that you have an idea and then
the song just comes out? At first you have, like, a hook?

Mr. ROBINSON: Well, not necessarily the hook first, honey. You know,
there's no pattern. There is no songwriting pattern. You know, sometimes
I'll have some chords that I'll play on the piano that inspire a song,
sometimes I'll see a billboard or something in a newspaper or something on TV
or something that inspires me to have an idea for a song. But I'm not one of
those songwriters who needs to take two months or three months and go off to
the mountains and isolate myself so that I can write, or go down to the beach
and rent a little hut so I can write, you know. It just happens for me on a
daily basis. Almost every day something happens that will inspire a melody or
a song to me. And that's just how it is. It's a blessing. I think that
everybody has a gift. I think God gives everybody a gift, and so that's the
one He gave me. And it's a blessing and it just happens for me. And like I
said, some songs take longer than others, but it's a joy. I mean, it's what I
do. It's my life.

GROSS: Well, this is "You Really Got a Hold on Me" from 1962, Smokey Robinson
and the Miracles.

(Soundbite of "You've Really Got a Hold on Me")

Mr. ROBINSON: (Singing) I don't like you, but I love you.
Seems that I'm always thinking of you.
Whoah-oh-oh,
You treat me badly, I love you madly.
You really got a hold on me.

THE MIRACLES: (Singing) You really got a hold on me.

Mr. ROBINSON: (Singing) You really got a hold on me.

THE MIRACLES: (Singing) You really got a hold on me.

Mr. ROBINSON: Baby!

(Singing) I don't want you, but I need you.
Don't wanna kiss you, but I need to.
Though-oh-oh you do me wrong now,
My love is strong now.
You really got a hold one me.

THE MIRACLES: (Singing) Really got a hold on me.

Mr. ROBINSON: (Singing) You really got a hold on me.

THE MIRACLES: (Singing) Really got a hold on me.

Mr. ROBINSON: Baby!

THE MIRACLES: (Singing) I love you...

Mr. ROBINSON: (Singing) ...and all I want you to do is just...

Mr. ROBINSON and THE MIRACLES: (Singing in unison) Hold me, hold me, hold
me.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Smokey Robinson recorded in August. We'll hear more of the interview
in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of song "You've Really Got a Hold On Me")

THE MIRACLES: Tighter!

Mr. ROBINSON: (Singing) I want to leave you,
Don't want to stay here.
Don't want to spend another day here.
Though I want to split now, I can't quit now.
You really got a hold on me.

THE MIRACLES: (Singing) Really got a hold on me.

Mr. ROBINSON: (Singing) You really got a hold on me.

THE MIRACLES: (Singing) You really got a hold on me.

Mr. ROBINSON: Baby!

(Singing) I love you and all I want you to do...

THE MIRACLES: (Singing) ...is just hold me.

Mr. ROBINSON: Please!

THE MIRACLES: (Singing) Hold me.

Mr. ROBINSON: Squeeze!

Mr. ROBINSON and THE MIRACLES: (Singing in Unison) Hold me.

Mr. ROBINSON: (Singing) Hold me.

You really got a hold on me.

THE MIRACLES: (Singing) Really got a hold on me.

Mr. ROBINSON: (Singing) I said, you really got a hold on me...

THE MIRACLES: (Singing) You really got a hold on me.

Mr. ROBINSON: (Singing) You know, you really got a hold on me.

(End of soundbite)

(Announcements)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

This week we're featuring a series called "Teller of Song," featuring recent
interviews with pop, soul, punk and hip-hop songwriters and singers. Let's
get back to our interview with Smokey Robinson, who wrote and recorded many
Motown hits and was one of the key people in the label's development. Here's
another hit he wrote and recorded from 1965, "Ooh, Baby, Baby."

(Soundbite of "Ooh, Baby, Baby")

Mr. ROBINSON: (Singing)
Ooh, la la la la
I did you wrong
My heart went out to play
But in the game I lost you
What a price to pay
I'm crying
Oooh-ooh-ooh, baby, baby
Oooh-ooh-ooh, baby, baby

Mistakes, I know I've made a few
But I'm only human.
You've made mistakes, too.
I'm crying
Oooh-ooh-ooh, baby, baby
Oooh-ooh-ooh, baby, baby...

