The Tears of a Clown

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"The Tears of a Clown"
Single by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
from the album Make It Happen (aka The Tears of a Clown)
B-side"Promise Me"
ReleasedJuly 1970 (UK)
September 24, 1970 (US)
Recorded1967[1]
StudioHitsville U.S.A. (Studio A), Detroit
Genre
Length3:02
LabelTamla
T 54199
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)Hank Cosby and Smokey Robinson
Smokey Robinson & the Miracles singles chronology
"Who's Gonna Take the Blame"
(1970)
"The Tears of a Clown"
(1970)
"I Don't Blame You at All"
(1971)
Music video
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles - "The Tears Of A Clown" on YouTube

"The Tears of a Clown" is a song written by Hank Cosby, Smokey Robinson, and Stevie Wonder and originally recorded by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles for the Tamla Records label subsidiary of Motown, first appearing on the 1967 album Make It Happen. The track was re-released in the United Kingdom as a single in July 1970, and it became a number-one hit on the UK Singles Chart for the week ending September 12, 1970. Subsequently, Motown released a partially re-recorded and completely remixed version as a single in the United States as well, where it quickly became a number-one hit on both the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B Singles charts.[3]

This song is an international multi-million seller and a 2002 Grammy Hall of Fame inductee. Its success led Miracles lead singer, songwriter, and producer Smokey Robinson, who had announced plans to leave the act, to stay until 1972. In 2021, it was listed at No. 313 on Rolling Stone's "Top 500 Greatest Songs of All Time".[4]

History[edit]

Origins[edit]

Stevie Wonder (who was discovered by Miracles member Ronnie White) and his producer Hank Cosby wrote the music for the song, and Cosby produced the instrumental track recording. Wonder brought the instrumental track to the 1966 Motown Christmas party because he could not come up with a lyric to fit the instrumental.[5] Wonder wanted to see what Robinson could come up with for the track.[5] Robinson, who remarked that the song's distinctive calliope motif "sounded like a circus," provided lyrics that reflected his vision and sang lead vocal. In the song, his character, sad because a woman has left him, compares himself to the characters in the opera Pagliacci, comedians/clowns who hide their hurt and anger behind empty smiles.[5] He had used this comparison before: the line "just like Pagliacci did/I'll try to keep my sadness hid" appears in this song as well as in "My Smile Is Just a Frown (Turned Upside Down)", which he had written in 1964 for Motown artist Carolyn Crawford. The record is one of the few hit pop singles to feature the bassoon, which was played by Charles R. Sirard.[6]

"The Tears of a Clown" was an album track on 1967's Make It Happen but was not released as a single. "The Tears of a Clown" on the monaural version of Make It Happen contains an alternate lead vocal with a slightly different verse melody. By 1969, Robinson had become tired of constantly touring with the Miracles, and wanted to remain home in Detroit, Michigan, with his wife Claudette and their two children, Berry and Tamla (both named after aspects of the Motown corporation). Robinson informed his groupmates Pete Moore, Bobby Rogers, and best friend Ronald White that he would be retiring from the act to concentrate on his duties as vice-president of Motown Records.

Commercial success[edit]

In 1970, to capitalize on the Miracles' success, and due to a lack of new material from the group, Motown Britain selected "The Tears of a Clown" from the group's catalog for single release. One account suggests it was Karen Spreadbury, head of the British division of the Motown Fan Club, who first recommended the track to John Reid, then UK manager for the American Tamla Motown label, who went on to manage Elton John and Queen, when he asked her which track she'd favor as a single from the 1967 album.[7] Reid reportedly then gave the go ahead for “Tears of a Clown” to be issued as the single.[8] The record became a #1 hit in the UK seven weeks after its July release.

This newfound popularity prompted Motown to release the song as a single in the United States, using a new mix of the song made in February 1970 (whereas the UK release had used the original 1967 stereo mix from the Make It Happen LP). Cash Box said of the US single release that it was a "brilliant return to the heyday sound of the Miracles," calling it "bright blues rock that hasn't been heard here for a long while."[9] It became a #1 hit on both the pop and R&B charts within two months of its release. Despite the fact that the Miracles had been one of Motown's premier acts in the early and mid-1960s and its first successful group act, "The Tears of a Clown" was their first and only #1 hit while Smokey Robinson was lead singer. (The Miracles hit #1 again several years later with the smash hit "Love Machine", but by that time Smokey had long since left the group, replaced by Billy Griffin. "Shop Around" had hit #1 on the Cash Box Pop Chart, but only #2 on Billboard's.)

