♫ Tears Of A Clown ♫

I find that when I am disturbed or sad, I turn to Motown.  I suppose I have always done so, or for many years anyway, but I only noticed it since I started doing these music posts.  Tonight I am still suffering the after effects from the afternoon post I did, the one titled Darkness, that took every bit of the wind out of my sails.  And so, I turn once again to one of my favourite Motown groups, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.

I always learn something new when I research the background of the songs I play here, and tonight I learned that Tears of a Clown was written by Hank Cosby, Smokey Robinson, and Stevie Wonder!  I had no idea Stevie Wonder had a role in it.  I also had no idea that it was based on the Italian opera Pagliacci, which is about a clown who must make the audience laugh while he weeps behind his makeup because his wife betrayed him.

Stevie Wonder came up with the music for this song with Motown producer Hank Cosby. They recorded an instrumental demo and asked Robinson to complete the song – it was common practice for Motown writers to work on each other’s songs at the time.

Robinson listened to the song for a few days and decided it sounded like a circus – he came up with the lyrics based on the clown …

“I was trying to think of something that would be significant, that would touch people’s hearts, but still be dealing with the circus.  So what is that? Pagliacci, of course. The clown who cries. And after he makes everyone else happy with the smile painted on his face, then he goes into his dressing room and cries because he’s sad. That was the key.”

First released in 1967, this one was a hit on both sides of the pond, and reached the #1 slot in both the U.S. and UK, though Smokey had not had much luck in the UK up to that point.

Tears of a Clown
The Miracles

Oh yeah yeah yeah
Now if there’s a smile on my face
It’s only there trying to fool the public
But when it comes down to fooling you
Now honey that’s quite a different subject

But don’t let my glad expression
Give you the wrong impression
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)

Now they’re some sad things known to man
But ain’t too much sadder than
The tears of a clown when there’s no one around, uh
Oh yeah, baby

Now if I appear to be carefree
It’s only to camouflage my sadness
And honey to shield my pride I try
To cover this hurt with a show of gladness
But don’t let my show convince you
That I’ve been happy since you
‘Cause I had to go (why did you go), oh I need you so (I need you so)
Look I’m hurt and I want you to know (want you to know)
For others I put on a show (it’s just a show)

Now they’re some sad things known to man
But ain’t too much sadder than
The tears of a clown when there’s no one around, uh
Just like Pagliacci did
I try to keep my surface hid
Smiling in the crowd I try
But in my lonely room I cry
The tears of a clown
When there’s no one around, oh yeah, baby
Now if there’s a smile on my face
Don’t let my glad expression
Give you the wrong impression
Don’t let this smile I wear
Make you think that I don’t care
‘Cause really I’m sad

Songwriters: William Jr. Robinson / Stevie Wonder / Henry Cosby
Tears of a Clown lyrics © EMI Music Publishing, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

41 thoughts on “♫ Tears Of A Clown ♫

  1. Jill, this may be my favorite Smokey Robinson song. I love the metaphor, the lyrics and the music. I did not know of Stevie Wonder’s role or the impetus. Thanks for sharing, Keith

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  2. Not to boast, it is so unbecoming to do so, but I could have told you the trivia of this song that required research for you! I am, however, surprised that you did not include the fact that this song was on the Smokey Robinson and the Miracles 1967 album titled “Make It Happen” and was not released as a single until a few years later. That was when it became the hit of your description, so much so that the album was re-released under the title of “The Tears Of A Clown” in 1970. There is an amusing anecdote connected to my remembering 1970 as the year of the second release. My younger sister had dumped her long time boyfriend for another guy. The jilted boyfriend was so bereft that he would come to the house and stand on the porch singing this song, call her on the phone singing this song most times catching my Mother instead and even mailed the new album to her with a love letter begging her to come back to her “clown”. Younger Sis dumped the new guy, took back her clown and married him a year later! How could I ever forget this song? Thank-you!!

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    • My research took only about 30 seconds, and then I found that rawgod had already answered the question anyway! Now Ellen … as I recall, I offered you the job (unpaid) of being my research assistant some time ago, and you turned me down flat! I did not include that fact about the album, etc., for I am currently without a research assistant and do not have the time for in-depth research and writing about songs! I love the anecdote about your sister and her hubbie-to-be-way-back-when!!! You really should write a book, my friend!

