Going To A Go-Go (1965)
Where to start? “My Girl” and “Get Ready” for The Temptations; “My Guy” for Mary Wells; and “I’ll Be Doggone” and “Ain’t That Peculiar” for Marvin Gaye.
The list is enormous, the quality epic.
While Robinson and The Miracles rarely rocked in a conventional sense, they were always in a deep-Soul groove, whether as balladeers (“Tracks Of My Tears”) or masters of smooth funk (“Tears Of A Clown”), or some combination (as in 1962′s “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” covered wonderfully by The Beatles the following year).
The Beatles do Smokey:
Occasionally, The Miracles would break into some real Rock-N-Roll. Their first hit, “Shop Around” (’60) and “Mickey’s Monkey” (’63) are prime examples.
When they finally got down to it, though, Smokey and The Miracles could shake the house down. “Going To A Go-Go” is still a blue-ribbon dance song five decades after its release. Nothing can stop it, nothing can make you sit still as you listen.
It opens with a powerful bass and tom-tom drum groove that is quickly joined by a quivering, rumbling bass line. In comes a funky guitar riff that repeats itself over and over, precursors of beat-box sounds that would wait a full generation to emerge on Rap and Hip Hop classics, and yes, in Disco beats. Smokey wrote the book.
Deep in Detroit when it rocked:
Smokey is in perfect rocking voice, soulful and wild, turned on with the intent of turning his listeners on. Join the party, he’s singing. You’d be a fool if you didn’t. He hits some magnificent falsetto notes, his excitement barely contained.
The lyrics aren’t attempting to solve the world’s problems or plumb the depths of the meaning of love. They’re on hand to help you shake your hips and let your backbone slip, get a little more pelvis and groin into your life.
But the words do have some nice verbal turns of phrase, urbane, beckoning:
It doesn’t matter if you don’t stagger
It doesn’t matter if you don’t drag
You should have some fun
I’m telling everyone
Most every taxi that you flag is
Goin’ to a go go, oh come on baby
Goin’ to a go go, baby come on now
Don’t you want to go, yeah
One more time, yeah
Most importantly, you can hear the sounds of the Detroit streets in this song. Escapist in its invitation to boogie all night at the local club, it is rooted among the fire hydrants, street lights and muscle cars of the era. Only in retrospect can we see that Detroit was on the verge of a not-very-pleasant tipping point, one that would tumble it from America’s fifth-largest city and a center of musical culture into an abyss from which it is still struggling to escape.
The expression “Go-Go” captures a time in wider American music and dance culture that tore a page from the discotheques first of Paris, then London, New York and Los Angeles. In fact, “Go-Go” is derived from the French slang (of a sort), “à gogo,” which means “galore.” So the famous chain “Whisky a Go Go” means “Whisky Galore.” Of course, as it slid into home in the United States and the rest of the English-speaking world, it took on a whole new set of nuances.
There were go-go clubs, go-go girls who wore go-go boots, go-go executives, go-go parties, go-go music. Television shows popped up in the mid-’60s that were themed after go-go clubs. Shindig and Hullabaloo were chief among them. TV comedy program Laugh-In from the era used a young actress named Goldie Hawn to satirize go-go dancers.
In the midst of this mania – and it was a decade of manias as mass marketing hit young people with everything it had – along came Smokey, with his versatile voice, an unerringly accurate pop sensibility and a backing band, The Funk Brothers, who were as good as anyone when it came to grooving.
“Going To A Go-Go” stands as a testament to the handful of years when the ’60s were still streaming forth unbridled fun. That time was just a few ticks of the clock before there “was something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear,” as Steve Stills wrote in “For What It’s Worth.”
“Going To A Go-Go” continues to resonate, rock and soar. It’s the kind of song that makes you think, sure, everyone was dancing and happy, and that they were doing it all riding about 14 inches off the ground.
- It was considered in bad taste at Motown during the glory years to criticize anyone publicly so some things were overlooked. “Going To A Go-Go” does sound remarkably like Martha & The Vandellas’ “Nowhere To Run,” written by one of Motown’s other great songwriting teams, Holland-Dozier-Holland.
- The sound of both songs oozes gasoline exhaust fumes, an aural snapshot of Detroit’s Big Three automakers before the big fall. Huge wheelbases, wide-turning radiuses and 400 horses straining to break free from under the hood. Glory days, they pass you by.