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: You have such a beautiful falsetto that can be so moving and romantic,
or heartbroken and vulnerable. When you started singing in a falsetto and
singing in your high voice, did people think it sounded, you know, girlish?
Did anyone ever actually make fun of you for it because it was high?

Mr. ROBINSON: I'm sure people did. Not many people did to my face, but I'm
sure, behind my back, a lot of people did, because, you know, by us having a
girl in our group, when we used to go places for the first time, people
thought that she was the lead singer, you know? But, you know, but see--but I
tell you, all my singing--I always had those high voices like that. And many
guys had them, you know, and that's just the style of singing that I did and I
naturally have a high voice. And when I was--even in high school, when I was
in the choir and things like that, you know, I sung second soprano and top
alto, and so very seldom did I sing a song where I was in the tenor range, or
anything like that. I just have always had a high voice and that's my voice,
and when people think, well, `You know, he's singing in falsetto,' I
don't--some of the notes that I sing in some of the songs are done in
falsetto, but basically, I'm singing in my natural voice because that's just
how I sing.

When I left The Miracles and I decided that I was going to come back and be a
solo artist after about three years or so, I dropped my keys down because I
wanted to play places where I thought that sound in my voice would not work.
I wanted to play the nightclubs that I play now and the casinos and do summer
concert series and stuff like that, and I did not think that high, high voice
that I had when I was singing with The Miracles would work in those
situations, so I dropped my keys down.

GROSS: Why didn't you think it would work?

Mr. ROBINSON: Because it just sounded too kiddie to me, you know, it sounded
too young...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ROBINSON: It sounded too like, OK, well, you know, this doesn't fit this
particular setting.

GROSS: You were producing as well as writing and recording at Motown. What
did you like about producing other people's records, like The Temptations, for
instance?

Mr. ROBINSON: Well, Terry, I have always enjoyed working with other people
and trying to get hits on them. And if I accomplished that, I felt very,
very, very good to have a positive effect on one of my brother's and sister's
career because at Motown we were all brothers and sisters, and we all hung
together. We weren't just artists who saw each other fly by night, you know,
I see you in passing. We actually hung out together and did social things
together. And you know, we still have that relationship right today. All the
Motown artists who are still here, who are still alive, when we see each
other, man, it's just like we saw each other yesterday, we don't have to
re-get to know each other and all that stuff like that. We just are brothers
and sisters to the end. And it's true with all the Motown people, the
writers, the producers and people. When we see each other, it's like, `Hey,
here's my brother,' or `Here's my sister,' and we have that kind of
relationship. So for me to have a positive effect on one of their careers by
writing and producing a hit song on them gave me great joy.

GROSS: You know...

Mr. ROBINSON: And I know many times, people have asked me, like, take a song
like "My Girl," for instance. People would ask me, `Well, Smokey, are you
sorry that you gave "My Girl" to the Temptations?' No, I'm not. I am very,
very, very, very happy about that, because it was probably one of the--at
least one of their biggest records they ever had in their lives, and it did a
wonderful thing for their career, so man, no, I have never wished that I had
kept "My Girl" for myself or for The Miracles or anything like that, because
I'm very happy that it happened for The Temptations.

GROSS: Why did you give it to them? Did you write it with them in mind?

Mr. ROBINSON: I wrote "My Girl" for David Ruffin's voice. I wrote it with
The Temptations in mind, of course. Whenever you hear one of my songs by a
Motown artist, I have written that song originally for that particular artist,
and I had their voice and their sound and them in mind while I was writing it.

GROSS: Did you come up with lists of, you know, "nothing you can do `cause
I'm stuck like glue," you know? No, that's "My Guy." That's "My Guy."

Mr. ROBINSON: That's "My Guy." That's Mary Wells. Wrong Temptations. That
was Mary Wells. Yeah. Yeah, but that song was written for Mary Wells. I
mean, I had her in mind. I was working with her at the time. I was producing
her records.

GROSS: Yeah, because you wrote that one, too. This is ridiculous.

Mr. ROBINSON: Yeah. And I had her in mind when I wrote "My Guy." Yeah. So
you weren't too far off, Terry.

GROSS: You know, I'm going to ask you about "Since I Lost My Baby," which is
one of my Temptations favorites. Did you write that for the group?

Mr. ROBINSON: Yes, I did. Yes, I did.

GROSS: And what aspect of them were you writing it for?

