Originally by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, this poppin’ rendition by The Uniques belongs to the band’s lead singer, Keith “Slim” Smith. His full voice had soul, and his falsetto sounded unhinged, unpredictable, manic—in a word: exciting. Bunny Lee’s production bounces with pep, and The Uniques’ harmonies are unusual, tightly responding to Smith’s lead. During the bridge sections, Smith breaks away from fellow Uniques Lloyd Charmers and Jimmy Riley, punctuating the chorus with upper register gasps and bleats. It’s a ragged and passionate performance that’s quite different from the Motown version. The Uniques shift emphasis in both the melody and rhythm to subtly transform the song, creating a more direct and heavy hook. The Miracles’ original sounds contemplative and sleepy by comparison, while a later Jackson 5 cover is opulent and dramatic.
The Uniques released a single LP on Trojan in 1969 then quickly disbanded, but Slim Smith was one of the great rocksteady singers. If ever his place in reggae music gets overlooked, it’s because he died an untimely, early death. In 1972, Smith was institutionalized at Kingston’s Bellevue Hospital. The following year, the story goes that Smith tried to break into his parents’ house by shattering a window and bled to death from the cuts on his arm. Nevertheless, the singer left behind a distinguished legacy despite amongst a handful of acts during his short but full career. First, he was an original member of The Techniques, then formed The Uniques, and then moved on to a solo career. He recorded with many of Jamaica’s finest producers such as Duke Reid, Prince Buster, and Bunny Lee, with whom he scored his biggest hits (like The Uniques’ oft-covered “My Conversation). A gifted interpreter, Smith was never shy about tackling the American pop songs of the time—he sang excellent versions of “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” and “For What It’s Worth” (re-titled “Watch This Sound”). words/a spoto