The Story Behind “Being with You” by Smokey Robinson and the Ironic Circumstance that Kept It from Being a No. 1 Hit in the U.S.

Music history is littered with stories about an artist writing a song for someone else, only to decide they want to keep that song for themselves. In the case of “Being with You,” it wasn’t until someone convinced Smokey Robinson how well the song suited him that he decided to hold onto it, a wise move considering it turned into a Top 5 smash in 1981.

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What is the song about? For whom did Robinson originally write that song? And how did that other artist end up indirectly interacting with the song anyway? It’s a strange but true tale, one that ended up in the legend’s iconic, romantic version of “Being with You.”

Smokey the Songwriter for Hire

Smokey Robinson left behind The Miracles to start making solo records in 1972. Truth be told, he didn’t fare quite as well originally as he did with his former band, as the public began to favor harder-edged funk and then dance-oriented disco beats as the decade moved along.

Music being the cyclical beast it is, Robinson’s brand of silky sweet soul came back in favor at the end of the ’70s. In 1979, “Cruisin'” became his first Top 5 pop hit as a solo artist. A year later, he enjoyed some second-hand success when “More Love,” a track he wrote and recorded with The Miracles in 1969, was covered by Kim Carnes. This version hit the Top 10.

Robinson felt such gratitude towards Carnes that he decided to do her a favor and write her another song. He composed “Being with You” with her somewhat uniquely gravelly voice in mind. Figuring he’d go right to the source, Robinson headed into the studio to visit George Tobin, who was Carnes’ producer, to present the song. As it turned out, however, Tobin would have other ideas.

Smokey Steps Up

H. Lee Wolen, who was an engineer on the “Being with You” session, explained to Mix Online what happened next:

“I was in the studio with George, and in walks Smokey Robinson. Smokey had a song he’d just written, and he wanted to play it for George as a possible follow-up to ‘More Love.’ He played the song for George, and George said, ‘Forget about Kim Carnes. I want to record you singing it!’ Right there and then, he talked Smokey into doing the song. George saw an opportunity he couldn’t pass up and he just went for it. He was very good at that.”

Robinson did record the song on the spot with Tobin producing, and that was the version that he would release. “Being with You” also would serve as the title track for Smokey’s 1981 LP, one that would rise higher on the album charts than any of his other solo releases.

Here’s where the coincidences get kind of spooky. “Being with You” very nearly became the only No. 1 Billboard hit in Robinson’s solo career, but it stalled at No. 2 (it did top the charts in the UK). The song that kept it out of the top spot in America? None other than “Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes, who had moved on from Tobin and had hired new producer Val Garay for a more modern sound.

What is “Being with You” About?

“Being with You” presents a narrator who has decided to ignore the acquaintances of his who want him to think twice about his new romance. Warning signs that have cropped up before about this woman (They tell me all about your heart-break reputation) don’t phase him in the least (I don’t care what they think, if you’re leaving / I’m gonna beg you to stay).

He’s an optimist, focusing on what he believes are the positive changes she has made. But he’s not completely free of worry and doubt: Or can it be, that like love I am blind? / Do I want it so much ’til it’s all in my mind? The bottom line is that he’s all in, even if it means he isolates himself: I don’t care if they start to avoid me.

We never find out by the end of the song if it was he or his friends who were right about her. Based on the serenity of Robinson’s vocals, we can definitely tell that this guy is at blissful peace with his decision. Smokey Robinson almost let “Being with You” go. But once he decided to keep it, he put such an inimitably soulful stamp on it that it’s near impossible to imagine anyone else on the mic.

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Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Capital Concerts

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