Smokey Robinson Talks About the Moment He Knew That ‘My Girl’ Was Going to Be a Hit

Motown legend Smokey Robinson has released an audio memoir, and like his lyrics, it’s both emotional and captivating.

The 100-minute special follows Robinson as he reflects on his career — including his work with the Temptations, for whom he wrote the classic 1964 hit “My Girl.” Dialing in to USA TODAY from his home, where he’s been quarantining with his wife and pup, he recalls the moment he knew the song would be a hit.

“Back in those days, (Motown founder) Berry Gordy had a policy with all the producers at Motown: If you produced a No. 1 record, you got a $1,000 bonus check,” he said. “I had been on the road with the Miracles for two weeks and come back to Detroit, and Berry calls me to his office. He said, ‘Here’s your check.’ And I said, “My check?” And he was like, “Yeah, you’ve got a No. 1 record [with] ‘My Girl.'”

Though Robinson says he was confident in the track, he admits the extent of its success surprised him at the time.

I didn’t know it’d become humongous around the world, but I knew it’d be a hit,” he said.

The first tune Robinson wrote for the Temptations was “The Way You Do the Things You Do.” Robinson says his decision to give “My Girl” to the group (instead of to the Miracles) was one he thought about carefully and stands by today.

“I knew if I could get David Ruffin to sing something sweet, that’d be a hit,” he said. “I don’t regret giving it to them whatsoever. The reason the song became alive was because of them.”

Since its release, “My Girl” has become one of Motown’s best-known and most highly acclaimed singles. It was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998, and in 2004, Rolling Stone ranked the song number 88 on its list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.

Through a mix of words and music, Robinson uses the memoir to discuss his humble beginnings, detailing how he grew up with future stars Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin in Detroit. In a particularly poignant segment, Robinson says he spent his childhood watching music variety shows on television, admiring the careers of icons like Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. Eventually, he’d come to work with legends himself, such as Marvin Gaye — whose album “What’s Going On” is Robinson’s all-time favorite.

“I’d go to [Marvin’s] house, and he’d sit at the piano,” he said. “He looked at me one day and said, ‘Hey, man. God is writing this album. I’m just sitting here because God is writing this and it’s just coming out.’ When you listen to it, I believe him because it’s prophetic.”

When discussing his 65-year legacy, Robinson says he feels both fortunate and fulfilled.

“I’m very grateful and very blessed to be able to live a life that I love like this for these many years,” he said. 

“Smokey Robinson: Grateful and Blessed” is now available exclusively on Audible within the Audible Plus catalog.