On this day in music history: December 5, 1970 - “The Tears Of A Clown” by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 3 weeks, also topping the Hot 100 for 2 weeks on December 12, 1970. Written by Stevie Wonder, Henry Cosby and Smokey Robinson, it is the second R&B and lone pop chart topper for the Detroit based R&B vocal group led by singer, songwriter and producer Smokey Robinson. Stevie Wonder and his then producer Hank Cosby write the music for the song in the Fall of 1966, but are not able to come up with suitable lyrics for it. They play it for Smokey at the annual Motown Christmas party that year and ask if he can write some lyrics for it. Upon hearing the instrumental track, the intros’ calliope like sound reminds Robinson of the circus. He’ll begin to write lyrics about Pagliacci The Clown, the central character in the Ruggero Leoncavallo opera, “Pagliacci”. The man in the song compares himself to the famed clown who brought joy to many, but himself is sad and lonely because he doesn’t have a woman who loves him. The Miracles record their vocals in early 1967 and the song is first released as a track on the album “Make It Happen”, which goes largely unnoticed by the public. It is first released in the UK as a single in September 1970 after a successful re-release of “The Tracks Of My Tears”. “Clown” hits number one in the UK selling over 900,000 copies, leading to its US release. “The Tears Of A Clown” sells over a million copies in the US, and its popularity extends Robinsons’ stay in The Miracles, who prior to the songs’ release had planned to leave the group in order to spend more time at home with his wife and family before launching his own solo career. The song is covered numerous times over the years with versions by Petula Clark, The (English) Beat, Nnenna Freelon, Phil Collins, Eumir Deodato, Marc Cohn, and Boyzone. “The Tears Of A Clown” is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 2002.
On this day in music history: January 22, 1977 - “I Wish” by Stevie Wonder hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 1 week, also topping the R&B singles chart for 5 weeks on January 15, 1977. Written and produced by Stevie Wonder, it is the fifth number one pop and twelfth R&B chart topper for the Motown superstar. While working on his eagerly awaited eighteenth album, Wonder comes up with the idea for “I Wish” during Motown’s annual 4th of July company picnic in 1976. He goes to Crystal Studios in Los Angeles immediately following the picnic, and composes the majority of the song on the spot. Backed by his band Wonderlove, they cut the basic track that day. While laying down the basic tracks, Stevie uses an ARP 2600 synthesizer to play a counter melody throughout the song, using the monophonic (only note at a time can be played on it, and not chords) keyboard to layer the individual notes of a chord on tape. Initially, the songs’ lyrics have a more serious and darker tone. When he realizes that they are counteractive to the songs’ uplifting groove, he turns it into a fond remembrance of his childhood growing up in Saginaw, MI. Released as the first single from the landmark album “Songs In The Key Of Life”, “I Wish” becomed an instant smash. Entering the Hot 100 at #40 on December 4, 1976, it climbs to the top of the chart seven weeks later. “I Wish” returns to the top of the chart, in when Will Smith samples a portion of the original track for the title song to the film “Wild, Wild West” in 1999. Digital Underground also sample the song for a remixed version of their single “No Nose Job” in 1991, as well as being covered by smooth jazz saxophonist Najee in 1995.
On this day in music history: November 6, 1971 - “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” by Marvin Gaye hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 2 weeks, also peaking at #9 on the Hot 100 on the same date. Written by Marvin Gaye and James Nyx, it is the seventh chart topping single for the R&B music icon. Following the huge success of the single “What’s Going On” after its release in late January of 1971, Motown demands a full album to accompany it. Gaye will quickly get to work on the rest of the songs, writing both on his own and collaborating with close friends and associates around Motown including songwriter Al Cleveland, Four Tops member Renaldo “Obie” Benson, and even his wife Anna. Marvin also writes with songwriter James Nyx, who had originally had worked as a janitor and handy man at friend and former Moonglows band mate Harvey Fuqua’s Tri-Phi/Harvey record label in Detroit. Nyx eventually begin writing songs with Fuqua, then following him to Motown in 1963 when Tri-Phi and Harvey Records are absorbed by Motown. Nyx meets Marvin Gaye through Fuqua at this time and the trio begin writing together, though their material is shelved. Together, Gaye and Nyx write songs for The Originals (“Baby I’m For Real”, “The Bells”), including the single “We Can Make It Baby”. While working on songs for the “What’s Going On” album, the pair collaborate on three songs, “What’s Happening Brother?”, “God Is Love”, and “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)”. While the title track expresses anguish over problems affecting the world at large, most prominently the war still raging in Vietnam (at that time), the latter of those songs mediates on issues even closer to home. “Inner City Blues” puts into clear focus, the often dire and bleak conditions in major inner cities in America that many of its citizens are living under. The track is recorded in March of 1971 at Motown’s Studio A in Detroit with members of The Funk Brothers including Bob Babbitt (bass), Eddie “Bongo” Brown (congas), Robert White, Joe Messina (guitars), and Chet Forest (drums). Issued as the third and final single from “What’s Going On” in September of 1971, it follows its predecessors to the top of the R&B singles chart, and into the top ten on the pop singles chart. “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” will become one of Marvin Gaye’s most popular and often covered songs, with versions recorded by Grover Washington, Jr. (the title track of his debut album on Motown’s Kudu imprint in 1972), Gil Scott-Heron, Maceo Parker, and Sarah Vaughan. It is also sampled by numerous artists including The D.O.C., A Tribe Called Quest, MC Solaar, Spice 1, Scarface, Ice Cube, Too Poetic, K-Solo, Janet Jackson, Ralph Tresvant, and Angela Winbush.
On this day in music history: February 9, 1974 - “Boogie Down” by Eddie Kendricks hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 3 weeks, also peaking at #2 on the Hot 100 for 2 weeks on March 9, 1974. Written by Frank Wilson, Leonard Caston and Anita Poree, it is the second R&B chart topper for the former Temptations lead singer. The track is recorded at Motown Studios and Crystal Sound Recording in Los Angeles, and features James Jamerson (bass), Ed Greene and Kenny Rice (drums), Dean Parks and Greg Poree (guitars), Gary Coleman (vibes) and King Errison (congas) providing musical support. The title track from his third solo album, “Boogie Down” follows his previous smash “Keep On Truckin’” to the top of the R&B chart and nearly do the same on the pop chart (being held off the top by Terry Jacks’ “Seasons In The Sun”), also selling over a million copies in the US.