Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, “I Second That Emotion”

Written by June 18th, 2012 at 6:00 am

During the final weeks of 1966, Smokey Robinson joined his friend Al Cleveland at a Detroit department store. It had been a successful year for both songwriters. Robinson was riding high on the success of Going to a Go-Go, a blockbuster album that spawned four Top 20 hits for the Miracles, and Cleveland was flush with cash after writing a few popular tunes for Gene Pitney. With Christmas just a few weeks away, the guys wanted to put their money to good use.

They talked while they shopped. After browsing the racks for awhile, Robinson suggested they go somewhere else. “I second that motion,” Cleveland attempted to say, but what came out of his mouth was something slightly different: “I second that emotion.” It was just an extra syllable, a slip of the tongue, but it helped spark one of the most enduring hits in the Motown catalog.

“You can write about cars, or political situations, or dances or something like that,” Robinson told Performing Songwriter more than 30 years later, “but those subjects, pretty soon, become passé. Love is something that’s here to stay, I hope, and that’s why I choose it as my subject matter the great majority of the time.”

This time, Robinson wrote about a difficult kind of love, the kind that burns brightly one moment and goes unrequited the next. During “I Second That Emotion,” the narrator puts his foot down, refusing to be strung along by a woman who prefers the ease of a one-night stand to the challenge of “a lifetime of devotion.” It’s a tale as old as time, and Robinson certainly wasn’t the first musician to sing about it. Still, “I Second That Emotion” marches to the beat of its own drum, thanks to three stanzas of crafty doo-wop poetry and one punny one-liner — a malapropism, if you want to get technical — that never really loses its novelty appeal.

A smooth singer, Robinson relies on the Funk Brothers’ punchy horns and Marv Tarplin’s electric guitar to help emphasize his most important lines. Uriel Jones, who would go on to play drums on Motown classics like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and Stevie Wonder’s “For Once In My Life,” adds a funky backbeat, and the Miracles fill every chorus with thick vocal harmonies, almost as though Robinson called in his buddies to help set the girl straight.

There’s no resolution at the end. If Robinson winds up getting the girl, we don’t get to hear about it. The whole song winds up being an open-ended invitation, an offer to leave the past where it belongs and give monogamy a try. “If you feel like loving me,” goes the hook, “if you’ve got the notion… I second that emotion.”

Maybe you want to give me kisses sweet
But only for one night with no repeat
Maybe you’d go away and never call
And a taste of honey is worse than none at all

Oh little girl, in that case I don’t want no part
That would only break my heart
Oh, but if you feel like loving me
If you got the notion
I second that emotion
Said, if you feel like giving me
A lifetime of devotion
I second that emotion

Maybe you think that love would tie you down
And you ain’t got the time to hang around
Maybe you think that love was made for fools
So it makes you wise to break the rules

Oh little girl, in that case I don’t want no part
That would only break my heart
Oh, but if you feel like loving me
If you got the notion
I second that emotion
Said, if you feel like giving me
A lifetime of devotion
I second that emotion

Well, if you feel like giving me
A lifetime of devotion
I second that emotion

- Written by Smokey Robinson and Al Cleveland

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