April 10th, 2007
This is the third Motown DVD produced by David Peck and Phil Galloway for Reelin’ In The Years; their previous efforts include Marvin Gaye: The Real Thing in Performance 1964-1981, and The Temptations-Get Ready: The Definitive Performances 1965-1972. What’s unique about Smokey Robinson and the Miracles: Definitive Performances 1963-1987 is the documentary style. In August 2006, Robinson, Pete Moore and Bobby Rogers (three of the original Miracles) were flown to San Diego for a five-hour interview with Rob Bowman. The DVD cuts back and forth between interview segments and the performance footage, providing insight into the stories behind the songs. These interview segments alone are enough to recommend the DVD, and Bowman’s extensive liner notes illustrated with numerous archival photographs provide the icing on the cake.
The performances are arranged in chronological order from 1963-1987, with the exception of the first track, “Shop Around,” which was originally recorded in late 1960, but the earliest footage is from a 1965 performance on the Detroit dance show Teen Town. This is followed by the most amazing footage on the DVD, filmed during the Motortown Revue at the Apollo Theatre in 1963 and featuring a five minute version of “You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me/Bring It On Home To Me.” Performing live before a black audience, Robinson really cuts loose in a very un-Motown manner, both in terms of his emotionally charged vocal delivery and unrestricted movement. The Apollo performance is also notable in that it includes the only footage of Claudette Rogers, an original member of the Miracles whose vocals are heard on all of their recordings through the early 1970s, but who had stopped touring with the group in the mid-1960s after marrying Robinson. The other notable live performance, “Ooh Baby,” is from Murray the K’s It’s What’s Happening Baby, filmed in 1965. The seven additional segments featuring the original group are all drawn from television appearances (the last two in full color), ending with “Tears of a Clown” from the Don Knotts Show in 1970. All are lip synched and display the mild mannered choreography and restrained delivery more typical of Motown, and obviously more acceptable to a mainstream audience.
From here the DVD fast forwards to 1976. Robinson had left the group to become a VP at Motown and was replaced by Billy Griffen. Two clips show the newly constituted Miracles in the brightest pink suits imaginable, performing “Do It Baby” and the disco hit “Love Machine,” which reached number one on the pop charts and was their biggest hit of the post-Smokey era.
The final segments feature three of Smokey Robinson’s solo performances from 1980-1987. These are the least interesting segments on the DVD as they reflect Robinson’s ”Quiet Storm” period—a far cry from the raw emotion shown in “You’ve Got a Hold on Me” from twenty years prior. Bonus features include additional interviews, original lead and background vocal tracks, and a wonderful clip of Smokey, Pete and Bobby viewing the 1963 Apollo performance footage for the first time in 40 years (check out the look of utter disbelief on Smokey’s face!).
The sound and picture has been completely restored, and the TV audio was replaced with original master recordings, making for an excellent presentation. Overall, the DVD offers a captivating overview of the Miracles, Motown’s first million-selling group, and lead singer Smokey Robinson, who was also an acclaimed songwriter and producer. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles: Definitive Performances 1963-1987 is definately a must have for any fan of Motown, and highly recommended for library collections.
Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss
Review Genre(s): Rhythm & Blues, Soul, Funk