A perky riff kicks off this next number one, one that sounds like something The Pied Piper would play while leading the kids out of Hamelin. A jester’s riff, one that might play as a clown enters a room… It’s a riff, a motif, that repeats and holds the song together, while the rest is pure Motown.
The Tears of a Clown, by Smokey Robinson (his 1st of two #1s) & The Miracles
1 week, from 6th – 13th September 1970
Yes, Motown’s 4th #1 single in the UK, from one of its biggest acts, one that had been scoring Top 10 hits throughout the sixties in the States. And it’s another sad-lyrics-with-upbeat-accompaniment number… Really I’m sad, Oh, sadder than sad, You’re gone and I’m hurting so bad, Like a clown I’ll pretend to be glad…
It’s a song about putting a brave face on things, about not letting on when you’re heart is breaking. And it’s very wordy record… Sample lyric: Now if I appear to be carefree, It’s only to camouflage my sadness… There aren’t many #1 singles throwing words like ‘camouflage’ around. By the end Smokey’s referring to the famous clown opera ‘Pagliacci’… All very highbrow.
But it’s catchy, too. This is Motown after all. I have to admit that, for all this is a very highly regarded record, I’m struggling to really love it… Though I do love the bubblegum hook in the chorus: Now there’s some sad things known to man, But ain’t too much sadder than… The tears of a clown… 1970 really is jumping around all over the place, evading all attempts to define the ‘sound’ of the year. Some of its chart-topping singles have been true classics, others just truly dreadful. ‘The Tears of a Clown’ I’d place right in the middle, one of the purest ‘pop’ moments of the year.
It had actually been recorded back in 1967, and was only released due to Robinson’s reluctance to record new music with the band. It hit #1 on both sides of the Atlantic, and Smokey was convinced to spend another couple of years with them. He did eventually go solo, and he’ll go it alone at the top of the charts in a decade or so. The Miracles continued too, and had their own successes through the seventies. Also of note is the fact that ‘The Tears of a Clown’ was co-written by Stevie Wonder, who we have yet to meet in this countdown. I think it’s not giving too much away for me to say that this, his first writing credit at #1, is far better than either of the chart-toppers he’ll get under his own name…
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