The 45 single was issued with two different B-sides: the first pressing had an alternate version of the 1967 Miracles Top 20 hit single "The Love I Saw in You Was Just a Mirage;" the second had a new Miracles song, "Promise Me". Motown released a Tears of a Clown LP in 1970 as well, which was essentially a re-packaging of the Miracles' 1967 Make It Happen. It was included again on the group's 1971 LP One Dozen Roses, which used a new stereo mix.

Two years later, Smokey Robinson decided to follow through with his plans to leave the Miracles and retire. Smokey Robinson & the Miracles embarked on a six-month farewell tour, culminating in a July 16, 1972 performance in Washington, DC, where Robinson introduced the Miracles' new lead singer, Billy Griffin.

The song charted again in the UK in 1976, peaking at number 34 (see The Miracles discography). "The Tears of a Clown" continues to be a popular radio request.

Personnel[edit]

The Miracles

Other personnel

  • Written by Stevie Wonder, Hank Cosby, and William "Smokey" Robinson
  • Produced by Hank Cosby and William "Smokey" Robinson
  • Charles R. Sirard – bassoon
  • Mike Terrybaritone saxophone
  • Melvin Davis – drums
  • Other instrumentation by the Funk Brothers
    • There is some uncertainty about who from the Motown session musicians the Funk Brothers played bass on the recording. Variously Tony Newton, Bob Babbitt, and James Jamerson have been noted as playing on takes of the song. It is speculated that Jamerson performed on the original track. When Motown prepared the song for a US single release in 1970, they dubbed in new drums and bass.[10] Babbitt is credited as playing bass on the 1970 dub.[11]

Charts[edit]

Certifications[edit]

Certifications for "The Tears of a Clown"
Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[22] Silver 200,000

Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

The Beat version[edit]

"Tears of a Clown"
Original 2 Tone cover
Single by The Beat
A-side"Ranking Full Stop" (double A-side)
Released30 November 1979[23]
Genre
Length2:39
Label
Songwriter(s)
  • Hank Cosby
  • Smokey Robinson
  • Stevie Wonder
Producer(s)Bob Sargeant
The Beat singles chronology
"Tears of a Clown"
(1979)
"Hands Off...She's Mine"
(1980)
Official audio
"The Tears of a Clown" on YouTube

In November 1979 British ska/new wave band The Beat released a cover of the song as their debut single on the 2 Tone label. The double A-side with "Ranking Full Stop" reached number 6 on the UK Singles Chart, making it the band's third biggest hit.[25] It was also certified silver in the UK by the BPI.[23]

It wasn't included on the original UK release of The Beat's debut album, I Just Can't Stop It, but was included on the US release and has been included on subsequent CD reissues of the album.

Track listing[edit]

  1. "Tears of a Clown" – 2:39
  2. "Ranking Full Stop" – 2:47

Personnel[edit]

Credits are adapted from the liner notes for I Just Can't Stop It.[26]

Charts[edit]

Chart (1980) Peak
position
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[27] 23
Ireland (IRMA)[28] 16
UK Singles (OCC)[25] 6

Other recordings[edit]