Mr. ROBINSON: See, because after I did--"The Way You Do the Things You Do"
was the first hit record that I ever wrote for The Temptations. I had been
writing a couple other songs for them when they first came to Motown, and so
they were like my assignee group. They had been assigned to me. Barry
assigned them to me to try and get a hit on them. So finally I get "The Way
You Do the Things You Do," which was their first really big hit on them, and I
used Eddie Kendricks to sing the lead vocal on that, so all the producers and
writers at Motown had access to all of the groups, and we had writing
competitions and producing competitions to see who could get the best record
on a group.

So after I got "The Way You Do the Things You Do" on The Temptations, all the
producers and writers started to write songs that used Eddie Kendrick's voice
to sing the lead. But I knew that Paul Williams and David Ruffin were in that
group and they had awesome voices. Everybody in that group could sing
individually, but Paul Williams and David Ruffin had voices that I knew, once
I get a hit on them, it's all over. And so I wrote that song "My Girl" for
David Ruffin's voice and so I continued to write a few songs using David
Ruffin's voice. And "Since I Lost My Baby" was one of those songs. And
"Since I Lost My Baby" was a, sort of like a sad song, and I wanted to make
this person like "My Girl." "My Girl" was just the opposite of "Since I Lost
My Baby," because "My Girl" was saying `Even when things are wrong and going
very, very bad, you know, there's no sunshine'...

GROSS: Yeah. There's sunshine on a cloudy day. Yeah.

Mr. ROBINSON: I got sunshine because I got my girl.

GROSS: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

Mr. ROBINSON: You know what I mean? So that was just the opposite of "Since
I Lost My Baby," because "Since I Lost My Baby," everything's going right but
it's not right because I have lost my woman. So that was the opposite of "My
Girl."

GROSS: And did you work out the harmonies on this as the producer?

Mr. ROBINSON: No, because The Temptations were very, very, very, very
creative in doing their own background vocals. I would be sitting at the
piano showing the lead vocal how the song went--with the exception of "The Way
You Do the Things You Do" and another song that I did on The Temptations
called "I'll Be in Trouble," which I wanted all of them to sing it together to
have a harmony sound on it...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ROBINSON: With the exception of those two songs, I always let The
Temptations make up their own background vocals because they were great at it.

GROSS: OK. Well, this is The Temptations. The song was written, the record
was produced by my guest Smokey Robinson.

(Soundbite of "Since I Lost My Baby")

THE TEMPTATIONS: (singing)
Sun is shining,
There's plenty of light
A new day is dawning,
Sunny and bright
But after I've been crying all night
The sun is cold
And the new day seems old

Since I lost my baby
Since I lost my baby
Oh, since I lost my baby
Oh, since I lost my baby

Birds are singing
and the children are playing
There's plenty of work
and the bosses are paying
Not a sad word
Should a young heart be saying
But fun is a bore
And with money I'm poor
Since I lost my baby
Since I lost my baby
Oh, since I lost my baby
Oh, since I lost my baby

Next time I'll be kinder
Next time I'll be kinder
Won't you please help me find her?
Won't you please help me find her?
Someone just remind her
Someone just remind her
About this love she left behind her
About this love she left behind her
Till I find her I'll be trying
Till I find her I'll be trying
Every day I'm more inclined to
Find her, inclined to, find her,
Inclined to find my baby
Been looking everywhere
Baby, baby
I really, really care!

Oh determination is fading fast

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: My guest is Smokey Robinson. We'll hear more after a break. This is
FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: We're listening back to an interview with Smokey Robinson as part of
our holiday week series "Teller of Song."

Were you changed a lot by the training that you got at Motown? Did you end up
walking differently than you used to? Or, you know, standing differently on
stage than you used to?

Mr. ROBINSON: Well, there was no "used to" for me, Terry, because you know,
I've been to Motown since the very first day so there was no `used to' for me.

GROSS: But you were already performing before Motown was even created.

