The great Smokey Robinson has inspired many people in his long and illustrious career. The scope of his inspiration stretches from lovers in the backseats of large American cars, teenagers slow dragging in basements under red light, and his fellow artists, who stand in awe of his lyrical dexterity. Dr. Funkenstein George Clinton himself has named Robinson as one of his top influences in lyrical terms. Of course, as any artist in R&B/Soul, Smokey has recorded his share of funk over the years too, from nascent grooves like “Going to a Go-Go”, to #1 pop smashes like “Tears of a Clown”, to deep ’70s funk like 1976’s “Open” and “Do Like I Do.” This weekends new funk treat, “Please Don’t Take Your Love”, from 2009’s “Time Sure Flies When You’re Having Fun”, features a fellow traveler in the art of soulful seduction Smokey has made his life’s work, Carlos Santana, with his soul piercing Afro Latin Blues guitar tone. The interplay of Smokey’s still vibrantly shimmering soulful falsetto and Carlos’s melodic fills over a blues funk beat equals a modern funky soul classic.
The song begins with a drum roll that leads into a slow, funky and chunky dark groove. The bass line is a funky two bar pattern, with a guitar playing some bass notes and then strumming funky chords. A shimmering, vibratoed Wurlitzer electric piano holds minor chords in the background. After the first four bars set the beat up, Señor Santana comes in with his sustaining, emotional wrenching guitar tones, using the slow groove as a chance to wring juice out of every note. He solos for 4 bars and Smokey comes in singing right where he stops playing.
Smokey entreats his lover en Espanol and Frances, “Por favor/s’il vous plait/please, please, please/don’t take your love away.” An extremely strong opening line that finds Smokey begging in three languages. His voice has lost none of the ethereal shimmering vibrato that is one of his vocal trademarks. As he sings his verses, Carlos Santana provides screaming guitar fills that testify to the passion of the lyrics. Smokey explains his polyglot romancing in this way: “No matter how you say it/however you convey it/it’s the same good thing/being said”, as Santana stretches, bends and distorts his guitar notes.
When Smokey sings “Por favor/s’il vous plait” on the chorus, he’s backed by a chorus of female voices. After the chorus Robinson let’s out a soulful “ow!” After which the song goes into a funky Afro-Carribean percussion breakdown. After the next verse the song stops in earnest for Santana to do his thing. He begins his solo repeating the same note over a few times with a wide vibrato, in the classic blues fashion. The percussion break comes back underneath the solo as Smokey calls out “Car-Los, Car-Los, Car-los”, encouraging the solo. Carlos plays a descending lick to go with those chants and then begins his solo in earnest.
Santana plays a masterful Santana solo, taking his time to build and going higher and higher as he hits his target notes, stopping to pause and isolate and vibrate specific notes at key emotional points. As he solos an organ tone is introduced, which holds a tense chord that provides lots of drama. His solo gets higher and higher until the end when the band hits an Afro-Latin rhythm unison lick that sounds very much like something Santana’s band would play. After the solo Smokey comes back ad libbing come ons and then saying, “Si, Si”, Oui, Oui”, with his female chorus backing him. Smokey gets them to say yes in many different languages! The song grooves out with Smokey singing and Carlos accentuating Smokeys vocals.
The combination of Smokey Robinson and Carlos Santana is a rhythmic romantic melodists dream. Carlos was a friend, student and fan of Miles Davis. And he’s a very similar musician, because while Dizzy Gillespie, Eddie Van Halen, and other great trumpet players and guitarists display dazzling technique, Miles and Carlos focused on melody and emotional content and how much could be extracted from each note. Both of them then would find huge inspiration in a masterful soul singer and songwriter like Smokey Robinson, as he’s precisely the type of singer they base their instrumental approach on. And the romantic, modal moods Davis and Santana set musically are also good settings for a writer like Smokey, as this song shows. So basically, this is just a funky love song that features greats doing what they do best, and that’s what I dig about it so much.