♫ Tears Of A Clown ♫ (Redux)

I last played this one three years ago, and amazingly I haven’t reduxed it yet!  It was a big hit with my readers then, and is considered some of the best of Motown.


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

26 thoughts on “♫ Tears Of A Clown ♫ (Redux)

  1. The words of this song always resonated with me, though I cannot say I ever liked the song. It always made me feel that someone else knows what it feels like to have to hide one’s true feelings, because, as they say:
    “when you laugh, the world laughs with you, but if you cry, you cry alone.”

    Hopefully, we can, and are in the process of, changing that.
    Stay safe,
    -Shira

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Actually, Smokey could be accused of plagiarizing himself on this song. Give a listen to him, two years earlier:

    This is not to say Tears of a Clown is not a great song, but Tracks of My Tears is no slouch, and it came first.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Not being a fan of opera, I wasn’t aware until just now when I looked it up, that Pagliacci is still being performed today! I probably like this song better than I would like the opera … I just never could develop a taste for opera.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci is still performed quite regularly, at least it was until the corona pandemic set in. Since it is a fairly short opera, it is usually paired with something else, like Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana.

        Liked by 1 person

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