  • Petula Clark recorded the song in 1971 for her album Petula '71.
  • The song was recorded by Eumir Deodato for his 1982 album Happy Hour, in a funk re-arrangement.
  • In 1984, The Flying Pickets recorded the song on their album Lost Boys.
  • In 1986, Baby Tuckoo recorded the song as the A-side for an EP release.
  • The song was covered on Enuff Z'Nuff's compilation of their original demos, 1985. In 1987 a cover was done by "Bassix".
  • In late 1993, Australian punk-rock band Caligula had an Australian #25 hit with the song.
  • The song was recorded by La Toya Jackson in 1995 for her album Stop in the Name of Love
  • The J-ska band Potshot recorded it on the album Pots and Shots, released in 1997.
  • Phil Collins recorded it as a B-side to his song "Wake Up Call", taken from his 2002 album Testify, and later re-recorded it during the sessions of his 2010 album Going Back.
  • Jazz artist Nnenna Freelon included the song both on her 2002 studio album Tales of Wonder and in a live setting on her 2008 best-of compilation Better Than Anything: The Quintessential Nnenna Freelon.[29]
  • Brian Ray, guitarist for Paul McCartney, released a rock-flavored version of the song in 2005.
  • In May 2010, American Pop punk band A Loss for Words released their album Motown Classics, which featured their rendition of the song.
  • Marc Cohn released a laid-back bluesy version on his 2010 album Listening Booth: 1970, as it was one important influence for him in that formative year for his musical identity.
  • Pond released a free download of the song in 2012 via their label's website.
  • Irish boy band Boyzone on their 2014 Motown tribute album Dublin to Detroit.

Other uses[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ James E. Perone (2006). The Sound of Stevie Wonder: His Words and Music. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 118. ISBN 9780275987237.
  2. ^ Breihan, Tom (January 17, 2018). "The Number Ones: Smokey Robinson & The Miracles' "The Tears Of A Clown"". Stereogum. Retrieved June 16, 2023. "The Tears Of A Clown" is also just a formally impeccable pop song...
  3. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942–2004. Record Research. p. 404.
  4. ^ "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. 2021-09-15. Retrieved 2022-07-18.
  5. ^ a b c Spectacle with Elvis Costello, 2009
  6. ^ ""Charles Sirad" at International Double Reed Society". Archived from the original on 2014-02-02. Retrieved 2012-11-30.
  7. ^ "'Tears of a Clown': When Fortune Smiled on Smokey Robinson". 17 October 2020.
  8. ^ "Elton John and John Reid's Relationship Imploded After What We See in 'Rocketman'". 30 May 2019.
  9. ^ "CashBox Record Reviews" (PDF). Cash Box. October 10, 1970. p. 28. Retrieved 2021-12-09.
  10. ^ "Who Played Bass On Tears Of A Clown...? topic". 17 July 2012.
  11. ^ The Complete Motown Singles Vol. 10: 1970 [liner notes]. New York: Hip-O Select/Motown/Universal Records
  12. ^ "Top 100 Singles". Top100singles.net. Retrieved 2021-05-19.
  13. ^ "Smokey Robinson & the Miracles – The Tears of a Clown" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved November 29, 2020.
  14. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – The Tears of a Clown". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved June 22, 2017.
  15. ^ "Jaaroverzichten – Single 1970" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Hung Medien. Retrieved February 25, 2018.
  16. ^ "Miracles songs and albums | full Official Chart history". Official Charts Company. Retrieved December 4, 2023.
  17. ^ Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955–1990ISBN 0-89820-089-X
  18. ^ "The Miracles Chart History: Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs". Billboard. Retrieved December 4, 2023.
  19. ^ "Cash Box Top 100 Singles, December 12, 1970". Archived from the original on June 8, 2015. Retrieved July 10, 2017.
  20. ^ "Jaaroverzichten – Single 1970" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Hung Medien. Retrieved February 25, 2018.
  21. ^ UK Year-end charts 1970
  22. ^ "British single certifications – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – The Tears of a Clown". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved October 30, 2020.
  23. ^ a b "BRIT Certified Award – Beat – Tears Of A Clown". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  24. ^ a b Chick, Stevie (2015). "The Beat - "Save It for Later". In Dimery, Robert (ed.). 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die. New York: Universe. p. 515.
  25. ^ a b "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 6 March 2020.
  26. ^ I Just Can't Stop It (liner notes). The Beat. Go-Feet Records. 1980. BEAT 1.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  27. ^ "The Beat – Tears of a Clown" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  28. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Tears of a Clown". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved 6 March 2020.
  29. ^ "Music - Nnenna Freelon". Nnenna Freelon. Retrieved 2010-04-22.
  30. ^ Porter, Christopher (2008-08-25). "ABC, 'When Smokey Sings". Express. The Washington Post.

External links[edit]