Spectacle: Elvis Costello With...

Season 1 Episode 13

Smokey Robinson

Aired Wednesday 9:00 PM Feb 25, 2009 on Sundance Channel
out of 10
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Episode Summary

Lucky number 13, the final curtain call of the season on Elvis' vibrant and truly unique interview and performance driven magical mystery musical tour, closes with a true American master : Smokey Robinson. The Motown icon reminisces about fifty years as a singer, songwriter, producer and record executive. Along the way he sings some of the classic tunes he created and forged into the very fabric of the American soul. As a juicy extra, Smokey, reports the Sundance web site, "also sings a surprising cover made famous by Norah Jones". The show, and the season, concludes with a bit of trans-Atlantic history : an Elvis-Smokey "duet performance of Smokey's classic You've Really Got a Hold on Me". That song, a 1962 hit single by The Miracles, and later a 1998 Grammy Hall of Fame inductee, made its way across the ocean where The Beatles acquired a copy and added it to their show early in 1963. It was the first track recorded for their second album With the Beatles. Much of their early success was founded on Smokey and Motown magic, just as, years later, a young Declan Patrick MacManus (aka Elvis Costello) was inspired by the magic of The Beatles to begin forging his musical adventure. Elvis says that, due to scheduling difficulties, he isn't certain if they'll be a second season of Spectacle. Here's hoping that it works out, because this season has been one hell of a wild, sweet magical ride.moreless

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    Davey Faragher

    Davey Faragher

    Himself - Bass/Vocal

    Recurring Role

    Pete Thomas

    Pete Thomas

    Himself - Drums

    Recurring Role

    Steve Nieve

    Steve Nieve

    Himself - Keyboards

    Recurring Role

    Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


    • TRIVIA (2)

      • If Elvis looked a bit uncomfortable during Smokey's impassioned rant against racism, perhaps it was the burden he carries still from a drunken incident in 1979 when he made racial slurs about Ray Charles and James Brown while attacking the ignorance of Afro-American music in general. Despite numerous attempts at apology, explanation and reconciliation, thirty years on, the incident haunts him to this day : "I have to live with it, with every Afro-American musician I meet. Do they know? Do they think, 'The guy's being nice to me, but secretly I know he's a racist?' I've heard people mutter it under their breath as they pass by, because they read it somewhere. What can I complain about? It happened. But if people don't hear the respect by now, they've got their ears the wrong way around."

      • Song List

        Going To A Go Go - Intro Instrumental
        (The Miracles - Written by Robinson/Moore/Rogers/Tarplin)
        Performed by Elvis Costello (Spoken Intro), Davey Faragher (Bass/Vocal)
        Anthony "AB" Brown (Guitar), Steve Nieve (Piano), Pete Thomas (Drums)
        With Ada Dyer (Backing Vocals), Andricka Hall (Backing Vocals)

        No More Tearstained Makeup
        (Martha and The Vandellas - Written by Smokey Robinson)
        Performed by Elvis Costello (Guitar/Vocal), Davey Faragher (Bass/Vocal)
        Anthony "AB" Brown (Guitar), Steve Nieve (Piano), Pete Thomas (Drums)
        With Ada Dyer (Backing Vocals), Andricka Hall (Backing Vocals)

        Tracks Of My Tears (Written by Smokey Robinson)
        Performed by Smokey Robinson (Vocal), Steve Nieve (Piano) - Snippet

        The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game
        (The Marvelettes - Written by Smokey Robinson)
        Performed by Elvis Costello (Guitar/Vocal), Davey Faragher (Bass/Vocal)
        Anthony "AB" Brown (Guitar), Steve Nieve (Piano), Pete Thomas (Drums)
        With Ada Dyer (Backing Vocals), Andricka Hall (Backing Vocals)

        Don't Know Why (Norah Jones - Written by Jesse Harris)
        Performed by Smokey Robinson (Vocal), Anthony "AB" Brown (Guitar)
        Steve Nieve (Piano), Davey Faragher (Bass), Pete Thomas (Drums)

