When the R&B legend Smokey Robinson released his latest album, titled “Gasms,” at age 82, social media was tickled.
The chatter went viral when the album’s lusty tracks were released with such eyebrow-raising titles as, “You Fill Me Up,” “I Fit in There,” and “I Wanna Know Your Body.”
Social media was overloaded with expressions of dismay from Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Z’s. Some joked about Viagra pills, while others seemed repulsed and insulted that an esteemed elder would have the audacity to write and sing about carnal matters.
I’ll admit that I initially responded with a bit of ageist snark and snickered as I remarked about “Uncle Smokey being nasty again.”
Let’s be real: no folks of any age want to be reminded that their elders have sexual thoughts or desires. And we certainly don’t want to imagine them doing the nasty. Never mind that many of us and our parents might have been conceived to his catalogue of slow-grinding, baby-making hits.
But we have to consider the source, the artist, the legend that is Smokey Robinson—still trim and apparently fit enough in his aught years to be strutting and gyrating in hot pink slacks to a medley of his hits.
Uncle Smokey is often called the “King of Motown,” for writing 37 of Motown Record’s Top 40 hits including such classics as “Ooo Baby Baby,” “You’d Better Shop Around,” “Tears of a Clown,” “Cruisin,’” “Quiet Storm,” “Tracks of My Tears,” and “Love Machine.” While founding and fronting the hugely successful R&B group The Miracles, he was also vice president of Motown Records where he wrote and produced such hits as “My Girl” and “The Way You Do the Things You Do” for The Temptations, “Ain’t That Peculiar” for Marvin Gaye, and “My Guy” for Mary Wells.
His catalogue includes more than 4,000 songs, many of which have been covered by numerous stars. His musical innovation survived multiple industry trends, and he won his first Grammy Award for best R&B vocal as a solo artist in 1988 for “Just to See Her” from the “One Heartbeat” album. The man not only still performs live, but he’s formed a line of ready-to-eat meals for his food company, Smokey Robinson Foods.
The man stays busy!
And if he can still write and perform lush tunes, still sell tickets and command a stage, why shouldn’t he?
We need to be celebrating our elders like Uncle Smokey and his longtime friend and colleague, Motown Founder Berry Gordy, 93, who was looking spry at the 65th Annual Grammy Awards where the duo was tributed by Stevie Wonder and Chris Stapleton—and Uncle Smokey crooned one of his top classics, “The Tears of a Clown.”
In a day and time where we are too often traumatized by the murders of Black men, in their prime, and in a pandemic that has stolen far too many Black lives, especially our elders, there is something to be said for Robinson, Gordy, and others who not only live long lives, but continue to gift us with their prodigious talents.
Robinson told Laverne Cox on the 2023 Grammys red carpet that he titled the album to be controversial and get people talking. He clarifies that most people think the term refers strictly to sex, “But ‘gasm’ is any good feeling you might have,” he stated in Vulture.
The Atlantic states that, “Robinson’s catalog has given him every right to proudly unleash an octogenarian sex record—which, who knows, might now be a genre in the making.”
While the “Gasms” album won’t be released until April 29, the first song, “If We Don’t Have Each Other,” came out last week. It blends the green-eyed crooner’s signature sweet sound with romantic and tastefully sensual lyrics:
I love it when we snuggle
When you’re holdin’ onto me
We’re like two pieces of a puzzle
We fit together perfectly
We come to a meeting
Yeah, at the perfect junction
To my ears this song, despite the album title and other juicy track titles – is not about sex per se. I hear several themes about the dynamics of what makes a healthy relationship: secure attachment, connection, closeness, intimacy, reciprocity – which are all necessary for human survival across the lifespan. Robinson is singing about two people who’ve put in the hard work and forged a partnership to make a loving relationship last in a world that is intentionally designed to keep Black bodies in a state of chronic stress, disconnected, disembodied, and relating to each other from a place of unhealed trauma, defensiveness, and survival mode.
This new album reminds us that—cringe as it might be to consider—older folks need and deserve love too, and that love can be sensual and sexual. Seniors need exercise to stay healthy and according to UNC HealthTalk, “Sex counts too.”
One thing for sure about an Uncle Smokey tune: it’s going to be a sweet bop. And there’s something to be said for melodic harmonies promoting romance while far too many current Hip-Hop songs blatantly push misogyny, rape, violent consensual sex, and even pedophilia. There are problematic lyrics in other musical genres too, but sometimes it seems that Hip-Hop is devoid of tenderness, romance, and emotional connection. There’s no dating, no courtship or intimacy. Sex is described as transactional, and often sounds like body parts colliding in a way that feels impersonal at best and hostile at worst, followed by being left and unloved.
In its 50-year history, Hip-Hop has grown to be one of the most potent global cultural forces of all time. And we all have our “coming-of-age soundtracks” of the music that helps shape our sense of self as we grow from childhood to adulthood.
“Most research suggests violent lyrics both increase anger and aggressiveness and decrease positive emotions,” according to an article on the impact of violent music on young people. “Some studies propose that the inverse is true—that prosocial lyrics increase empathy and positive mood.”
After listening to countless men rhyming about how they’re going to overpower, control, disrespect, and sometimes harm women via sex, the honeyed harmonies that Uncle Smokey shares in “Gasms” might prove a welcome contrast to music lovers across generations. And if some of our elders feel a stirring in their hearts, souls, or elsewhere, I say we appreciate the fact that they’re still with us and that they’re still in touch with the most intimate aspects of their lives.
We need to celebrate that our elders still have the audacity to feel pleasure and can be vulnerable enough to say that we’re “so close, so tight” that nothing can tear us apart. And more importantly, that we can open our hearts and admit that “We need each other to fully function” in this sneering, cruel world.
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