13
Jan 09

SMOKEY ROBINSON – “Being With You”

FT + Popular47 comments • 3,863 views

#480, 13th June 1981

The problem with reviewing this kind of ultra-soft soul music isn’t simply that it’s functional; it’s not designed for solo listening. Either it’s music to play when you’re with the one you love, or it’s music to play when you’re thinking about being with them. If you’re concentrating on the music, in other words, you’re doing it wrong, and if it demands your attention, it’s doing it wrong. That fits a song presenting Smokey as someone so transported by love the rest of the world becomes a mildly annoying distraction. But it still leaves “Being With You” as one of the wispiest of hits, plenty of quiet but not enough storm.

It doesn’t have to be like that: done well, this kind of slow jam is genuinely evocative of love as mystery, a warming or taunting presence at the edge of your everyday consciousness. Smokey’s own superb “Cruisin'” ebbs and rises that way. But even if its murmuring chorus is memorable, and Smokey’s voice as creamy and philosophical as ever, “Being With You” doesn’t transmit its devotion well enough, and its undoubted loveliness winds up seeming inert.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    Tom on 13 Jan 2009 #

    By the original parameters of Popular (i.e. the latest #1 at the time I started), this is the halfway point!

    (The current actual halfway point is the first #1 of 1985, though.)

  2. 2
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 13 Jan 2009 #

    i’d forgotten this was #1 — it’s a song i really love, when on in the background

    smokey was strugglin a bit with his mojo round this time — as if he’d been so successful establishing something vast that he didn’t quite know what to do with it from a position of such established strength (not an unusual predicament in pop, but not one i think SR ever quite clambered out of)

  3. 3
    wichita lineman on 13 Jan 2009 #

    Never thought of this as anything as modern as a ‘slow jam’ – it seemed like a throwback at the time, and closer to the pre-Motown Brill Building school of teen yearning than (sax aside) the process soul era that was opening up post-disco. What can be read as inertness could also be wilful immaturity from Smokey, which is much more appealing; it’s very teenage.

    Warnings from friends and relations? Does that even happen after you’re 18? More likely to be “well, I never liked her much anyway” over a fifth pint the day you’re served divorce papers.

    Naive echoes here of Goffin and King’s Oh No Not My Baby (as recorded by Maxine Brown, Manfred Mann, Rod Stewart etc), where the singer’s concerns about a lover’s flightiness are ended by the finality of an engagement ring. I also hear the wispy summer romance of The Tymes’ So Much In Love (a US number one in ’63) in Smokey’s blind devotion.

    So, I’ve always loved this for its gentleness and sky-blue innocence. Ditto for another Motown 45 we’ll happen upon VERY shortly (soz, bunny).

  4. 4
    LondonLee on 13 Jan 2009 #

    I don’t think the phrase “slow jam” came into use until the 1980s (with the likes of Freddie Jackson) and today it has implications of more explicit content, but Smokey did pretty much invent the genre with songs like “Ooh Baby Baby” which weren’t just love songs but lush hymns to desire you could just lose yourself (and your groin while slow dancing) in. On that one even sweet Smokey sounds a little moist if you know what I mean. Though on this one he sound more like he was singing about holding hands over a milkshake, it doesn’t have much in the way of romantic urgency.

    I usually think of this as Smokey’s “I Just Called To Say I Love You” (though a lot better), a very minor song by a once-titanic talent that hit the top because of an annoyingly catchy and simple chorus.

  5. 5
    Lena on 13 Jan 2009 #

    A quietly defiant and longing song, I’d easily give it an 8.

  6. 6
    wichita lineman on 13 Jan 2009 #

    Midnight Star recorded a song called Slow Jam on their 1983 album No Parking On The Dance Floor which is, apparently, the origin of the species.

    Smokey’s work on Ooo Baby Baby sounds more like proto-Philly than proto-Slow Jam to me, all that pleading desperation, intense and beautiful but destined to end in tears – not so sexy. I think Marvin Gaye did a lot more groundwork with Let’s Get It On. Isn’t a measure of explicitness part of the definition?

  7. 7
    lonepilgrim on 13 Jan 2009 #

    This is pleasant on the ear when heard as background music although I can’t imagine deliberately choosing to listen to it.
    Whereas early Motown always sounded like it was rooted in the everyday experience of working folk, this sounded like Smokey had moved up in the world and was singing from the other side of the velvet rope at some high class club.

