Music Hub

"The Tears of a Clown" is a song by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles for the Tamla Records label subsidiary of the Motown Records label, originally released on the 1967 album Make It Happen. It was re-released in the United Kingdom as a single in September 1970, where it became a #1 hit on the UK singles chart. Subsequently, Motown released "The Tears of a Clown" as a single in the United States as well, where it quickly became a #1 hit on both the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B Singles charts.[1]

The song is an international multi-million seller and a 2002 Grammy Hall of Fame inductee. Its success caused Miracles lead singer, songwriter, and producer Smokey Robinson, who had announced plans to leave the act, to stay until 1972.


 [hide*1 History



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.[2] Wonder wanted to see what Robinson could come up with for the track.[3] 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 he does not have a woman who loves him, compares himself to the characters in theopera Pagliacci, comedians/clowns who hide their hurt and anger behind empty smiles.[4] He had used this comparison before: the line "just like Pagliacci did/I'll try to keep my sadness hid" appears in the song "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.[5]

"The Tears of a Clown" was an album track on 1967's Make It Happen but was not released as a single. By 1969, Robinson had 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 bandmates Pete MooreBobby 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][]

But in 1970, to capitalize on the Miracles's success there, 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. A new mix of the song was made in February 1970 for the single release, and "The Tears of a Clown" became a #1 hit in the UK after its September release.

This newfound popularity prompted Motown to release the song as a single in the United States, where 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.

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, which culminated 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 #34 (see The Miracles discography). "The Tears of a Clown" continues to be a popular radio request.

Cover versions[edit][]

  • Petula Clark covered the song in 1971 for her album Petula '71.
  • ska-flavored cover of the song was a hit for the English ska/new wave band The (English) Beat in 1979.
  • The song was covered by Eumir Deodato for his 1982 album Happy Hour, in a funk re-arrangement.
  • In 1984, The Flying Pickets covered the song on their album Lost Boys.
  • In 1986, Baby Tuckoo covered 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 covered by La Toya Jackson in 1995 for her album Stop! In the Name of Love!
  • The J-ska band Potshot covered it on the album Pots and Shots, released in 1997.
  • Phil Collins covered it as a B-side to his song "Wake Up Call," taken from his album Testify, and later re-recorded a cover 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.[6]
  • 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 cover 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.

In popular culture[edit][]


Personnel: The Miracles[edit][]

Other personnel[edit][]