When Smokey Sings
by ABC

Album: Alphabet City (1987)
Charted: 11 5

Songfacts®:

  • This song is a tribute to the American singer and songwriter Smokey Robinson. ABC is a British band, and while Robinson and his group The Miracles fared far better in America, his talents were certainly appreciated by many in the UK, especially musicians.

    The song alludes to how Robinson could capture a range of emotions in his songs, from devotion to heartbreak. No matter what he's singing about, however, when Smokey sings you forget about your problems.
  • ABC were a new romantic group who enjoyed six UK and four US Top 20 singles. "When Smokey Sings" was their last Top 20 single in both territories. ABC chose their name because "The first three letters of the alphabet are known the world over."
  • This song was a hit just as Smokey Robinson was enjoying a career resurgence. The week it peaked at #5 in the US (September 19, 1987), Smokey's "One Heartbeat" was at #17. A few months earlier, Robinson reached #8 with "Just To See Her."
  • We found an issue of the British music magazine Melody Maker from 1972 that appears to be an influence on this song. Critiquing the Smokey Robinson & the Miracles song "I Don't Blame You At All," it states: "The words themselves are flat and clichéd. But when Smokey sings them in that high, ululating countertenor, he invests them with a tortured, feverish agony without equal in pop."

Comments: 3

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn this day in 1987 {August 22nd} ABC performed "When Smokey Sings" on the Dick Clark ABC-TV Saturday afternoon program, 'American Bandstand'...
    At the time the song was at position #2 on Billboard's Hot Dance Club Songs chart, the following week it would peaked at #1 {for 2 weeks} and it spent eleven weeks on the chart...
    And on October 4th, 1987 it reached #2 {for 1 week} on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Tracks chart, the record at #1 for that week was "Little Lies" by Fleetwood Mac...
    As noted above, it peaked at #5 {for 1 week} on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart on September 13th, 1987...
    Between 1982 and 1992 the English band had nine records on the Hot Dance Club Songs chart, seven made the Top 10 with two reaching #1, beside the above "When Smokey Sings", their other #1 record was "Be Near Me" for 2 weeks in 1985...
  • Mavis from Upper MidwestSpandau Ballet’s “True,” was exactly what this tune reminded me of the first time I heard it. To me, it’s part of a group of other late-night, urban-sounding tunes that emerged in the 80s. I’d put Joe Jackson's “Stepping Out” in that group, too.
  • Kevin from Syracuse, UtThe song is a upbeat paen to the incomparable Smokey Robinson, and the brassy arrangement is evocative of Smokey's hit, "Tears of a Clown." Deep in the song the lyrics allude to five great black American artists: "Luther (Vandross) croons, Sly's (Stone) the original originator, James (Brown) screams, Marvin (Gaye) was the only innovator, But nothing can compare, nothing can compare when Smokey (Robinson) sings . . . ." ABC wasn' t the only New Romantic group to pay homage to a great black R&B artist with a signature tune. If you listen closely to Spandau Ballet's "True" you will catch the line "Listening to Marvin (Gaye) all night long . . . ."
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