Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – Tears Of A Clown

12th September 1970 · 1970, 1970s, Music

This is another of those songs that never fails to lift my spirits the moment I hear the exuberant opening notes on that rarest of pop instruments, the calliope.

It was number one in the summer of 1970 when I was on a seaside holiday with my family in Croyde Bay in Devon. I remember I got bitten on the inside of my mouth by a wasp while eating a honey sandwich as we sat on the sand enjoying a picnic tea outside one of the pod-like beach huts.

No doubt I bravely smiled through the pain, just like Smokey does in this song… or not. Far more likely I just cried and whinged while my mother said she had warned me to watch out for wasps in my sandwich so it was my own fault.

The song first appeared on a Motown album in 1967 and was written by Smokey with Stevie Wonder – only 16 but already a huge star – and his producer, Hank Cosby.

Stevie had brought the music along to the 1966 Motown Christmas Party to see if Smokey could come up with a lyric for the tune. So he did.

In further news-I’ve-only-just-heard, Smokey was all set to leave the Miracles when this was released in the UK three years later as Motown was short of a tune to follow up the success of Tracks Of My Tears.

He had wanted to stay at home in Detroit with his wife (fellow Miracle member Claudette Rogers) and their two Motown-themed kids (Berry and Tamla), and continue to work as the label’s vice-president but changed his mind when it topped the UK charts in August 1970.

This remains my favourite Smokey song; probably because it’s the first one I heard and, as they say, you never forget your first. It’s also one of the few pop hits to feature a bassoon. And it was memorably covered by The Beat during the Two-Tone period in the early Eighties.

I’ve occasionally thought that my Smokey Robinson box set is the first one I would buy again if I lost my entire collection in a fire or a burglary – a view shared by Nick Coleman who, like Smokey, has a daughter called Berry.