In the 1960s, if you liked any artist who was popular at the time, there was a Beatles song for you. This is because the Fab Four often took inspiration from their contemporaries. The astute listener can listen to the Beatles and notice nods to everyone from Bob Dylan to Elvis Presley.
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles were one of the biggest soul acts of the era. John Lennon openly admitted to taking influence from Robinson for a Beatles tune. Interestingly, John also said the song was similar to the music of composer Gustav Mahler.
The influence Smokey Robinson had on the Beatles
Sadly, because the Beatles wrote so many songs, it’s inevitable some of them would slip through the cracks. “Not a Second Time” doesn’t get nearly as much attention or airplay as other Fab Four songs. This is a shame, as it’s a smooth pastiche of the soul music of the time, particularly the music of Motown.
John cited two disparate influences on the track. “The chords at the end are like Mahler’s Fifth Symphony,” he said, according to the book Lennon on Lennon. “All that jazz. To me, I was writing a Smokey Robinson [song] or something at the time.”
“Not the Second Time” wasn’t the only example of the Beatles taking their cues from Robinson. According to CBS News, they covered one of Robinson’s masterpieces, “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” for their album With the Beatles. Both versions of the song sound great, leading fans to debate which is better.
In addition, George Harrison said “This Boy,” the B-side of “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” was another attempt by John to mimic Robinson’s style. Above all, the book The Beatles Anthology quotes Paul McCartney saying “Smokey Robinson was like God in our eyes.” That’s a huge compliment from a band that was supposedly more popular than Jesus!
What Smokey Robinson thought of the Fab Four
This raises an interesting question: What did Robinson think of the Beatles? He actually met them when they were just starting their careers.“I met the Beatles before they were, you know, the Beatles, before they’d broken America,” Robinson told Uncut. “They were playing in a club in Liverpool when the Miracles and I were here in the U.K., doing a few dates and PR stuff.
That was the beginning of friendships between Robinson and the members of the Fab Four. “They were already performing a version of my song, and John was asking me about this Miracles song and that Miracles song. I was very flattered he knew so much about my music. They were all lovely people, and all became my friends.” Robinson did not specify which song of his the Beatles were playing but it’s very clear there were warm feelings between him and the Fab Four.