Mr. ROBINSON: Well, yeah, but I think that--yeah, there was a change because
I was in a group, so then we got professional instructions that--they did. I
was the lead singer so I didn't have to worry about that too much, you know.
But they got professional instruction on doing routines and doing the steps
and so on and so forth. In fact, the guy, God bless him, who used to be our
choreographer there was a guy named Charlie Atkins. He's passed on a few
years ago now, but he was a wonderful man who was a professional dancer
himself. He was dancing back in the days of vaudeville and all that, you
know. And he was a wonderful dancer and he taught all the groups the steps
and all the--you know, Gladys Knight and the Pips and you see all those steps,
and The Temptations and people--and so he used to say to me, `Boy, I am so
glad you are the lead singer, because you can't do these steps,' you know,
so--but I didn't have to worry about that too much. You know, I would fall in
every now and then and do something but it wasn't, you know, something that I
had to worry about.

GROSS: I want to ask you about a period of your life in the mid-`80s that
you--you've talked about this and written about this. It was a period when
you became addicted to cocaine. How did you start using? I mean, you were
already like a mature person by then.

Mr. ROBINSON: Well, I was, honey, but drugs don't know that. Drugs don't
discriminate. They don't know or care who you are, and when I go speak, I
talk about the drug thing, you know, because--in fact, I'm one of the national
spokespersons for the drug graduations for United States, and I speak at drug
graduations all the time and I tell the people there, you know--and see the
myth about drugs is that it always comes from a negative source. It comes
from a negative upbringing or you're in a negative situation in your life, or
you're in some sort of situation where the only alternative or the only out
that you had was to do drugs. No. People start to do drugs with their
friends, and it's not, you know--it's your friends' habit and they introduce
you to it and because they are your friends, you try it and many times you
like it, and so it can get you strung out.

GROSS: What fit you about cocaine? You know, people who do drugs tend to
find the right drug for them, you know?

Mr. ROBINSON: Well, you know what, honey? I never really snorted cocaine...

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. ROBINSON: Or did the pipe or anything like that, you know. I was a
person--my drug of choice was marijuana, and I liked marijuana. And so I
would take the cocaine and put it in the marijuana and smoke it. And that's
the only way I ever did it, you know. So, I guess because of the fact that I
liked the marijuana, and the cocaine did a little something different to that
was the reason I got off into doing it. But cocaine is a treacherous drug.
See, I'd smoked marijuana for years before I even got off into even dealing
with cocaine. And cocaine is a treacherous killer drug and so it kind of
strung me out and I did that for two and a half years for my life. Now since
May of 1986, I haven't had anything, nor do I want it. But...

GROSS: How did you give it up?

Mr. ROBINSON: I was prayed for, and when I went into that church that
evening--now I have nothing against rehab. You know, I think rehab is a
wonderful thing, is a wonderful place to go for people who are dealing with
drugs and all that. But I do think, and I believe, that if you don't get it
together spiritually, you're not going to ever conquer it, you know? And when
you go to rehab-- I've talked to people and I've had people who are close to
me, people in my family, been in rehab 15, 20 times, you know. If you don't
get it together spiritually, you are never going to conquer it.

OK, so I am once again blessed in this area, because I went to a church and a
minister prayed for me, and when I walked into the church that night, I was an
addict. I hadn't done any drugs before I got there, but when I walked out, I
was free, and I mean that. This was in May of 1986 and I've never been to
rehab or to the doctor or psychotherapy or any of that. I was prayed--and I
gave it up to God, and when you give it up to God, it's gone. And...

GROSS: So...

Mr. ROBINSON: ...that's the way you...

GROSS: ...did that change you--I mean, had you been a regular churchgoer
before that? Had you had a very--had you had a active spiritual life before
that?

Mr. ROBINSON: Active, very active. That's why I say, drugs don't care how
active you are, you know, and I know--see, since you're going spiritual here,
I'm going to tell you. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I believe in Christ
and I believe that Christ is my Savior. OK? Now, I don't try to push Christ
on people because everybody's got their choice there, and the wonderful thing
about God is God is almighty and God is omnipotent, but he's not a dictator.
So we all have a choice. We make our choices in life and that's what leads us
to wherever we get to, you know. So, now, I was spiritual long before that
happened to me, and I tell people that too. You know, people think that, OK,
he went to the church, he got prayed for, he got healed and cured from the
drugs, so then he turned to God and---no, no, no, no, no, no. I was saved
long before that ever happened to me. But we got these choices that we make
on our own and sometimes they lead us in the wrong direction. And when they
do, it's your fault.

GROSS: Let me get back to your music. There's one more song of yours I
really want to ask you about and that's "Tracks of my Tears," which is one of
your very greatest. What's the story behind this song and how you wrote it?

