On this day in music history: August 10, 1979 – “Cruisin’” by Smokey Robinson is released. Written by William “Smokey” Robinson and Marvin Tarplin, it is the eighteenth solo single for the R&B music icon from Detroit, MI. By the late 70’s, Smokey Robinson has experienced major ups and downs since departing The Miracles in 1972. He scores a major commercial and artistic triumph in 1975 with the album “A Quiet Storm”, and the R&B chart topper “Baby That’s Backatcha”. In spite of those successes, Robinson finds it difficult to maintain a consistent presence on the charts. Though revered as one the greatest R&B songwriters of all time, Smokey is struggling with writer’s block, and often has to rely on outside songwriters for material. While working on his ninth solo album “Where There’s Smoke…”, Robinson collaborates with his former Miracles band mate, guitarist Marv Tarplin. It is Tarplin that comes up with the signature guitar riff that inspires the song “Cruisin’”. The guitarist had given Smokey the music on a tape nearly five years before. Robinson takes it and plays it repeatedly, writing several song ideas to the track, with none of them making the grade. While driving down the Sunset Strip in L.A., the singer hears The Rascals’ classic “Groovin’”, which immediately inspires him to come up with the title “Cruisin’”. Smokey comes up with a melody and lyrics to go along with Tarplin’s music. The track is recorded at Motown Recording Studios in Hollywood, CA in early 1979, and is arranged by keyboardist Reginald “Sonny” Burke. When the album is released in May of 1979, Motown releases Robinson’s disco remake of “Get Ready”, a song he had penned for The Temptations thirteen years earlier. It is Smokey’s then eleven year old son Berry (named after Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr.), that suggests to his father that “Cruisin’” should be a single. Issued as the second single in August of 1979, it takes off quickly. Fans are immediately drawn to the songs’ sensual vibe, and it also becomes an anthem of low rider car culture. “Cruisin’” peaks at #4 on the R&B singles charts on November 3, 1979. Off the back of its R&B chart success, it crosses over to the Hot 100, also peaking at #4 on February 2, 1980. Robinson’s version also hits #1 in New Zealand, giving him one of his biggest solo hits, “Cruisin’” is later covered by D’Angelo (#10 R&B), Holly Cole, and Coolio. Actress Gwyneth Paltrow and singer Huey Lewis cover the song for the film “Duets” in 2000, hitting #1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, as well as topping the charts in Australia and New Zealand.
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