Song of the Day #324: ‘Tears of a Clown’ – Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

smokey2The great thing about these Motown Weekends is that the music is so easy to find on You Tube and these are some of the best songs ever written… can’t beat that combo. The bed thing is that I don’t have a ton to say about them (cue the chorus of ‘Trust me, that’s not a bad thing!’ comments).

I didn’t grow up with these songs or with the artists, so I don’t have many associations to explore. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, my first exposure to many of these songs was The Big Chill soundtrack, but there’s only so much mileage you can get out of that.

When you strip away that other stuff, I suppose what you’re left with is… the song. And this is certainly a great one.

Smokey Robinson said (on Elvis Costello’s Spectacle) that the music for this track was given to him by Stevie Wonder at a Christmas party (but not as a Christmas gift, as has been rumored). The bouncy track reminded him of a circus, so he wrote the lyrics about a sad clown.

The sad clown is an enduring image that has inspired many artists over the years. Take, for instance, Frank Sinatra’s Only the Lonely album cover. And of course there is Leoncavallo’s opera Pagliacci, featured so memorably in The Untouchables and name-dropped here by Robinson.

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 diff’rent subject

Don’t let my glad expression
Give you the wrong impression
Really I’m sad
Oh sadder than sad
You’re gone and I’m hurting so bad
Like a clown I pretend to be glad

Now there’s some sad things known to man
But ain’t too much sadder than the tears of a clown
When there’s no one around

Now if I appear to be carefree
It’s only to camouflage my sadness
In order 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 decided to go
Oh I need you so
I’m hurt and I want you to know
But for others I put on a show

Now there’s some sad things known to man
But ain’t too much sadder than the tears of a clown
When there’s no one around

Just like Pagliacci did
I try to keep my sadness hid
Smiling in the public eye
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 upon my face
Don’t let my glad expression
Give you the wrong impression
Don’t let the smile I wear
Make you think I don’t care

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7 thoughts on “Song of the Day #324: ‘Tears of a Clown’ – Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

  1. Dana says:

    Interesting live version of this song, but I think I like the slower studio version a bit better. Still, a classic great song by any measure. (Oh, and welcome all you Herald readers:))

  2. Amy says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever put this title with this sound before this morning, and I’m certain I’ve never listened to or read the lyrics before. Risking criticism for daring to question a Motown classic, I find myself wondering, “what was Smokey thinking?” I don’t think these lyrics work at all with this music. The jaunty, bouncy music so overwhelms the words that any intended irony is all but lost. The examples you mention above allow the image and symbolism of the sad clown to impact the viewer/listener. In this case, it’s quite possible (as I provide living proof) to never even notice the connection until it’s explicitly pointed out on a blog (thanks, Clay :)

    So… eh. Stevie Wonder should have kept his music and given Smokey a fruitcake instead.

  3. Clay says:

    Actually, I thought that was the studio version. I found another clip and pasted it above.

    So, let’s recap… Amy has praised ‘This is the Time’ and dissed ‘Tears of a Clown’ on back-to-back days. Houston, we have a problem!

  4. Amy says:

    Let me be very clear. I like the music very much. Stevie Wonder knows how to write a funky tune. I just don’t think Smokey did it any favors by putting those lyrics to it, but having any nonsensical words sung by a voice as good as Smokey’s over this music would be pleasing to the ear.

    And I bet Billy Joel would have written some great lyrics for this music :P

  5. Dana says:

    I cannot defend my wife’s comments. He was handed a funky tune with a clown like style and he wrote clown lyrics. Leave a clowny moment alone!

  6. Clay says:

    Where is it written that lyrics much match the tone of the music? There is something to be said for an interesting juxtaposition.

  7. Amy says:

    Lyrics don’t have to match the tone; I’m all for an interesting juxtaposition. I just don’t find this interesting juxtaposition particularly effective. Sue me! ;P

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