    There was a great compilation of this kind of smooth soul ballad called ‘Sugar and Poison’ which was put together by David Toop. It features Smokey’s ‘Cruisin’ alongside Chic’s ‘At last I am free’ and Loose Ends ‘Hanging on a string’ to name but a few

  8. 8
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 13 Jan 2009 #

    this is probly a matter of temperament — and yes perversity — but i personally prefer the feel of this to marvin’s much-lauded equiv: smokey gets to a sense of comfiness, an erotics of unhurried familiarity, which seems to me a bit off marvin’s charts (MG poss better at v.unhappy marriages with top humping now and then, esp.then)

  9. 9
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 13 Jan 2009 #

    in other words, picking up lee’s point about lack of urgency, but adding “in a good way”

    (i think this is a tricky aspect of romantic love to get across without cloying smugness — and i think this achieves it)

  10. 10
    Erithian on 13 Jan 2009 #

    You could take this Number 1 and its successor as a pair to compare and contrast – this one quite some time after what might be considered the artist’s peak period (Smokey was 41 when this was a hit), the next one by an artist who had been around for over a decade but was just about to hit his peak period. In both cases they’re none the worse for that – the artist to come delivers one of his most understated performances (OK bunny, I’ll stop there) while Smokey oozes cool and class in a relaxed outing. It’s a lyric that might justify an anguished delivery, but thinking of this song I’m getting the image of Smokey ambling round a pool table, hardly a care in the world. I look back on this one fondly, not that I was doing too well in the lurrrve stakes at the time.

    It’s quite neat that Popular should happen to reach this pair of number ones in the week when we celebrate Motown’s 50th anniversary, and by coincidence a week when the fate of American motor industry workers, and the achievement of one particular black American based in the Midwest, are foremost in our minds.

    Number 2 Watch – the long-forgotten “More Than In Love” (a song from a Crossroads storyline!!) by Kate Robbins, who went on to do many of the female voices on Spitting Image and whose brother Ted is best known now as Den Perry from “Phoenix Nights”

  11. 11
    Billy Smart on 13 Jan 2009 #

    Oh God, I spend *my life* listening to soft soul ballads on my own, Tom! I think that my general thought when I listen to songs like this is the rather bittersweet “I wish that I felt like that”

    p^nk OTM about the preferability of this to Sexual Healing, which always sounds rather demanding and despotic to me (“Wake up!”). There’s always a risk with songs like this seeming either to gloat at being with the desired one, or the desired one seeming like a generic classy lay-dee, or sounding like the well-worn lines of an oily roue. No risk of that with Smokey, who sounds genuinely humble and exalted, and that voice can make almost every song that he sang sound really good.

  12. 12
    Billy Smart on 13 Jan 2009 #

    As with ‘Woman In Love’ a surprisingly positive response from my eight year old self to a drippy grown-up love song, mainly because I liked the tune.

  13. 13
    LondonLee on 13 Jan 2009 #

    I think he was playing pool in the video, wasn’t he?

  14. 14
    Erithian on 13 Jan 2009 #

    This, incidentally, was the month in which Shergar won the Derby, McEnroe ended Borg’s five-year sequence at Wimbledon, and England lost the first Test of what looked like being a very tough Ashes series…

  15. 15
    LondonLee on 13 Jan 2009 #

    Re #6

    Does a song have to be explicit to qualify as a “slow jam”?

    I’d say no, even if the content isn’t XXX slow songs necessarily have a bump n’ grind quality that makes them seem more sexual. As I said, even innocent Smokey’s “Ooh Baby Baby” has a certain loin-stirring quality to it but that doesn’t really come from the lyrics. It’s all about the groove man.

  16. 16
    wichita lineman on 13 Jan 2009 #

    Re 11: Oh me too, I much prefer this to Sexual Healing, which I always thought of as prodding and selfish. But if you really want to hear MG in “demanding and despotic” mode, try Masochistic Beauty from the (just) posthumous Dream Of A Lifetime album. If The Buzz’s You’re Holding Me Down gets inside the mind of Joe Meek just before his final meltdown then this does a very similar job for poor, lost Marvin: “Shut up! Sit down! Get up!”, all delivered in what sounds like a Terry-Thomas impression. Oh, not forgetting “it is my duty to spank your booty!” Hilarious and disturbing. And nothing much like Being With You.

    Re 13: Yes he was. What a horrible eighties baize!