Mr. ROBINSON: "Tracks of My Tears," like many of the songs that I've
written, was introduced to the world by my guitar player, Marv Tarplin. Marv
Tarplin does music--and he's not a lyricist but he does music. He does this
wonderful, wonderful music. So "Tracks of My Tears," he had given me the
music for "The Tracks of My Tears" six months before I ever came up with an
idea for that song, and I had it on tape and I would listen to it. And the
first parts of the "Tracks of My Tears" that ever came to me was the chorus.
"Take a good look at my face, You see my smile looks out of place, If you look
closer it's easier to trace.' And I thought that was so good. That tied in so
good, but I couldn't think of, trace what? Just trace. And then one day I
was in my car and I thought about, what if a person had cried so much until if
you looked closely at them, you could see tracks in their face that the tears
had made. And that's how that came to be.

GROSS: That's really good. And how did you know that this was for you, as
opposed to, like, somebody else that you were producing?

Mr. ROBINSON: Well, because I just liked singing it myself.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ROBINSON: And so that's how. Yeah.

GROSS: OK. Well, I think we have to play it. Thank you so much for talking
with us.

Mr. ROBINSON: Thank you, Terry. This has been a joy.

GROSS: This is Smokey Robinson.

Mr. ROBINSON: All right.

GROSS: "The Tracks of My Tears" from 1965.

(Soundbite of "The Tracks of My Tears")

Mr. ROBINSON: (Singing)
People say I'm the life of the party
`Cause I tell a joke or two
Although I might be laughing loud and hearty
Deep inside I'm blue

So take a good look at my face
You see my smile looks out of place
If you look closer it's easy to trace
The tracks of my tears

I need you, need you
Need you, need you...

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Smokey Robinson, recorded in August. Earlier this year he had a new
CD of jazz and pop standards called "Timeless Love." Earlier this month he was
one of the five recipients of the Kennedy Center honors. The ceremony will be
broadcast on CBS tomorrow night.

Coming up, the Motown songwriting team of Holland, Dozier and Holland talks
about writing for the Supremes as our "Teller of Song" week continues. This
is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Lamont Dozier, Brian and Eddie Holland, a Motown
songwriting team, on how they came up with catchy titles and the
ever-listening ear of the songwriter

TERRY GROSS, host:

The musical "Dreamgirls" was inspired by the story of the Motown group The
Supremes. Ten of the Supremes' top 10 hits were written by the Motown
songwriting team Holland, Dozier and Holland. Those songs include "Stop in
the Name of Love," "You Can't Hurry Love," "Baby Love," and "Where Did Our
Love Go?" I spoke with Lamont Dozier and brothers Brian and Eddie Holland in
2004 and asked them about writing for The Supremes.

(Soundbite of "You Can't Hurry Love")

The SUPREMES: (singing)
I need love, love, to ease my mind
I need to find, find, someone to call mine
But mama said
You can't hurry love
No, you just have to wait
She said, love won't come easy;
It's a game of give and take
You can't hurry love
No, you just have to wait
You got to trust, give it time
No matter how long it takes

But how many heartaches must I stand
Before I find the love to let me live again?
Right now the only thing
That keeps me hanging on
When I feel my strength, yeah, is almost gone
I remember Mama said,
You can't hurry love
No, you just have to wait...
(End of soundbite)

GROSS: So many of your hit songs have catchphrase titles like "You Can't
Hurry Love" or "Reach Out, I'll Be There," "Sugar Pie, Honey Bun," "Nothing
But Heartaches," "You Keep Me Hanging On." Eddie, you wrote a lot of the
lyrics, or all of the lyrics. Is there a reason why those phrases would come
to you as song titles?

Mr. EDDIE HOLLAND: Well, now, that "Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch" thing was
Lamont.

Mr. LAMONT DOZIER: I got it from my grandfather. He used to call...

Mr. E. HOLLAND: That's for sure.

Mr. DOZIER: Yeah. He got that from, you know, in the South, they had those
catchphrases, being that my grandfather was from the South. He used to come
and my grandmother had a home shop, a beauty shop, and all the women used to
come into the shop, and he'd be working in the front garden and he sort of
would be flirting with them, and he was, `How you doing, Miss Carrier, sugar
pie, honey, bun,' you know. Flirting with them. And my grandmother used to
be watching from the doors, and say, `Look at that old codger out there.'

