In 1972 Smokey Robinson & The Miracles embarked on their ‘farewell tour’. Smokey would later leave the group, retire from performing and concentrate on his duties as Motown’s vice-president, as well as spending more time with his young family. The Miracles, however, would go on.
Joining the remaining members Ronnie White, Pete Moore, and Bobby Rogers was the young singer Billy Griffin who took over Smokey Robinson’s role as lead singer of the group. A year later Griffin and The Miracles recorded and released the group’s first post-Smokey single, ‘What Is A Heart Good For’, taken from the album Renaissance.
The Renaissance album was a pretty good album (and has, fortunately, been re-issued), but The Miracles really hit the big time after Smokey left in 1975 with the brilliant concept album City of Angels. The album tells the story of a man who’s searching for his ex-girlfriend in the city of Los Angeles, who has moved to the city in an attempt to become a star. The album is perhaps most famous for featuring the disco smash ‘Love Machine’, but the whole album is pretty good and well worth listening to.
One of the standout songs is this rare cut: ‘Ain’t Nobody Straight In L.A’. Motown famously resisted controversial recordings in the ‘60s until Norman Whitfield used The Temptations to tackle the hard social issues of the day with his brand of ‘psychedelic soul’, and Marvin Gaye’s epic 1971 album What’s Going On. This song however is one of Motown’s most interesting social commentary songs given the era: homosexuality was still very much a controversial issue in 1975 (although, to be fair, for some in America it remains a very controversial issue), and this pro-gay song must have surely had some listeners scratching their heads.
On a first listen though it’s a bit difficult to understand whether the song is actually supportive of the gay community, or in fact homophobic:
“Ain’t nobody straight in LA/ it seems that everybody is gay/
Homosexuality is a part of society/ I guess they needed some more variety
Freedom of expression is really the thing…”
The clue comes towards of the end of the song when the Miracles discuss which nightspot they should visit:
“Hey man, Tthere ain’t nothing but gay bars in L.A…”
“Yeah Bill that might be true, but some of the finest women are the gay bars.”
“Hey Bob, how do you know their women?”
“Well…uhh, gay people are nice people too man, let’s go man”
The song ends with the group agreeing and jumping in a car off out in L.A. Now, viewing the song from today’s (relative) acceptance of homosexuality and gay culture it’s easy to dismiss this song as potentially homophobic, but this came out in 1975 – the Supreme Court in America has only just recognised the right of gay couples to marry. The song is actually pretty pioneering when you think about it, capturing the emergence of the gay culture in tandem with the rise of the disco scene. The Miracles were ahead of their time in that regard, and ought to be applauded.
The song is available to listen to below, and the album is available on Spotify. Sadly for The Miracles, they struggled to reach the commercial and critical success of City of Angels; after all, the album did go platinum. But it proved to Motown that The Miracles could continue after the (brief) retirement of Smokey Robinson, and is a lasting testament to the talents of the original three Miracles and new-boy Billy Griffin.