The times they were a-changin’. The Miracles, the group founded in 1955, by Smokey Robinson, Warren “Pete” Moore and Ronnie White, had been synonymous with Motown Records since 1960, and survived chief songwriter and lead vocalist Smokey’s departure in 1972. But despite a chart smash in 1976 with the No. 1 “Love Machine,” the group was dissatisfied with Motown. Pete Moore recalled in 2012, “Even after all of this success, we never had any calls from Smokey or Berry [Gordy].” Indeed, Miracle Bobby Rogers once observed that “Motown ceased to be a family the day they moved from Detroit to California.” And so, with no true family in place anymore, the Miracles (Moore, Rogers, White, Billy Griffin and Donald Griffin) departed their longtime home in 1977 and inked a deal with Columbia Records. The group’s two Columbia releases, though, sank without a trace, and the second of the two LPs didn’t even see American or British release. Cherry Red’s Soul Music imprint, however, is finally giving Love Crazy and The Miracles their due with long-overdue CD reissues available in stores now.
1977’s Columbia debut Love Crazy was written concurrently with The Power of Music, the group’s Motown swansong (also awaiting CD reissue). Like 1975’s City of Angels (which included “Love Machine”), Love Crazy was an ambitious album complete with an Overture. And like City, it wasn’t without its share of controversy. “Ain’t Nobody Straight in L.A.” frankly addressed the subject of homosexuality (“Ain’t nobody straight in L.A./It seems that everybody there is gay”). “Spy for Brotherhood,” on Love Crazy, was sung by a protagonist whose music was seemingly being suppressed by the U.S. government: “Got to get away/I’m runnin’ from the CIA…I’m a spy for brotherhood/They would stop my songs if they could!” Billy Griffin, lead singer and co-writer of the song with album producer and fellow Miracle Pete Moore, recounts in Lewis Dene’s new liner notes that “it never really got on pop radio in America; most people, including Columbia, said they had a problem with the U.S. government about the song. If you know anything about the U.S. government, you’ll know they never make official statements –they just do stuff!” Whether or not life imitated art, “Spy for Brotherhood” didn’t translate into sales for the album, although the single hit No. 37 on the U.S. R&B chart.
That wasn’t the only controversial single. “Women (Make the World Go ‘Round)” came next. Whereas Thom Bell and Linda Creed felt “People Make the World Go ‘Round” in their ballad for the Stylistics, Griffin’s song (co-written with brother Donald and Pete Moore) was a bit more specific. In the song, women pull the strings of every relationship: “For years we’ve been told that this is a man’s world/But nothing could be further from the truth/There’s nothing a man can’t do that a woman couldn’t change his mind with a sexy wiggle of her behind.” Was it a tribute to women or a condemnation? Again, the controversy didn’t cause a commercial stir. But all that aside, there’s plenty of just plain great, danceable R&B/soul music on Love Crazy, including the potent title song (a worthy follow-up to “Love Machine,” though it wasn’t selected as a single) and the lush “A Better Way to Live.” Soul Music’s reissue is expanded with three bonus tracks: the 45 RPM versions of “Spy for Brotherhood” and “Women (Make the World Go Round)” and an extended version of “Spy” listed as “Special Version” but otherwise unidentified in the booklet.
After the jump: onto The Miracles! And we have order links and track listings for both CDs!
For their sophomore Columbia LP, The Miracles (“Featuring Billy Griffin,” as the LP was billed) turned to up-and-coming arranger David Foster to provide the rhythm charts. The quintet forged ahead with a set of up-tempo dancers written by the Billy Griffin/Donald Griffin/Pete Moore team, with Moore again producing. Yet Columbia Records’ discontent with the group’s team of attorneys, according to Moore in the new notes, led the label to only release 1978‘s self-titled The Miracles in The Netherlands! That ignominious fate effectively ended the studio recording career of the group, although Billy Griffin remained at Columbia to pursue solo fame. Soul Music’s reissue, at the very least, shows that the varied music of The Miracles deserved better.
The energetic, disco-tinged “Love Doctor” followed “Love Machine” and “Love Crazy,” and was another high-octane dancer. The sweet side of the group was indulged on the gleaming ballad “The Magic of Your Eyes (Laura’s Eyes)” which wasn’t too far from former frontman Smokey Robinson’s own quiet storm recordings. The same goes for the romantic and atmospheric “Sad Rain,” with its falsetto vocals. The funky “Freeway” featured some scorching guitar, and “Hot Dance” was a busy, overtly disco-oriented dancefloor stomper. “Mean Machine,” the album’s lone single, was another funk workout, this time with Wade Marcus overseeing a big string and horn orchestration. (It didn’t repeat the success of that other Miracles “Machine,” however, and placed just outside the R&B Top 50 at No. 55. It’s the Miracles’ last charting single to date.) The Miracles’ old friend Stevie Wonder was even enlisted to play keyboards on most of the LP. As with Love Crazy, Lewis Dene has contributed a new essay to the reissue, and both discs have been remastered by Alan Wilson.
The core 1960s line-up of The Miracles was retroactively inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012, righting the wrong committed when Smokey Robinson alone was inducted in 1987. An altered line-up continued to perform right through 2011, at which point Bobby Rogers’ health forced him to step down. Though Motown and Hip-o Select have well-anthologized the group (and even restored to the catalogue some of their original LPs), the non-Motown recordings of The Miracles have long been among the classic vocal group’s most elusive. Now, both Love Crazy and The Miracles are back in print from Soul Music Records, and these titles can be ordered at the links below!
The Miracles, Love Crazy: Expanded Edition (Columbia PC 34460, 1977 – reissued Soul Music SMCR 5073, 2012)
- Love Crazy Introduction
- Love Crazy/Love Crazy Overture
- Too Young
- Spy for Brotherhood
- A Better Way to Live
- Women (Make the World Go ‘Round)
- The Bird Must Fly Away
- I Can Touch the Sky
- Spy for Brotherhood (US Columbia single 3-10464, 1977)
- Spy for Brotherhood (Special Version)
- Women (Make the World Go ‘Round) (US Columbia single 3-10517, 1977)
The Miracles, The Miracles (Columbia JC 34910, 1978 – reissued Soul Music SMCR 5074, 2012)
- I Can’t Stand It
- Love Doctor
- The Magic of Your Eyes (Laura’s Eyes)
- Hot Dance
- Mean Machine
- Sad Rain
- Reach for the Sky