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 13, 1968 - “I Second That Emotion” by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 1 week, also peaking at #4 on the Hot 100 on December 16, 1967. Written and produced by William “Smokey” Robinson and Al Cleveland, it is the third R&B chart topper for the legendary Motown vocal group. As with a number of classic songs written by the ever prolific and poetic Smokey Robinson, his wife and Miracles member Claudette provides the inspiration for another hit. High school sweethearts and married in 1959, Smokey and Claudette try unsuccessfully for years to start a family, with Claudette having suffered several miscarriages. It’s after one of these that she retires from touring with the group, though continues to sing in the studio on The Miracles records. During the Christmas holiday in 1966, Smokey is out shopping with fellow Motown staff songwriter Al Cleveland at Hudson’s Department Store in Detroit, looking for a gift for Claudette. Robinson picks out a string of pearls for his wife, expressing to Cleveland that he hopes she’ll like them. Cleveland replies with, “I second that emotion!”, making both of them laugh. But immediately, it sets the wheels turning in Smokey’s head, thinking that phrase would make a great song title. The pair return to Robinson’s house and write the song. The track is recorded at Motown Studio A in Detroit on September 21, 1967 with The Funk Brothers providing musical support. Released as a single a month later on October 19, 1967, it quickly becomes another smash for the group. Smokey’s writing partnership with Al Cleveland is a very successful one as the pair write several more hits for The Miracles including “Special Occasion”, “If You Can Want”, and “Baby, Baby Don’t Cry”. And after years of trying, Smokey and Claudette finally become parents when she gives birth to a son named Berry, after the Motown Records founder later in 1968. A year later, they welcome a daughter named Tamla (after the Motown label of the same name). “I Second That Emotion” becomes one of the most frequently covered songs in the Motown catalog with versions recorded by Diana Ross & the Supremes And The Temptations, The Grateful Dead (live in concert), and British new wave band Japan.