And the thing is, a lot of the things like that came back. When it came time
for me to use some of those catchphrases, they came back, just when we needed
something to say to fit a certain track or whatever. In this case, that's
what it was.

Mr. E. HOLLAND: Yeah. But mostly I would use titles--this is Eddie
speaking again--that, you know, that had some meaning and I would try to do
something, use titles that I felt had appeal from an emotional point of view.
And a lot of the titles were things that were said to me that I had direct
personal experiences in dealing with, you know. You know, I was a young man,
you know...

Mr. BRIAN HOLLAND: A little sweetheart or two.

Mr. DOZIER: ..you know, sowing his oats.

Mr. E. HOLLAND: So a lot of the, yeah, so a lot of the titles would be
actually titles that females, the ladies, you know, I would say nice ladies...

Mr. B. HOLLAND: Would volunteer.

Mr. E. HOLLAND: ...would say to me. Sometimes out of anger, sometimes out
of whatever, you know. So a lot of that--but I could--you could hear
something that had feeling. You could hear something that had meaning, and I
basically believed in using titles and ideas that had feeling or appeal to
them.

GROSS: Wait. So did you have a girlfriend who said, `You don't really love
me. You just keep me hanging on'?

Mr. E. HOLLAND: Well, I had a lot of them that said that, to say the least.
But yeah, yeah. That was an argument that I had, you know, with someone that
they said that to me, yes.

GROSS: And you were taking notes.

Mr. E. HOLLAND: Well, you know what, when you're a creative person, you
don't necessarily--it just sticks to you. You went and--as soon as you hear
it, it catches you right away and for some reason all your instincts--you
know, you could be in the middle of an argument or, you know...

Mr. B. HOLLAND: Right.

Mr. E. HOLLAND: ...I've been on telephones and talking to females in
different conversations, you know, and sometimes they would say certain
things, and I'd say, `Well, hold on for a minute,' and I would go get me a
pencil and I would write it down, you know, because it's just being a creative
person, especially knowing that your responsibility is doing the lyric, and
you doing the lyric with two very, very prolific, you know--meaning Brian and
Lamont--very, very prolific songwriters, you have to constantly, you have to
think it and feel it and live it all the time, you know.

Mr. B. HOLLAND: Mm-hmm.

Mr. E. HOLLAND: But yeah, you know, it's just a natural thing. I think all
songwriters are like that.

Mr. B. HOLLAND: Yeah.

Mr. E. HOLLAND: Or poets are like that. You know, hear something, they jot
it down. If they don't jot it down then, they take mental notes. They just
stick, they just stand out, you know.

GROSS: The Motown songwriting and production team of Holland, Dozier, and
Holland recorded in 2004. Tomorrow we continue our holiday week series
"Teller of Song." I'm Terry Gross and all of us at FRESH AIR wish you a very
merry Christmas.

(Soundbite of "You Keep Me Hangin' On")

THE SUPREMES: (singing)
Let me free, why don't you, babe?
Get out of my life, why don't you, baby?
`Cause you don't really love me
You just keep me hangin' on.

You don't really need me
But you keep me hangin' on.

Why do you keep a-comin' around
Playin' with my heart?
Why don't you get out of my life
And let me make a new start?
Let me get over you
the way you've gotten over me.

Hey, set me free, why don't you, babe?
Let me be, why don't you, baby?
Because you don't really love me
You just keep me hanging on
(End of soundbite)
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

43:54

Chef David Chang On Depression, Being A Dad And The Burden Of 'Authenticity'

David Chang has won James Beard awards as a chef and restaurateur. His first and best known restaurant Momofuku started as very modest noodle bar in Manhattan’s east village. The food was influenced by the food he grew up with--food that used to embarrass him when he was growing up. His parents are from North Korea. He now has restaurant in NY, LA, Vegas, Toronto and Australia. He’s had bipolar disorder for many years and credits cooking and his restaurants with saving his life. He has a new memoir.

52:30

Vaccine Expert: Once A COVID Vaccine Is Available, 'Don't Overthink It. Don't Wait'

Dr. Peter Hotez is co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children's Hospital, and says that a vaccine release could begin for selected populations by the middle of December — and that a broader vaccination effort could soon follow.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.

Playing

Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue