DeepSoul's final column exploring the work of Smokey Robinson looks at a track that retains true crossover appeal: "You've Really Got A Hold on Me," the 1962 single so beloved by the Beatles that they covered it on their second LP, With the Beatles, a year later. Robinson injects some true rhythm and blues here, the sound a bit grittier than later, smoother cuts such as "Ooh Baby Baby." However, Robinson's words and music root in firmly in pop, ensuring equivalent success on the R&B and Billboard Hot 100 charts.
Robinson penned the tune in 1962 after hearing Sam Cooke's classic cut "Bring It on Home to Me." Listening to Cooke's track, one can recognize the similarities in chord progression and tempo. Recorded on October 16, 1962, the song featured the typical Miracles lineup (then-wife Claudette, Pete Moore, Ronnie White, and Bobby Rogers) along with frequent collaborator Marv Tarplin on guitar as well as the Funk Brothers.
Right away the song contains a 1950s vibe with its stroll-like rhythm, and the funky piano adds a sense of intimacy, like the listener is hearing the song in an intimate club. Unlike other Miracles songs, "You've Really Got a Hold on Me" features Robinson singing in frequent harmony with Rogers, with the latter's lower voice functioning as a blusier counterpart to Robinson's smooth tenor. The rest of the group engages in a call-and-response segment during the chorus, echoing Robinson's delivery of the title phrase. But the climax occurs when Robinson and the Miracles sing the words "I love you" and "Hold me" in sync, emphasizing the song's sensuality and the narrator's desperation. Another important contribution is Tarplin's guitar notes, which highlights the melody yet helps establish the rhythm.
The lyrics of "You've Really Got A Hold on Me" typify Robinson's love of wordplay. His first lines seem to contradict each other: "I don't like you, but I love you," he and Rogers sing. The conflict continues further into the track, with the narrator's inner turmoil growing stronger: "I wanna leave you, don't wanna stay here / Don't wanna spend another day here / I wanna split now, I can't quit now." Even though "you treat me badly / I love you madly," Robinson admits, singing alone on the latter line. Like his frequent image of the sad clown, here the narrator feels joy and pain, both wanting to break up and stay with his girlfriend forever. As is typical of Robinson's songwriting, he vividly paints a scene many listeners can relate to. In his songs, love does not progress smoothly, but is often filled with turmoil and contradiction.
In the most dramatic section of "You've Really Got A Hold on Me," Robinson's words and wide-ranging voice express the narrator's desperation and desire. Despite this inner conflict, he pleads with his lover: "Baby, I love you and all I want you to do / Is just hold me, hold me, hold me, hold me," he begs. When this section repeats, Robinson interjects the words "please" and "squeeze" in between pauses. He even cries "tighter!" which lends an air of sexuality to the track.
A year later, Motown and Robinson fans The Beatles covered the tune for the second album With the Beatles. Listening to their remake, it is clear that they wished to stay close to the original. The guitars remain at the forefront, the piano becoming a subtle presence. John Lennon sings lead vocal, his raspier voice emphasizing blues and rock over soul. He still manages to effectively hit Robinson's high notes when necessary, demonstrating his affection and reverence for R&B. Although their version of the track (interestingly retitled--or misspelled--"You Really Got A Hold on Me") leaned heavily toward rock, Robinson reportedly loved The Beatles' cover.
Robinson's tenure with the Miracles may have ended in 1972, but he continued to rack up later hits such as "Cruisin'," "Being with You," "Just to See Her," "One Heartbeat," and many more. His ethereal voice, sophisticated songwriting ability, and knack for writing accessible melodies rank him among music's most astonishing talents. His love of language and skill at tapping into universal experiences appeal to multi-generational audiences, and his singing educates us all on how to use your voice as a dramatic tool. "You've Really Got A Hold on Me," just like the other songs featured in this DeepSoul salute, exemplifies why Robinson remains a singing and songwriting legend.