        You've Really Got A Hold On Me (Written by Smokey Robinson)
        Performed by Smokey Robinson (Vocal) and Elvis Costello (Guitar/Vocal)
        Davey Faragher (Bass/Vocal), Steve Nieve (Piano)
        Anthony "AB" Brown (Guitar), Pete Thomas (Drums)
        With Ada Dyer (Backing Vocals), Andricka Hall (Backing Vocals)

    • QUOTES (19)

      • Elvis: England's had a particularly special relationship, obviously with Motown generally, you mentioned also choreography, which is another striking aspect of, uh, the first time that English fans saw the Motown acts. "What are these people doing?" I mean, our groups used to stand there stiffly and move around like robots, and suddenly there's people spinning, and … doing all this fantastic choreography and the outfits were extraordinary. In 1980, I actually took my band, The Attractions, to a choreographer so that we could learn what we thought were some Motown-style steps for a music video. Now, in my mind we were gonna look exactly like The Temptations, ignoring the fact that we were ill-assorted shapes and sizes and I personally have the dancing skill of a cement mixer. But, being too embarrassed to get out of my chair, I decided to have a little glass of wine to loosen my inhibitions and after four or five glasses, I arrived at the theory that Smokey used to stand pretty still and look cool and The Miracles went through their paces …

      • Smokey: Love is the most powerful emotion that we have. Love is the most powerful emotion that we have in life. Even people who hate … they call themselves hating for the love of something.
        Elvis: That's right. Well, that's where prejudice and religious intolerance comes from.
        Smokey: That's where it comes from, you know? You see … whoever … a white supremacist - and they're saying "Well, I love my race, that's why I hate you!" You know? A black person who hates - "Well, I love my people, that's why I hate you!" Can I say "bullshit" on this show?
        Elvis: You can say anything you want, Smokey.
        Smokey: Because … that's what that is, you know what I mean? The most ridiculous, absurd, stupid emotion that we have as men is prejudice. What makes you think that you're better than this other person? What makes you think because you do a certain thing, or because you're in a certain place or a certain status economically that you're better than another person? Cancer don't know that. The flu don't know. It don't matter what color you are. It don't matter what your religious beliefs are. It don't matter what your creed is. It don't matter about none of that. Because we're all one race. We're the human race. If you skin everybody alive and we're still walkin' around, nobody's gonna know who who is, okay? Because we are all human beings, and we're all on this planet … together. You know what I mean? If it's love, it's love. So love is the most powerful emotion that we have. Let's use it on each other.

      • Elvis: I got to say : if Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe and Groucho Marx had walked out together in this moment, I couldn't be more thrilled …

      • Smokey: For the Tears of a Clown song … Stevie Wonder, of course, wrote the music for that, and he had recorded that track, the track that's on that record was already done when he brought it to me.
        Elvis: Somebody told me it was a Christmas present for you - is that true?
        Smokey: No, no, no - it was not a Christmas present. It was at a Christmas party.
        Elvis: Oh, a Christmas party … I was gonna say 'cause I've always wondered who Santa Clause was, and … I thought maybe it was Stevie.
        Smokey: Exactly. He was that time.
        Elvis: Yeah, I mean it would be very difficult to think of what to get him next year, wouldn't it?

      • Smokey: (Stevie Wonder) came and he had that track, and he said that he had been trying to come up with a song for it, but he couldn't, so he wanted me to see what I could come up with - and it has that little thing in it that's the circus to me. (scatting melody for 'Tears of a Clown') That's the circus. So I just wanted to write something that I thought was … heart-wrenching about the circus. You know, rather than talking about lions and tigers and blah-blah-blah, I wanted to write something that I felt like, uh, could touch people's "inners". And Pagliacci was the clown who made everybody happy - all the kids, all the grown-ups, everybody, he made them happy. And then he went back to his dressing room and he was very sad 'cause he didn't have a woman. So he had nobody to love him.

      • Elvis: I did actually play the Apollo once, But it was the Apollo in … Glasgow. And, actually, the Apollo in Glasgow has a fearsome reputation for being the burial ground of many an English comedian. You go up to Scotland and they don't want to laugh at your jokes, if you up from England and sing songs, you're lucky if you get out alive, or you did when that was open. And I know that this theater has a tough reputation of the crowd …
        Smokey: Yeah, I was about to say the Apollo right here … this Apollo has …
        Elvis: the same reputation …
        Smokey: Yeah … a burial ground if you're not ready. And … I think that … it's just the fact that the people in New York, and especially here in Harlem, have been so used to seeing the best of the best.

