Aloe Blacc & JC Chasez Talk Making of Smokey Robinson's 'My Girl' Remake
Smokey Robinson's new album Smokey & Friends is an R&B/soul masterpiece that features new duet versions of some of the singer/songwriter's most memorable songs, including remakes of tracks written by Robinson for himself and his group the Miracles, as well as other acts like the Temptations and Marvin Gaye.
What makes Smokey & Friends special is Robinson's collaborations with music-industry heavyweights, including Elton John, Steven Tyler, Cee Lo Green, John Legend, JC Chasez, Mary J. Blige, Jessie J, Miguel, Ledisi, Aloe Blacc, Gary Barlow, Sheryl Crow and James Taylor.
A standout track from the new duets album is "My Girl." The original song, which is widely recognized as a musical standard, was co-written and co-produced by Robinson and Ronald White and first recorded by the Temptations for Barry Gordy's Motown label in 1964. "My Girl" went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on March 6, 1965. It was the Temptations' first No. 1 and first top 10.
For its remake, Robinson wanted to do a modern take on the Temptations classic. He didn't want this song to be duet, therefore he and Randy Jackson put a group together: Blacc, Miguel, Chasez and John Mayer on the guitar.
With the perfect combination of soul, flawless harmonizing and well-executed runs, the remake of "My Girl" is a contemporary take on the classic record. Mayer brings his usual style to the track with a lot of clean blues licks/riffs that complement the vocal performance beautifully, followed by smooth melodic soloing during the instrumental breaks.
In exclusive interviews with Billboard, Blacc and Chasez described their experiences recording "My Girl" and also talked about what it meant for them to be included on Robinson's new album.
In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked "My Girl" as one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. What did it mean for you to be included in the remake of such an iconic R&B song?
Aloe Blacc: It is an honor to be invited to lend my voice and share a song with such an accomplished songwriter and singer as Smokey Robinson. I grew up listening to many of his songs and have learned a great deal about writing by analyzing his compositions.
JC Chasez: I think it is a privilege to sing any one of Smokey Robinson's songs. You are talking about someone who installed some of the foundations of Motown, and Motown is really a foundation for what music is built on today. "My Girl" is so recognizable. I was more than excited to be a part of it.
Do you remember the first time you heard "My Girl"? What is your personal history with the song?
Blacc: When I was a young child my dad would play Motown hits on long drives and sing along to the songs. "My Girl" was definitely one of those songs. I fell in love with The Temptations and many other classic soul acts.
Chasez: The first time I heard the original version of "My Girl" was with my family. We used to take cross-country trips all over the United States. We would stop at different places and we kind of popped into one of those '50s diners. We would dig through all the records and play different songs. My parents would listen to the Motown [records] as well. My strongest memory was sitting in a '50s diner when I was 5 or 6 years old and hearing that song come on.
It is often difficult for artists to get a favorable response for remakes of songs, especially when the song is such a classic. Nonetheless, there is something really magical about hearing you sing along with Smokey Robinson and the other artists on this track. How do you personally feel about the remake?
Blacc: Personally, I believe some songs should never be covered. There are artists whose voices and delivery are incomparable. It's impossible to do better than the original in many cases. However, when the song's composer invites you to join in a cover, there is some license granted. I feel like the remake is a special reminder of Smokey's brilliance.
Chasez: Everybody has their opinions about the originals, and I respect those opinions because there was magic that happened in that moment that made that song so special in that time. But we are also talking about the person that wrote that song in the first place. It's not like someone else went and manipulated it from left field. The fact that Smokey Robinson was involved and working with Randy Jackson to make sure it sounds the way he wants it to sound… I thought it was the right fit, the right process. I was totally comfortable with it.
What was the most challenging thing about working on this record? What surprised you, and what did you enjoy most about working with the other gentlemen?
Blacc: The most challenging part was balancing our different styles and voices. I was really surprised by the power and finesse in Miguel's voice. I've known him for years and I'm proud of the way his talent has developed.
Chasez: The most nerve-racking thing was that I had to lay my vocal down first. You know that these great singers are going to come in and sing all over this thing, so you want to perform at a high level because you respect all these other artists, and you want to do the song justice. I respect Smokey Robinson and I admire his talent. So I wanted to make sure that I was giving him every ounce that I had to give.
Describe "My Girl" in one word.
Do you think that the remake of "My Girl" will introduce a new generation to classic R&B music?
Blacc: I really hope so. Classic soul and R&B are my favorites, and I'd love for today's youth to know more about the roots of contemporary music. It is very enriching to explore the past and make connections to what is happening in modern life.
Chasez: I certainly hope so. In my opinion, a great song is a great song and should be heard by as many people as humanly possible. So I think it would be wonderful if a new group of people fell in love with this song. I also like the fact that usually when people like something they want to find out more about it. And I would like for them to go back and check out the original song as well.
Smokey & Friends was released Aug. 19 on Verve Records.