Song: “Tears Of A Clown” by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
Reached #1: December 12, 1970 (their first, 1 week)
If it hadn’t been for Smokey Robinson’s solo plans and a sudden surge of popularity in the UK, the Miracles wouldn’t have had their sole Billboard #1 hit.
The story starts with music written by Stevie Wonder. At the 1966 Motown Christmas party, Wonder brought along the music that became “Tears Of A Clown” without lyrics. Wonder couldn’t find lyrics that worked properly – and felt that Robinson could.
Robinson thought the opening riff sounded like a circus carousel, and built the lyrics of the song around the circus imagery – which led him to Pagliacci for inspiration. As it turns out, it wasn’t the first time he’d used the opera as inspiration – the line of “Tears” that namedrops Pagliacci was reused from a 1964 song called “My Smile Is A Frown (Turned Upside Down)”.
The song was released on the Miracles’ 1967 Make It Happen – but wasn’t going to be released as a single.
Fast forward to 1970. Smokey Robinson is ready to come off the road, to focus on his family and his Motown executive position. The Miracles haven’t done much new material – but the British public have discovered them, and the UK branch of Motown feels they can move another single. Someone at Motown Britain listens to Make It Happen, hears “Tears Of A Clown”, and greenlights it as a single. It was remixed in early 1970, and released in the UK that fall.
The success of “Tears” delayed Robinson’s departure from the Miracles, as now they needed to tour to support the new Tears Of A Clown LP (basically Make It Happen repackages). Robinson finally left the group in 1972, passing the torch to Billy Griffin in a Washington, DC concert.
Tomorrow, we talk about why some things will never change…
Other songs that reached #1 on December 12:
1964 – “Mr. Lonely” by Bobby Vinton (his fourth, 1 week)
1987 – “Faith” by George Michael (his first, 4 weeks)