      • Smokey: The first time the Miracles and I ever came in here, there was a mural on the wall. They still have pieces of it out there today. And there was a mural on the wall and it had all these wonderful people, al these wonderful entertainers … some of them were here before I was born. And they were on this mural and I was saying to the Miracles, "Man, one of these days, I want to be on this wall."

      • Smokey: The first time we played here at the Apollo theater, this was prior to Motown happening, and Berry Gordy was our manager. Uh, we were so terrible until … No, this is true, we were so terrible until Mr. Shiffman … called Berry and, now we weren't making any money to come here and play, and we were all the way in, all the way in New York, trying to survive … from Detroit, had never been out of Detroit, and he called Berry after the second day and told him he wanted his money back.

      • Smokey: Ray Charles' band was playing here the week that we played, just so happens that his band, rather than the Reuben Phillips Band that was normally here, it was the Ray Charles band playing for that week. And … so you had to have big band arrangements. So, now, we're just coming from Detroit, and … at that time, like I said, there was no Motown, Berry didn't know that, and we didn't know that, so we come in and the rehearsal's at 7:30 in the morning on opening day - downstairs in the basement, you have a rehearsal. So we go down to the rehearsal, it's our turn to rehearse, so we come out with these chord sheets and there was a guy named Honey Coles, who used to be the manager here at The Apollo Theater … Honey Coles hit the ceiling. He starts cussin', he starts goin' on … raisin … I mean, he was just raisin' the roof : "These kids come here from Detroit don't even have arrangements! Didn't Berry Gordy know that they should have arrangements?" … He's havin' a fit. I don't know why, I guess it was God's will, but Ray Charles comes to the rehearsal that morning. He said, "Any of you kids know your song?" I said (stammering) "Y-y-y-yeah, yes, Mr. Charles. I-I-I can, I c-can p-p-p-play it on the p-p-piano." He said, "Okay … come over to the piano." He sat down beside me on the piano stool. He said "Play the song and sing it." So I start playin' it, and I'm singin' "She's not a bad girl because …" I sang one verse. Ray says "Okay, I'll play it." He starts playin' it like he wrote it! I mean, you know, really. He starts playin' like he wrote it … incredible. So I'm sittin' there and I'm … really marveling at his genius now, cause he never heard this song … He starts playing it. I'm glad he's playing it 'cause he's playin' it twenty time better than I can play it, you know. And as he's playing it, he's sayin' "Okay saxophones, I want you to write this down." (scatting melody) So they wrote that down. "Okay, trumpets, I want you to play" (scatting melody) "right here." They wrote that down. "Okay guitar player, I want you …" And they wrote that down. So this man sat there, and we were singing two songs …
        Elvis: And dictated the arrangements?
        Smokey: Dictated the arrangements, right there, that morning, for us … his band wrote it down so we could have arrangements so they could play so we could be on this show.

      • Elvis: Your voice is so exceptional, so singular. When did you discover it? Or was there a singer that … you loved that you started to sing like and this voice came out?
        Smokey: I don't know that I ever started to sing like anybody, but … you know, I hear people who are singers and they are asked that same question and they say "Well, nobody, I'm just myself …" That's a lie. I think that any singer is inspired by somebody, okay? So now, when I was a kid growin' up, I already said Ray Charles, but I think my number one singing idol, who was The Man here at the Apollo Theater, was Jackie Wilson … So … I had this high voice, you know, so I always loved the guys with the high voices : Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, Clyde McFadder, Frankie Lyman.

      • Smokey: So, I'm probably about 10 or 11 and "Frankie Lyman and the Teenagers", they have this song, Why Do Fools Fall In Love, and they come to the Broadway Capital in Detroit, and I go and I see them. And Frankie Lyman must've been no more than 12 or 13 at the time himself, so that was the first time I ever saw anybody, 'cause I always wanted to be in show business, from the time I was a little boy - three, four, you know?
        Elvis: And seeing somebody who was just a little bit older …
        Smokey:It was the first time I saw somebody that made me think "Oh, man, this dream is possible."

