The heyday of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles at Motown produced any number of creative triumphs and commercial achievements. But there was one feat that they only managed twice during their time together, and that was to top the R&B album chart. It happened in January 1966 with the Going To A Go-Go set, then there was a wait of nearly three years for a repeat. That sweet moment matched the title of the album, Special Occasion.
The Miracles had three consecutive top three albums in the meantime, with Away We A Go-Go, Make It Happen and a Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 set. 1968 had brought the group three more top ten R&B hits, ‘If You Can Want,’ ‘Yester Love’ and ‘Special Occasion,’ to bring their total to an awesome 16 in some eight years.
So the new album was widely anticipated, especially as it included all three of those hit singles. It also contained their version of ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine,’ which had been a pop and R&B smash a year earlier for Gladys Knight & the Pips (and was now doing the same for Marvin Gaye) but had been first recorded by the Miracles. Amid a selection of other Smokey Robinson originals and co-writes, and Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong’s ‘Everybody Needs Love,’ there was also an interpretation of Lennon & McCartney’s ‘Yesterday.’
Special Occasion did indeed provide a great finish to the year, debuting on the R&B chart at the end of September and completing its climb to No. 1 on the chart of 7 December 1968, where it stayed for two weeks. The Billboard review that ran on the album’s release was spot on when it said “both the pop and R&B markets will make room for Smokey.”
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