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- Posted on Aug 25th 2009 5:00PM by Melinda Newman
Robinson's glorious falsetto remains as poignant and provocative today as it was on such Motown classics as 'Ooo Baby Baby,' 'I Second that Emotion' and 'The Tears of a Clown.' Robinson wrote more than 35 Top 40 hits for his group the Miracles and others, including classics by the Temptations and Marvin Gaye. And that's not even counting his post-Motown era, which includes such smashes as 'Cruisin'' and 'Being With You.'
The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer talked with Spinner about the difference between sexy and crude, today's songwriters, the song he wishes Michael Jackson had gotten to hear and, of all things, getting down and dirty in the bathtub.
So many of the songs on 'Time Flies' are sexy and suggestive but never lewd. Where do you draw the line?
I draw the line at being crass. As a songwriter, I know there are no new words, there are no new chords, there are no new notes on the piano, there are no new ideas, really. So when I sit down to write a song, I want to say the same thing that's been said maybe before but always try to put a different twist on [it]. I don't think you have to be crass to get a sexy idea across.
Many songs on the radio today are about as subtle as a sledgehammer.
I hear a lot of good music on the radio. I don't really knock the young writers because they're writing for their era. A lot of things are able to be said now and not censored so they're just coming right down front with every idea, I guess. But I do think there's a subtlety that should be involved because a lot of young people are listening.
What's your favorite song on 'Time Flies'?
I don't have a favorite one because I give them all my same concentration ... [but] I hope that 'Love Bath' gets some attention because I love the way that song came about.
How did it come about?
One day, I was actually in the car, and I was thinking about how intimate it is to take a love bath with someone that you love or someone that you're in to. And how intimate that is with the candlelight. You're there in the water and with each other and there's music in the background. So I said, ''Hey! I want to write a song about that." I want to make it funky and groovy.
How long does it take you to write a song?
Songs take different times for me ... 'Shop Around' is a song that took me, at best, 30 minutes to write. 'Cruising' took five years.
There's a hidden bonus track of your jazzy remake of the Jackson 5's 'One More Chance' on the CD. Why leave it unidentified?
I did it like that because that was one of the first songs I recorded for the project about three years ago, and after Michael's death I did not want people to think I was exploiting his death. So that's why the song isn't even mentioned on the CD. I didn't put the title on there, I didn't put anything. It's like a mystery song because I didn't want people to think, "Oh, his little brother died, so now he's exploiting that."
Did Michael get a chance to hear it?
I'm sorry he didn't ... I would have loved for him to hear it; that was going to be my plan.
This is your 50th anniversary in show business. What do you wish you'd known at the beginning that you now now?
How to govern myself. How to deal with me ... Over time, you get a chance to learn how to deal with yourself through anger, through love, through all the emotions we go through in life, especially the emotions like sadness and anger. You learn how to deal with that to the point that you're not going to let that injure you.
You wrote 'You're the One for Me' specifically for Joss Stone, who duets with you on the record.
I have known Joss since she was 15 years old. I dubbed her "Aretha Joplin" because that's how powerful she is. She kicks her shoes off and just gets to singing on me; she can really, really, really sing. I don't think I've ever heard Joss sing with her shoes on.
How did having Carlos Santana play on 'Please Don't Take Your Love' come about?
I called Carlos and said, "Hey, man, I'm doing a CD and I want you to play something on it with me," and he said, "Well, send it to me, my brother"... Carlos has his own studio [in San Francisco]. We had a ball. Carlos is a very spiritual man, so he burns candles and stuff like that in the studio.
You still tour a lot. What do like out of playing live after all this time?
Let me tell you something: I love writing, I love recording, I love producing, I love all those things. My favorite part of my work is doing the concerts because I get a chance to see the people. I get a chance to just have a two-and-a-half-hour party. I see people there who have their kids in their arms and the first time I saw them, they were in their parents' arms. It's incredible.
What's the key to taking care of yourself on the road?
I don't drink or smoke, not that I knock people who drink or whatever they want to do. I'm not a party person. It kills me, in fact, a lot of people ... I do a meet and greet after the show and sometimes people will come back there because they think, "Entertainers, all you do is entertain and party." They'll come back there and say, "Hey Smoke, OK, where's the party?" and I tell them, "I just had the party! I had the party onstage." After my shows, I go to my room, I look at TV until I fall asleep and I just try and take care of myself.
Why do you still do meet-and-greets after your shows?
Because people are there. [long pause] A lot of those people who get the chance to come back have 50 of my albums, so why can't I spend five or 10 minutes talking to them? I may never get that close to them again ever, so that's how I look at it.
The album's title is 'Time Flies When You're Having Fun.' Was there a time when it wasn't fun?
Yeah, there was. My last couple of years of being with the Miracles, it wasn't as much as fun to me, which is why I retired from the group [in 1972]. My kids were being born at that time and I didn't want to be away from my kids. I felt like the Miracles and I had done everything a group could do at least twice and I'd been on the road since I was at least 16 years old. I was vice president of Motown and I thought, well, I'll just retire and do my vice president duties, maybe write some songs for some people, produce some records, but I'll never do it again myself. And after about three years of that, I was climbing the walls, so I knew what my true calling was.
What was the best piece of advice you were given that you now pass down?
Never take show business for granted. Never think that you started it or that you're going to stop it. If you happen to have a few hit records and the world becomes aware of you, [don't] think that the world can't do without you.
Is there anything you feel you still have to accomplish?
I don't have to have a starring role or anything like that, but I would love to have a great, meaty roll in a great movie.
You've said how you write hasn't changed over the years, but has any piece of technology made it easier?
No. I promise you every time I sit down to write a song, I want to write a song that if I had written it 50 years beforehand it would have meant something that's going to mean something now, and 50 years from now it's going to mean something. That's my goal.