Just Like Pagliacci Did. "Tears of a Clown"
“Smokey Robinson is America’s greatest living poet.”
Though this quote has been attributed to Bob Dylan, it has never been confirmed that our modern day Bard actually uttered these exact words. It may have been him, it may have been his manager, or it may have just been a creative journalist with a wild imagination. But whether these words actually came from Bob Dylan or not is ultimately irrelevant. The quote is compelling. Whoever said it has a good point.
You’ll see my smile looks out of place
The tracks of my tears”
–Tracks of My Tears, 1965
“Try to get yourself a bargain son
Don’t be sold on the very first one
Pretty girls come a dime a dozen
Try to find one who’s gonna give you true lovin'”
–Shop Around, 1960
“I don’t like you, but I love you,
Seems that I’m always thinking of you.
Oh, oh, oh, you treat me badly,
I love you madly, you really got a hold on me.”
–You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me, 1962**
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles was one of the first acts to sign to the Motown label, and in addition to leading the Miracles, Robinson wrote and produced hits for other artists, and eventually became a label executive. His name was attached to dozens of the greatest songs in the history of rock and roll, either as a performer or writer, and he continues to perform to this day.
“Tears of A Clown” was first included on the 1967 album Make it Happen, but was not released as a single until 1970. Thematically, this song breaks no new ground. The character in the song may look happy, but since breaking up with his girlfriend, he is very sad. That is the whole song. If Smokey Robinson tried to sell this song in a pitch meeting, no doubt it would be rejected immediately.
But “Tears of a Clown” is a monster.
Orchestrated to sound like it is being heard outside the big tent of a circus, it prominently features both a penny whistle and bassoon. Two instruments not normally heard in rock and soul hits of the 1960’s. It starts at full throttle, and goes full speed for a powerful 2:39. It never slows, it never falters.
But when it comes down to fooling you, now honey that’s quite a different subject.
Really I’m sad, sadder than sad.”
Really I’m sad, oh I’m sadder than sad
You’re gone and I’m hurting so bad
Like a clown I appear to be glad (sad, sad, sad, sad)
But ain’t too much sadder than, the tears of a clown.”
Smiling in the crowd I try, but in my lonely room I cry,
Don’t let this smile I wear, make you think that I don’t care
‘Cause really I’m sad.”
**So many clips found on YouTube, especially of older acts, are live lip-synced performances from TV shows, or just show still images of the musician, or the song lyrics as the song plays. This clip of “You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me” is refreshing, because it is an actual live performance. In this one short clip, the raw power of these singers is laid bare. Smokey loosens his tie and squirms and squeaks as the horns blare and the Miracles dance and sing behind him. Take a few moments to watch. Time well spent.
“Tears of a Clown”
Written by Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder and Hank Cosby
Recorded by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles