Hi… We’re the Miracles
June 16, 1961
1. Who’s Lovin’ You // 2. (You Can) Depend on Me // 3. Heart Like Mine // 4. Shop Around // 5. Won’t You Take Me Back// 6. Your Love // 7. After All // 8. Way Over There// 9. Money// 10. Don’t Leave Me
Once upon a time in the 1950s there was an African-American Detroit songwriter called Berry Gordy. Gordy had written and produced hit singles for contemporary R&B-artist Jackie Wilson such as the number one on the US R&B-chars Lovely Tears. He felt that he should make more money off the work he put in than he did and decided that the way to go was to produce more recordings of his writings, own the publishing rights of said recordings and start a record label of his own. This he did in the form of indie label Motown Records, named after a nickname of his home town Detroit.
The rest is history. Rather than cater to the niche market for African-American R&B music it would take the genre to the mainstream by putting out music that crossed racial barriers. Motown music consistently sold to white music audiences at a time when this was by no means something to be taken for granted by African-American artists. This was no accident. Gordy meticulously groomed his artists to cater to as wide an audience as they possibly could. It in the process Motown launched the careers of some of R&B’s most enduringly iconic names: Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson are the best remembered examples.
The first act to actually get a full album released however was vocal sextet (five gentlemen and one lady) the Miracles, previously named the Matadors (That last bit of trivia is reflected in the album’s cover art by the outfits worn.)
Most of the album’s lead vocals were performed by sweet-voiced tenor William “Smokey” Robinson, although Ronnie White and Claudette Robinson managed to get a few leads as well. Robinson and White, along with Gordy, also wrote most of the album. Marv Tauplin (not pictured on the cover) played the guitar and is the only instrumentalist to receive credit for doing anything in the liner notes. The remaining two members: Bobby Rogers and Warren “Pete” More for those asking, sang background. The rest instrumentation was provided by a collective called the Funk Brothers, a band which one effectively became a member by playing any instrument on any Motown Recording. Gordy oversaw this merry bunch as the album’s producer.
The album’s three singles Way Over There, Shop Around and Who’s Lovin’ You were each released about a year before the album dropped which goes to show that this album can be considered somewhat of an afterthought to the singles. Or maybe the success of the singles (Way Over There US #93, Shop Around/Who’s Lovin’ You US #2, US R&B#1) was necessary for Gordy to gain the confidence to record and release a full length LP on his label, a costly affair no doubt. It was after all the very first one. (For reasons unknown to this reviewer, the group’s first hit, the doo-wop classic Bad Girl was left off.)
This album isn’t for everyone. Many of today’s R&B listeners will find this too crude and elementary while simultaneously think of this as too sweet and tame. For grinding against a shawty at a house party this album is unfit. Such is the fate of R&B music from the doo-wop era compared to almost to that followed it. Early sixties-soul however gets no more accessible than this for modern music audiences. The instrumentals are comparatively rich and developed and the vocal performances by Smokey and his fellow Miracles are excellent, emotive and raw and almost devoid the melisma. Another reason to pick this up is that songs like Who’s Lovin’ You and Shop Around have been re-recorded so many times they have become standards. These are the original versions of these songs (That goes for every song on here except Money (I Need It), which was originally recorded by Barett Strong and was the Motown label’s very first single) and generally the best versions available.
Hi… We’re the Miracles is by today’s standards a pretty relaxed, meandering record. Even it’s relatively up-tempo songs such as its biggest hit Shop Around are midtempo at most. Its lo-fi quality gives it a certain warmth. If this album were much longer than it is it would probably overstay its welcome because of its backgroundish quality. Given that it clocks at thirty two minutes and spreads that time over twelve tracks and divides those over eleven songs neither the album nor any of its songs stick around for longer than necessary. We have the technological limitations of vinyl to thank for that.
This album is as notable for the classic songs contained within it as it is for the music it paved the way for. Despite its simplicity it doesn’t bore, in part because it sounds terrific, in part because the vinyl LP format didn’t allow any of these songs to last much longer than three minutes. In short Hi… We’re the Miracles is short and sweet.
Who’s Lovin’ You
Pick this up.