I Don’t Blame You At All – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
…I’m only paying the price for a trip I took to paradise…
Musically my sentient awakening year was 1971. We all have one flowering moment where every song burns brighter than bright. I was 14, had been listening avidly to the radio for all my life thanks to Mum, and knew the pop charts off by heart. Sunday afternoons were religious but only from 5-7pm as the chart rundown was announced, to ‘The Sign Of The Swinging Cymbal’. We would sing along, drum on biscuit tins, cheer our favourites. At 14 I started to grow out of this “everything is pop” phase (am I back there now aged 57?) and started to become a discerning teenager. Certain songs from 1971 will always open my ears, directly connect through my spine to some ineffable place of memory – Labi Siffre, Al Green, America, George Harrison, and here – Smokey Robinson’s “I Don’t Blame You At All”.
It jumped out of the radio like a jewel, delicate yet rhythmically powerful, melodically strong with stops and starts, and vocally sublime. Oh what a voice. There are better Smokey songs, he wrote a bunch of smash hits for the Temptations, my favourites are “Ooh Baby Baby” and “The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage” – just poetry – but this was my first love. I saw him at Hammersmith Odeon in the early 80s where the audience shouted out requests – I yelled this one and they played the first verse and fell apart. It was live! Years later – 2007 – I saw him in Bournemouth with brother Andrew, half-full concert hall, but he just welcomes us and thanks us all for being there with more grace than I can remember anyone else ever using on stage.
At the end we were stage front opposite guitarist/co-writer Marv Tarplin and Smokey shook my hand as I mouthed “I love you” into his shocking blue eyes. This story tickled my friend Charles Randolph-Wright so much that when Jenny and I went to the Motown Show opening on Broadway in April 2013 Charlie took my hand at the party : “It’s Smokey time!” and marched me across the room to meet him. Again he was gracious and sweet, and I told him that I loved him. Again.