Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s that time again: let’s talk falsetto. Smokey Robinson is one of the undisputed masters of the technique, and there was no one smoother in the mid-60s. “I Second that Emotion” is my favorite showcase for Robinson’s voice, and a song so classic that it doesn’t really need anything more written about it.
If you want, you can just stop right now and click the link.
Just kidding. Please continue to feed my cyber-ego and keep reading!
By the time this song was released as a single in October 1967, Motown had this type of song down to a science: horn section, bassline up in the mix, clean guitar on the offbeats, background vocals—the things of a Mark Ronson fever dream. There’s one or two unusual textures here, though, like the inclusion of a female backup singer in the all-male vocal mix, which fills out the sonic spectrum nicely. See if you can hear her.
What’s so interesting about this song, though, is that Motown remade it two years later with Diana Ross and the Supremes with the Temptations. Two years!
The two versions side-by-side are a nice example of how to ruin a perfectly good song. Ok, maybe not ruin, but the Diana Ross version is just too much: strings! A duet! Background “whoos” on every line! You can almost hear the big hair and the sequins. The song doesn’t have any room to breathe, like it does in the Smokey Robinson version. Instead, they fill up every second of space.
Lyrically, this song is also great for one line, and it’s not the title (which I misheard for years as a kid—I thought it was something like “Second bad commotion”). It’s “and a taste of honey’s worse than none at all.” Right there, in ten words, he sums up all of the frustrated relationships that have ever happened and are ever going to happen. You can’t say it better, even if you are Diana Ross.