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    • Somehow, though many have tried, nobody has ever come close to emulating many of the Motown artists. I’m surprised, though, that the Smokey Robinson version wasn’t released in Canada when it first came out.

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      • I guess it may have been, in the big markets. Winnipeg was still small potatoes. Aside from Lenny Bruce and Monty Hall, Winnie the Pooh, Reader’s Digest, and a few other things, Winnipeg was not on the world scene. Even the Beatles didn’t set foot on the tarmac, just waved at their screaming fans from the door of their plane as it refueled. We were Nowheresville. Thanks to Phantom of the Paradise, plus maybe a couple of other things of note, we are known known worldwide.

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        • At least you had Winnie the Pooh!!! A childhood without Pooh is … tragic! Even the Beatles snubbed you? Hmph. I wasn’t sure where Winnipeg was, so I looked it up and you were right on the U.S. border! My sense of direction stinks (I’ve gotten lost within 2 miles of home more than once) and geography not my strongest subject. At least you had Pooh. 🙂 LuL

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          • Well, he was available, but I never read him. Books in my family were hand-me-downs, just like clothes. I was reading Hardy Boys before I started kindergarten, and The Wind in the Willows. I wasn’t ten when I read my first science fiction novel, and I was hooked right away.
            On another note, the Edmonton senior was attacked by a member of his own race, according to police. Charges have been laid. Now to see if it goes to court, and when.

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            • I was a huge Pooh fan, and just as you were reading Hardy Boys at an early age, I was reading the counterpart, Nancy Drew. At age 9, I had a lengthy hospital stint during which I read many books, including Catcher in the Rye and The Grapes of Wrath. Never did get into SciFi, though, and still am not.

              That surprises me … so, it wasn’t a race-based crime. Hmmm … if it were in the U.S., I would likely question that, but since it’s Canada, I assume the police are correct. Thanks for the update.

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              • No problem. The police still say it was a random act, so while if may not have been race-based, there are still lots of other hate options. Or maybe it was just the old guy not getting out of the younger guy’s way on a snow-covered sidewalk. We may never know. I’ll keep my eyes and ears open.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Y’know … I’m getting tired of all the hate that seems to be running rampant among the human species. Between you and me, some days I think it would be best just to lob nukes at each other and get it over and done with, since humans seem bent on destroying themselves and their own. Sigh.

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                  • I’m pretty much feeling exactly the same way today, though the internet would disappear and I would never be able to talk to you or a few others again. Still, I am dragging my butt around, not wanting to do anything. Spiritual depression? Psychic depression? One of those for sure. It isn’t existential angst, I have no problem with existing in general. It is existing NOW that seems to be the problem.

                    Liked by 1 person

  3. A sad song, but good song! Made me think of the song Cathy’s Clown that I used to listen to alot. Can’t remember who did it though, I am bad at remembering artists names. I let my husband have that job. 🙂

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  4. I have to confess to skipping the very negative post, since to me making it happen on paper can pave the way to making it happen in this world, so I don’t do that stuff. NARAL used to have all this negative stuff on their envelopes declaring Roe v. Wade repealed and all this tragic stuff, and I always told them it was not a good thing to put out in the world where everyone’s eyes fall on it and believe it is true and that the more they saw it the more they would accept it. Good tune though!

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    • You are not alone in skipping my political posts, and I fully understand that they aren’t exactly uplifting. However, my writing doesn’t cause, or pave the way for what happens in the world. I write about what IS happening in the world and try to find ways to understand and deal with it. Glad you liked the song.

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          • I can. It occurred to me that things that feel bad to me are often things it’s good for me to have none of or less of–like, I dislike booze and it does nothing for me, so I don’t bother. I still completely believe that the presidents and post-presidents we have been getting completely reflected our dysfunctional parents, so there’s the psychology aspect of it. The again, I no longer want to hang out with dysfunctional parents or watch their every move!

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    • Agreed. Smokey Robinson was in a class of his own. I do miss the old Motown artists, but luckily they are available these days with just the click of a mouse! One of the better things about the Internet. Glad you liked this one!
      Cwtch

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