      • Elvis: Do you think that in the modern-day recordings, the heavy beats just make it too hard for a singer to project?
        Smokey: You know, people downplay or knock today's music, and I don't agree with that at all. I think you have some wonderful young talent who's out there singing now, who are some great singers.

      • Smokey: I listen to everybody. People ask me all the time, "Well, who do you listen to?" I listen to everybody. You might catch me listening to Mantovani or Muddy Waters and everybody in between, because if you check my CD player out of my car, I got everybody in there.

      • Smokey: See, I'm not one of those writers where people say "Well, they sampled my song!" Sample all of mine, please … Because … I think when a person samples your song, that says to me that that particular song had some sort of an influence on them - personally, musically, whatever it was - and they admired your song enough … See, most people who have sampled my songs, or who have even re-recorded one of my songs, are songwriters themselves. And there are so many songs, man. There are millions and millions and millions of songs. So, for out of all of those songs, especially for the ones who are songwriters themselves, for them to pick one of my songs to sing … Hey, man, I love you. Thank you.

      • Elvis: But did you ever think when you heard one, you know, "Wow, that was such a …", even though it was a hit, did you ever think, "It was such a good song, I should've kept it for myself", or were you just happy to hear it?
        Smokey: You know what, Elvis, and I can say this honestly, I never have felt that way. I have always been very, very, very happy to have been a positive influence, or have something positive to do with those other people's careers. Those people were my brothers and sisters, man. We grew up in Motown together, you know what I mean? When you hear about the Motown family, that's not a myth - that's exactly how it was.

      • Smokey: Now I'm 16 years old. There's a guy sittin' over in the corner, and he looks like he's about 18-19 at the most, and he's listenin', I'm thinking he's waiting to audition next. And … so they reject us and we go out and we're dejected by their rejection. So we're just walkin' … out and this guy comes out behind us - and rather than us singing songs that were currently popular by other artists when we went to audition, we sang five songs that I had written. So, the guy comes out behind us and he says "Hey, man, wait a minute." So we turn around. He says "Where'd you get those songs from?" I said, uh, "I wrote 'em, man." He said, "You wrote all those songs?" I said "Yeah," so he said "Oh, man … I liked a couple of songs you sang." …I say "Oh, thank you very much, man." He says "Yeah … I'm Berry Gordy," and my bottom lip hit the floor.

      • Smokey: Now, at the time I had a lot of songs, man. I had a loose-leaf notebook full of songs that I had been writing over the years. And so he said "I like a couple of your songs. Do you have any more songs?" He never should have said that … 'cause I had the notebook with me. And I got this, about a hundred songs in this book.

      • Smokey (referring to Berry Gordy): And he said, "I'm gonna teach you how to write songs professionally." He said, "I'm gonna teach you that your songs are supposed to be a short book. They're supposed to be one idea that's completed - a short movie, a short story." He said "Even if you don't end it, you give people enough ammunition and enough material to end it for themselves."

      • Smokey: When we first started to become popular, people were comin' from all over the world, bringing their acts to Detroit, because they thought that the Motown sound was somewhere in the air. It was just there. If you go to Detroit and you record your acts, then you gonna get the Motown sound. People ask me all the time, "Well, what is the Motown sound, what was the Motown sound?" The Motown sound, as far as I'm concerned, is and was the people. All the producers and the writers and the artists and the people like that, are and were and will always be the Motown sound. Because I'm gonna let you in on a little secret : some of those records that you were talkin' about were recorded in England. Some of them were recorded in New York. Some of them were recorded in Chicago, Nashville, Los Angeles, you know? Because we would catch our acts on the road and record them wherever they happened to be at that time. And we always got the Motown sound.

    • NOTES (1)

      • This Week's Guest Musicians

        Davey Faragher (Bass/Vocal)
        Steve Nieve (Piano)
        Pete Thomas (Drums)
        Anthony "AB" Brown (Guitar)
        Ada Dyer (Backing Vocals)
        Andricka Hall (Backing Vocals)

    • ALLUSIONS (0)