In the '60s, Smokey Robinson was Motown's crown prince, the composer and, often, singer of the most excruciatingly perfect make-out music of the decade. After 1970 and "Tears of a Clown," however, the hits began to fade. Soon Robinson drifted into an unfocused solo career that threatened to immortalize him as an oldies act forever. But 1979 brought a smash hit, "Cruisin'," and Robinson began to forge a new, romantic oeuvre--more adult and erotic, and every bit as impressive as his '60s work.

"Blame It on Love and All the Great Hits" (Tamla 6064), which presents seven recent hits and three new songs, provides as good a case as exists for Robinson's new-found artistic prowess and longstanding romanticism. Drifting on gorgeous melodic waves and graced by Robinson's unmatched boudoir poetics, these 10 ballads serve as sensuous settings for his mature singing. His sweetly aching tenor, full of purrs and late-night pleading, has never sounded more exquisite.

"Cruisin' " could serve as Robinson's new musical signature. Drawing each syllable out as smoothly as a strand of silk, he offers an unconditional invitation to romantic reverie, begging, "Let the music take your mind/Just release and you will find." In fact, almost every song here, including hits like "If You Wanna Make Love" and "Tell Me Tomorrow," is nothing but a lush musical entreaty. Each is an act of vocal seduction that hints over and over of the delicious pleasures and intimate moments awaiting lovers.

Robinson has always towered over other romantic lyricists because of his knack for the natural metaphor, for the conversational phrase of striking emotional accuracy. In "Let Me Be the Clock" he waxes poetic, "Let me be the clock for the time of your life/Let me be the pendulum that strikes your chime for the first time," before admitting, "I'm a cuckoo you know."

If not for the three new songs here, none penned by Robinson and all conventionally schmaltzy in ways Robinson creatively avoids, this collection would have been a perfect late-night serenade. Nonetheless, regarding the art of goose bumps, Robinson reigns supreme and this album serves as one shivery delight.

If Robinson's romances tend toward the heavenly, Denise LaSalle provides a more street-level and funky account of male-female happenings. Her latest album, "Lady in the Street" (Malaco 7412), is her most impressive soul collection since her Westbound release in the early '70s.

The artistic rejuvenation of this big, bad soul belter is not surprising considering that her new label, Malaco, is the last successful bastion of down-home rhythm and blues in America. LaSalle's proud, raunchy persona is paraded here in a number of R-rated wraps and frank, defiant challenges to the men in her life.

Opening with a splash of sassy, swaying horns, LaSalle struts through the knockout title cut, proclaiming herself the ultimate in desirability: "I can be a lady in the streets/ And freaky in the bedroom." In "This Bell Was Made for Ringing," she uses a compulsive dance beat to reiterate her sexual demands and the penalties for male noncompliance.

Best of all is "Lay Me Down," a sweeping ballad that tumbles from suggestive verse to salacious chorus in a soft blanket of horns and strings. Still popular in the South, this kind of brash soul, full of churchy intensity and earthy realities, deserves to push some of the trite pop off the airwaves up North.

A large part of Malaco's success in the South is due to the emergence of Z.Z. Hill as the most successful deep soul and blues singer of the '80s. Hill has spent 20 years perfecting a gravelly vocal style and powerful delivery that draw on the passion of B.B. King, Bobby Bland and the Memphis soul tradition. Hill brings to his songs a charged intensity and contemporary relevance that belie the historical orthodoxy of his roots. His latest release, "The Rhythm and Blues" (Malaco 7411), is a hard-nosed collection of bluesy misery and worrisome soul.

Part of Hill's success is due to Tommy Couch and Wolf Stevenson's production, which sustains an ominous and threatening musical atmosphere that Hill's throaty roar hardly dispels. Introduced by a snarling guitar and bursts of horns, "Someone Else Is Steppin' In" is Hill at his best. He snaps out the ugly facts of romantic deterioration in the matter-of-fact tones of a blues man, and then wails his woman's admission of infidelity with gospel fervor: "I've got a new way of wearing my hair/ Got a new smile and you didn't put it there."

Throughout the collection of blues and soul confessionals, there is a deeper and more honest consideration of the adult emotional terrain than most contemporary pop would ever risk, and that is a joy in itself. soul.

Part of Hill's success is due to Tommy Couch and Wolf Stevenson's production, which sustains an ominous and threatening musical atmosphere that Hill's throaty roar hardly dispels. Introduced by a snarling guitar and bursts of horns, "Someone Else Is Steppin' In" is Hill at his best. He snaps out the ugly facts of romantic deterioration in the matter-of-fact tones of a blues man, and then wails his woman's admission of infidelity with gospel fervor: "I've got a new way of wearing my hair/ Got a new smile and you didn't put it there."

Throughout the collection of blues and soul confessionals, there is a deeper and more honest consideration of the adult emotional terrain than most contemporary pop would ever risk, and that is a joy in itself.