Bob Dylan may never have called Smokey Robinson “America’s greatest living poet” — that was hyperbole dreamed up by Motown press agent Al Abrams — but he probably wouldn’t disagree with the thought.
After all, what other songwriter has managed to balance such intricate melodies (guitar lines often courtesy Marvin Tarplin) with such bittersweet lyrics and clever rhymes?
Since you left me if you see me with another girl
Seeming like I’m having fun
Although she may be cute
She’s just a substitute
Because you’re the permanent one
– “The Tracks of My Tears”
Just like the desert shows a thirsty man
Green oasis where there’s only sand
You lured me into something I should have dodged
The love I saw in you was just a mirage
– “The Love I Saw in You Was Just a Mirage”
Just like Pagliacci did
I try to keep my sadness hid
Smiling in the public eye
But in my lonely room I cry
– “The Tears of a Clown”
On Tuesday, the Library of Congress announced Robinson would be awarded the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. He joins such notables as Paul McCartney, Willie Nelson, Carole King, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and Paul Simon.
Much deserved and long overdue for the author of so many gems — from “Shop Around” and “You Really Got a Hold on Me” to “Baby Baby Don’t Cry” and “Cruisin’.” Here’s one of Smokey’s most luminous songs — one he wrote for the Temptations.