Arguably one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century, Smokey Robinson also has a voice that sounds like no other vocalist, with perfect timing and phrasing. Whereas other Motown voices were very gospel influenced, Smokey has an intimate vulnerability to his voice that makes every word he sings feel honest and heartfelt. As as lyricist he was second to none, with even Bob Dylan apparently at one time calling him the greatest living American poet. There are many songs throughout Smokey's extensive career that showcase what a gifted songwriter he is and none more so than The Tears Of A Clown. Based on the Italian opera, Pagliacci about a clown who must make the audience laugh while he weeps behind his makeup because his wife has betrayed him it was initially released on his 1967 album Make It Happen but didn't see the light of day as a single until 1970, after the head of a Motown fan club chose it to be released in the UK. Turned out to be a very inspired choice as the single went on to be Smokey's first chart topper, firstly in the UK and then in the USA. Not bad for a song that co writers Smokey Robinson and a teenage Stevie Wonder didn't think had much potential when it appeared as the last track in '67 on Make It Happen.
When Stevie Wonder wrote the music, Smokey thought it sounded like a circus and, as he had been intrigued since childhood by the Pagliacci story, came up with the lyrics based on the clown.The Tears Of A Clown is a once heard, never forgotten tune and remains to this day one of my favourite songs of all time. One of pop music's most unique properties is its ability to wrap the most heartbreaking lyrics in a bubbly, effervescent melody and few songs mange this better than The Tears Of A Clown. Dealing with a heartbroken lover masking their pain in public, the upbeat melody is a perfect counter to Robinson's poignant lyrics.
Now there's some sad things known to man
But ain't too much sadder than
The tears of a clown