160: Smokey Robinson & Aretha Franklin, ‘Ooh Baby, Baby’ (Live)

Posted by on Aug 16, 2018 in Rock, Rock and Roll, Song Of the week |

Smokey Robinson & Aretha Franklin, ‘Ooh Baby, Baby’ (Live)

Last week I talked about Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ ‘Ooh Baby, Baby’ from a very personal angle. But the song just wouldn’t leave me alone (yes, it’s infectious as the bubonic plague), so I did some snooping, and discovered a few things.

One is that Smokey really does have an uncommonly beautiful voice. I knew that was true, but somehow I always wind up absorbed by the gestalt of his recordings, not him as a vocalist per se.

Another is that he’s abused ‘Ooh Baby, Baby’ horribly in a slew of embarrassing glam celeb duets that I very strongly recommend you not listen to: with Lucy Lawless (lawless indeed, there really should be a law against such demeaning appearances); with Ashanti (her plastic singing oudone by her affected hand gestures and ludicrous slinky walk); with Darryl Hall (all forced joviality, carrot-up-the-ass smiles); and even with Linda Ronstadt (whose schlocky 1978 cover of the song made us swoon for years. But neither she nor her treatment have worn well – here her floozy appearance is rivaled in bad judgment only by the stage set, with both Smokey and Linda concentrating more on avoiding tripping and stepping on each other’s toes than on singing the song).

But the discovery that’s been haunting me for days is this one, a spontaneous, honest homeboy and girl moment.  Aretha Franklin (b. 1942) Smokey (b. 1940) grew up in the same Detroit ‘hood, knew each other since forever. Here she’s the featured guest on a TV show called Soul Train, and Smokey’s a guest of the guest. Watch the banter, the comfort and immense mutual admiration. Watch the emcee challenge Aretha live on camera to come up with a Smokey song. Look at the total focus with which she engages the task, bestowing on it both gravitas and the most serious of fun.

Listen to these two remarkable voices, velvet and steel. A magical meeting in a magical song.  It’s not chemistry, it’s alchemy. Their emotion is palpable. As has been mine for these several days now. So will yours.

No matter that they botch the harmony at the end of the second verse. No matter that they omit the third verse entirely. At the beginning of the second verse (3’00” in the clip), Smokey takes the solo in the most transcendent, celestial voice produced by an earthbound human; then Aretha graces it with her blue note ‘mmm-hmm’, and it’s as miraculous as the rising of the sun.

Unrehearsed, glitzless. Watch it and say a little prayer of thanks for being present at the creation.


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Deborah Rosanwo
Jan 17, 2013 at 12:50 pm

I absolutely loved it! Thank you for uncovering this gem! Dee

Jan 21, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Thank you for this! Wow. Beautiful…

Malcolm Pordes
Jan 22, 2013 at 10:24 pm

I’m going to see Smokey in May. First time. Can’t wait.

Recruiting Animal
Mar 25, 2013 at 4:37 pm

I was not a Xena fan – too old – but she looks great in this video and I don’t think the sound is bad. Not like you said — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5BGukDncXxU

Aug 17, 2018 at 12:56 pm

Aw c’mon Jeff. Under the circumstances I was expecting a full blown Aretha blog.
She deserves it. Give a little R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

john kehe
Aug 17, 2018 at 1:46 pm

As usual, Jeff, you uncovered a gleaming gem. Those voices are peerless perfection (and only make me miss those fabulous years more when true “soul music” reigned), but, happily, I’ve still got my records to keep me warm. And your own soulful weekly posts.

Margaret Evans
Aug 17, 2018 at 9:46 pm

A timely homage to the passing of a Queen.
Thank you.

Aug 18, 2018 at 9:03 pm

Thanks for all the comments on- and off-line.
I just love how, the second she understands what she’s being asked to do, she flips into Professional Mode. She’s still smiling and chatting, but you can see her brain churning “Which song???” “What key???”

Bonnie Nelson
Aug 19, 2018 at 7:41 pm

Dear Jeff,

I appreciate your article on SR and Aretha very much.

My husband and I sometimes post tributes to performers. Most recently we produced one for Leon Russell. It was quite a night!

Anyway, a week ago my friend suggested we do one for Smoky Robinson. We agreed it would be a good one. Then we heard the sad news about Aretha. Now I am thinking of combing the tribute of Smoky and Aretha music. We did that before with Carole King and James Taylor – kind of in the old Trubodor theme, and it worked well.

I enjoy reading your excellent posts Jeff. I am curious – where are you based out of. My guess if NYC. We are out on the California Central Coast, even tho both my husband and I feel like we are New Yorkers at heart.

Best to you,
Bonnie Nelson-Key



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