This feature appears in the pages of V142, our Summer 2023 issue: now available for purchase!
Smokey Robinson is set to release his first studio album in almost a decade this April. And he named it Gasms, simply because he wanted to get people talking. There was never any other option, just Gasms (I checked). The legend is 83, and he isn’t just ahead of the game–he’s left them all in the smoke(y).
Robinson was a pioneering force of Motown, the institution that not only unified the voices of Black and white artists in the ’50s, but was also the precursor of modern pop and R&B. He founded the “soul super- group” The Miracles back in 1955 when he was 15, growing up listening to formative greats like Sarah Vaughan and Jackie Wilson. “From the time that I was four, five years old, if you asked me ‘til I was about 8 or 9, I’d have said I wanted to be a cowboy, the kind that played guitars,” Rob- inson jokes. “But I’ve wanted to be in music all my life, I don’t even remember a time I didn’t want to be.”
Joining forces with Tamla Records founder (and Robinson’s lifelong friend) Berry Gordy in the early ’60s gave the artist the opportunity to pen his earliest hits, instant classics like “My Guy” and “Ain’t That Peculiar,” which showcased Motown’s trademark dulcet tones.
“I miss them,” Smokey reminisces. “Most of my Motown labelmates are dead now, 80 percent of them are gone. I miss the fun we had and the camaraderie.” But once he grew up and grew out of The Miracles, he found his own voice at Motown as vice president and chief songwriter. Two decades and several top ten hits later, Robinson had evolved into the sultry soloist he was always destined to be, the force behind the archetype for the modern “sex jam.” He had been the voice and pen that helped characterize Motown, and went on to define the way the act of love went from behind doors to dance floors.
He was turning up the heat by sensually walking you to the thermo- stat, though. He made you feel loved, adored, wanted, cherished. Slick production of R&B-meets-jazz stylings, with falsettos and vibratos galore, flowed over you like chocolate. Smokey Robinson didn’t just make you feel “hot,” he also made you feel “warm,” the difference between music to have sex to and, as he terms it, “love-making music.” It’s all about a power source of tender force. Generating, radiating. Turn me on, turn them on. Lyrics taken directly from his song “Quiet Storm” from his 1975 album of the same name.
The exact intent of Gasms was to create that sort of pearl-clutching moment you’d think was a thing of the ’60s, but the songwriter supreme has earned his right to. “I called it Gasms because I wanted to create that controversy, don’t you know what I’m talking about?” he quips. When asked about the reaction online, which was a lot of “an octogenarian calling an album…that?” he responded, “Oh, I love it. That’s exactly what I wanted to happen. I’m very happy about that.”
It’s no surprise that he wants to make an album of the hots and heavies, he’s been doing it for decades now, so much so that he’s working on a movie and a play based on his life and work. If Smokey Robinson wants to make an album named after an orgasm at 83, then what are we to say besides, “This is your sexy world, we just happen to be thriving in it.”
‘Gasms’ is now available on all streaming platforms.
Photography Juan Veloz
Fashion LC Johnson
Grooming Mirna Jose (SEE Management)