    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=qV7XlZPdzZI

  17. 17
    Tom on 13 Jan 2009 #

    Recommendation of Sugar And Poison thoroughly seconded: really excellent, and it gets better the more diffuse it gets.

  18. 18
    Mark M on 13 Jan 2009 #

    I’ve always really, really liked this song, and at the time it came out, I had no concept of who Smokey was. Actually, in a way, it still doesn’t fit into my concept of who Smokey was, but it’s ace…

  19. 19
    Mark G on 13 Jan 2009 #

    hohum.

  20. 20
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 13 Jan 2009 #

    ps i’m reasonably certain that’s the LP sleeve rather than the single (same title)

  21. 21
    Malice Cooper on 13 Jan 2009 #

    This is pleasant enough but I never understood at the time why this was Number 1 and Champaign’s “How ’bout us” was Number 5 as I thought the latter was a much better song.
    “Being with you” reminds me of the Pointer sisters “Slowhand” and I guess was just fortunate enough to be around with no big seller, allowing it to be Number 1

  22. 22
    wichita lineman on 14 Jan 2009 #

    It has a very POP lightness that Champaign and the Pointer Sisters – both great songs – lack, which may explain its unlikely chart position. Slow Hand, a proto-slow jam if there ever was one, stalled at 10 which is quite shocking.

  23. 23
    pete on 14 Jan 2009 #

    Yes, another smother genius of a record, its very lightness of touch belying its longevity. The general feel above is that it is not representative or indeed good enough to be one of Smokey’s few number ones, but I disagree. I think this is a much harder record to pull off than Tears Of A Clown, its about tiptoeing through the awesome tune, and the really quite subtle lyrics into a grooveworm that sticks in your head. I cannot think of that many tunes like it, that wriggle so seductively. It an 8 from me as well I think.

    (I don’t know why I like the “Haven’t they noticed the changes in you” section so much, but its my default change tune, beating out Bowie).

  24. 24
    Matthew on 14 Jan 2009 #

    I’m sure this is brilliant if it’s your cup of tea, but it’s safe to say it made no impression on 6 year old me then (after a good run of memorable #1’s) and it makes scarcely more impression on 34 year old me now. I can appreciate the artistry but it’s smooth enough that there’s nothing for me really to get a grip on. Who decided that love was meant to sound like this anyway?

  25. 25
    Matthew H on 14 Jan 2009 #

    I liked it very much, but associate it – like McEnroe beating Borg – with my first attack of hayfever. It wasn’t Smokey’s touching little tune making my eyes go puffy after all. The song’s fairly insubstantial but breezily catchy, and that was enough.

  26. 26
    peter goodlaws on 14 Jan 2009 #

    I suppose because I was all of six years old at the time and thus wasn’t “being with anyone”, I didn’t really get this one, other than recognising it as rather pleasant, as Malice Cooper says. It was only later that I realized that this was the “Tears of a Clown” geezer returning to the top all of eleven years later.

    Someone mentioned the McEnroe v Borg final, the one where Mac finally stuffed the boring Swedish robot. Bloody excellent. And of course Borg couldn’t take it and did what is now termed a “Kevin Keegan”. They don’t like it up ’em, Mr Mainwaring! History recalls that McEnroe didn’t turn up for the Champion’s ball, which I now think was crazy considering Chris Evert won the ladies’ title and Mac would have got to dance with her and get hold of that gorgeous ass.

  27. 27
    Erithian on 14 Jan 2009 #

    Wasn’t Chrissie still with Jimmy Connors at the time? There would have been a grudge match and a half if McEnroe had tried it on. Apparently Connors was walking through a crowd after a US Open match once when someone shouted “Hey Jimbo, what’s it like with Chrissie?” He had to be restrained from lamping the bloke. (We need a Waldo contribution here…)

  28. 28
    rosie on 14 Jan 2009 #

    And if she wasn’t he’d have got one from John Lloyd. He couldn’t really win that one.

  29. 29
    peter goodlaws on 14 Jan 2009 #

    Waldo’s just told me that when Chrissie won Wimbledon in 1981, the name on the trophy was “Mrs J M Lloyd”, which rather answers Erithian’s question. He also advises a small flutter on Murray and Jankovic as a double-up for the Aussie Open. Advice that I for one am not going to take. No value at all.

  30. 30
    henry s on 14 Jan 2009 #

    I was gonna post here about how “Ebony Eyes” (Smokey’s duet with Rick James)was his first real contribution to the Slow Jam canon, but you all are talking about tennis!

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