As Motown devotees know, “Tears Of A Clown” was a smash that was created in the UK. The Smokey Robinson & the Miracles track, written by Smokey with Stevie Wonder and Henry “Hank” Cosby, had sat almost unnoticed as a non-single on the Make It Happen album from the summer of 1967.
But three years later, the UK company’s inspired decision to put it out as a 45 led it to No.1 in Britain and a belated US release. That took Smokey’s clown into the charts there on October 17, 1970, on to the top of the Billboard R&B chart on December 5, and the Hot 100 summit a week later.
The Miracles had usually struggled to replicate their huge American success in the UK, where they didn’t hit big until a 1969 reissue of “The Tracks Of My Tears,” which was already four years old. Karen Spreadbury, head of the British division of the Motown Fan Club, was asked by John Reid (the label’s marketing head in the UK and later Elton John’s manager) to find a single on the 1967 album. She had no hesitation in suggesting the highly unusual “Tears,” and history took its course.
The US follows the UK
The American single, Tamla 54199, went on to win a place in the Grammy Hall of Fame and came out just after the song had spent a week at the UK summit, in between Elvis Presley’s “The Wonder Of You” and Freda Payne’s “Band Of Gold.” In the States, it hit the pop chart at No.68, in the week that the Jackson 5 ruled the roost with “I’ll Be There.”
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Eight weeks later, “Tears Of A Clown” started a two-week run at the top, before giving way to George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”/“Isn’t It A Pity.” Karen, back in the UK, got a call from Smokey Robinson to thank her for starting that ball rolling.
Buy or stream “Tears Of A Clown” on Motown Chartbusters Vol. 5.