The Tears of a Clown
Writer(s): Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Hank Cosby (see lyrics here)
Released: August 27, 1967 (album cut on Make It Happen)
First Charted: August 1, 1970
Peak: 12 US, 11 CB, 11 GR, 2 HR, 13 RB, 11 UK, 7 CN, 7 AU, 3 DF (Click for codes to charts.)
Sales (in millions): 2.0 US, 0.2 UK
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 6.9 video, 56.78 streaming
Click on award for more details.
About the Song:
The Miracles formed in 1955 in Detroit as the Five Chimes. They changed their name to the Miracles in 1958 and were the first group signed to Tamla-Motown. HL They gave Motown Records its first million-selling single in 1960 with “Shop Around.” They had 26 top-40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, including the #1 song “The Tears of a Clown.”
Smokey Robinson not only fronted the group until 1972, but became the vice-president of Motown. When he was looking for help on a song in 1966, he asked Stevie Wonder for help at the office Christmas party. With producer Hank Crosby, Stevie wrote some cheerful-sounding music with a fairground calliope. HL Smokey decided it sounded like the circus SJ but wanted to write a sad lyric to accompany it. He was inspired by Pagliacci, the clown who has a “smile painted on his face – then he goes into his dressing room and cries because he’s sad..” SJ
The song was released on the Miracles’ 1967 album Make It Happen but nothing more happened with the song at the time. In 1969, the label’s manager in the UK decided to re-release some of the Miracles’ songs in that market. Despite the group’s overwhelming success in the U.S., the highest-charting song they had in the UK was “I Second That Emotion,” which had peaked at #27. The reissue plan sent “The Tracks of My Tears,” a top-20 hit in the U.S. in 1965, to the top ten in the UK in 1969.
The next single, “The Tears of a Clown,” did even better. Released in August 1970, it reached the top the next month. This prompted renewed attention for the song in America where it became a #1 song that December. It went on to sell two million copies, becoming the group’s biggest hit to date. HL
The timing was bittersweet for Smokey Robinson. He’d grown tired of touring and had told the group already that he was leaving. However, because of the delayed success of “Clown” he toughed it out another year. After he left, the group continued with Billy Griffin in the lead role, even landing another #1 hit with “Love Machine” in 1975.
First posted 4/11/2023.