Smokey Robinson on Anatomy of THE Groove Part 3: “The Only Game In Town

Smokey Robinson had a hugely successful run with his 1981 album Being With You. He followed this up a year later with the album Yes It’s You Lady. The album was the exact opposite in terms of popular success. Of course that’s to say nothing for the quality of the music on a creative level. Could probably give this album a very strong review on the basis that the general musical mode of the album is funk based. That’s saying a lot for an artist whose been ballad oriented most of his career during the post disco radio freeze out. Still creative flexibility is vital no matter what the musical climate happens to be.  And this was an album that always kept it’s eyes squarely on the groove.

In the late 90’s,I had a CD compilation of Smokey Robinson solo hits called the Ultimate Collection. It included the song “Tell Me Tomorrow”,which is included on this 1982 album as well. It was a favorite of mine on that CD collection. And since compilations of that era usually mentioned what songs came from what albums, it was easy enough to crate dig looking for vinyl copies of what was then (and often still isn’t) in print on CD or digital formats. The vinyl I found of this is in excellent condition-both the jacket and the actual record. Again it was the opener of side 2 which caught my funk seeking ears on this album-a tune called “The Only Game In Town”.

The song opens with an unaccompanied Dyno-My-Piano Fender Rhodes solo. Then the drums kick in. And those drums stay on the one with thick hand claps and phat slap bass popping. A round synthesizer or very processed rhythm guitar allows the refrains to chug along with fan faring horn charts showing up strongly on the choruses,which turn out to be the main theme that opens the song itself. There’s a second refrain too. This one gets very powerfully funky-with a scaling down bass line and the rhythm guitar chugging tightly like a runaway freight train. On the final choruses of the song, songwriter/guitarist Mike Piccirillo sings the vocal harmonies with Smokey on his guitar’s talk box.

In many ways,this might be one of the heaviest straight up funk stomps Smokey Robinson ever made during his early 80’s run. The tempo is relatively slow,as it the case with much funk so I’m finding. The horns and keyboards maintain a maximum groove factor throughout the song. And the bass/guitar interaction on this song is some of the thickest I’ve heard on any 80’s Motown number.  One of the main things I appreciate about early 80’s Smokey is how he ventured to find a new musical voice through a more uptempo groove. Especially in terms of the funk. And that is the ethic he pursued with a lot of vitality on this song.

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Filed under 1980's, drums, Dyno-My-Piano, Fender Rhodes, Motown, rhythm guitar, slap bass, Smokey Robinson, synthesizer, Uncategorized, Vinyl

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