The Tears Of A Clown

Smokey Robinson & The Miracles

Tamla/Motown, 1970

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smokey_Robinson

REVIEW BY: Michael Broyles

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/16/2009

During the early-mid 1960’s, Smokey Robinson helped propel Berry Gordy’s Motown Records into a powerhouse musical entity.  With Robinson’s help, Motown produced the most enigmatic artists and the hottest singles.  After all, their studio was named “Hitsville.”  But the latter half of the 1960’s saw a major shift in the musical landscape.  Much due to the Beatles’ influence, many record companies started producing full albums rather than just singles.   By 1969, the Beatles had already put out The White Album and Abbey Road.   From 1965 on, Motown was trying to catch onto the album producing fad.  But before Marvin Gaye’s 1971 release What’s Going On, which marked a new era for Motown, many unbalanced albums containing great singles but no overriding structure were produced.  Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ Tears Of A Clown is one such album.

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Do not get me wrong.  There is some incredible music on Tears Of A Clown.  The songs – written, produced and arranged by Gordy, Robinson, and Stevie Wonder, among others – are shining examples of musical layering.  Most start with simple lead vocals over a bare rhythm section.  As the songs progress, percussion, strings, and background vocals continually build upon each other to reach three minutes of dynamic listening.  Add sweet, singable melodies and the song is a hit.  Take “You Must Be Love.”  The song starts with a simple string/vibraphone line, slowly adding in more and more vocals and strings before reaching a lush, full sound.  Now that is a charismatic experience.

Also impressive is the deeply-felt lyrical content on Tears Of A Clown.  When Robinson could have fallen into the trap of writing cliché analogies about love and loss, he instead chose deep metaphor and esoteric references.  For example, in the album’s title-track, Robinson invokes the image of the secretly saddened clown in Ruggero Leoncavallo’s opera Pagliacci, stating, “Just like Pagliacci did / I try to keep my surface hid / Smiling in the crowd, I try / But in a lonely room I cry / The tears of a clown.”  What could have been a tired love song suddenly roots itself in a long tradition of musical romantic laments.

Despite the moments of brilliance on Tears Of A Clown, the album feels more like a collection of singles than a cohesive unit.  This is precisely because Motown, wanting to release the song “Tears Of A Clown” in the UK after its failing bout in the US on the 1967 album Make It Happen, gathered a collection of songs that have no real relation to each other, thematically or musically.  It plays like a greatest hits release without the necessary hits.  Many of the less popular songs are too short to make a long-lasting impact and none of the songs blend well together.  But this disc represents a transitional period where singles were becoming albums, songs were cut for both album and radio release, and pop audiences were opening their ears to more expansive and fluid music.  We are fortunate that, although Motown had not yet mastered the art of album making, the singles on Tears Of A Clown are still as powerful, enigmatic, and relevant as they were forty years ago.

Rating: B

User Rating: B+


Comments

"The Soulful Shack", the first song on the LP is such a rocking number, it inspired me to write a screenplay...also included are some ballads that I find sickeningly sweet ("Don't Think It's Me", "My Love for You","I'm On the Outside Looking In", etc.), however, "More Love" is a great standout (is it a ballad?), plus, "My Love Is Your Love (Forever)" rocks the house (it was recently featured for about 30 seconds in the film "Bridesmaids"), "Dancing's Alright" sounds like something from the Miracles' "Mickey's Monkey" heyday (and it's good!)and of course there's "The Tears of A Clown", which was their first #1 hit (Sept. 1970)...right on! "The Love I Saw In You Is Just a Mirage" truly shows Smokey as a master poet at his best...








© 2009 Michael Broyles and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Tamla/Motown, and is used for informational purposes only.