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Song Of The Month September 2011: “The Tears Of A Clown” by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles

September 25, 2011

A Tamla release, “The Tears of A Clown” was released as a single back in September 1970 and reached no.1 in the charts in the UK and US. Smokey Robinson would leave the Miracles two years later but he would have left sooner were it not for this track’s success. The song very much serves as the pinnacle of Smokey Robinson’s career with the Miracles. The record has sold millions world-wide and continues to sell. Despite the fact that the song was never meant to be a single release whatsoever.

The track was initially included in the album, “Make It Happen” back in 1967 and if not for the popularity of the group in the UK, then that was where the song was likely to remain. The purpose of its release as a single was purely in hope of cashing in on the popularity the group had in the UK and was at a time where Robinson appeared on the verge of quitting due to wanting to spend time with his family rather than spend his days constantly touring. Of course he eventually did so but not before “The Tears Of A Clown” had its impact on the charts and gave further “star power” (read: money-making ability) to Robinson and the Miracles.

The lyrical matter of the song are heavily inspired from Pagliacci, an opera composed by Ruggero Leoncavallo based on a traditional commedia dell’arte template. The instrumental was already written before Robinson added the lyrics and both complement each other superbly. The music seems to highlight the whole “fairground” vibe of the song. The tonality of the arrangement creates a perfect ambient setting for the vocal as well as leaving room for the listener’s imagination in regards imagery they may or may not choose to create. It has the standard components of a Motown record but as with all good Motown records it helps define the Motown sound rather than be defined by it.

In terms of the modern day, should you listen to a Classic Pop radio station in the UK then you’re likely to hear this song at some point over the course of a day, on some occasions quite possibly more than once. Its appeal has endured the test of time and will continue to do so as its subject and tonal matter are timeless.

Such is the song’s timeless nature that it has been covered by a vast quantity of artists, from Phil Collins (who has actually covered it twice) to the Flying Pickets. There is even an alternative version of the song where the bassoon part has been taken out of the mix and such an edit makes the song appear very different. This remix is called the “Soul Society Remix” for those wanting to track it down.

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