Tears of a Clown

Album: What is Beat? (1979)
Charted: 6

Songfacts®:

  • The citizens of Britain are to thank for the success of the song "The Tears of a Clown," which was first recorded by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles in 1967 but not released as a single until 1970, when it was issued in the UK and went to #1. It was subsequently issued in America, topping the chart there a few months later. In 1976, the song was re-released in the UK, this time going to #34. A favorite of The Beat (as they're known in their homeland), the group took the song back to the UK charts with their 1979 cover. This version was released as "Tears of a Clown," omitting the the in the original title.
  • This was the first single recorded and released by The English Beat, a group that would soon be instrumental in the UK ska revival movement, borrowing its sounds from early '60s Jamaican music.

    Dave Wakeling, who was a guitarist and singer in the band, told us how they came to record this song: "When we first started rehearsing the songs, the drummer (Everett Morton) thought our songs were a bit weird. We had rehearsed the songs, and it would go okay for a minute, and then we would all veer off on our own little tangents and we'd lose the groove on it again. And so Everett said, 'Why don't we find a song that we all know and learn that one by ourselves, come back next Tuesday, and we'll play that song and get a groove with that one. And then we'll go back and play one of your weird songs, like that mirror thing.' And so that's what we did, we'd play 'Tears Of A Clown,' then we'd play 'Mirror in the Bathroom,' then we'd play 'Tears Of A Clown.' We'd play 'Twist And Crawl,' and we'd play 'Tears Of A Clown,' 'Big Shot,' 'Tears Of A Clown,' 'Click Click,' 'Tears Of A Clown.' And by the time we got five or six songs together that would hold together, David Steele, the bass player, said, 'Let's do a show. We should do a concert.'

    We're like, 'We've only got six songs.'

    He said, 'Yes, but one concert is worth a thousand rehearsals.' Because you can sit around and be pretentious in rehearsals as long as you like.

    So we started doing shows, and in order to have seven songs instead of six, we put 'Tears Of A Clown' in the set. We'd practiced that song more than any of the others, it turned out. Because it was our magnet, our training model for all the other tunes.

    We took all and any sort of gigs, some were punk gigs, some were reggae gigs, some were working men's clubs, some were pubs that were trying to get some business going midweek, we'd take anything. And sometimes the punky songs went well, sometimes the reggae songs went well, and sometimes neither of them would go down well, but everywhere we went, every time, 'Tears Of A Clown' always went down fantastic. So Jerry Dammers came to us, told us about 2-Tone and came and saw the band. He said, 'Would you like to do a single for 2-Tone,' and we said yes, we'd love to, thanks. And he said, 'We really liked that 'Mirror In The Bathroom' song.' And we said, 'That's probably our best song. Yeah, that would be a good one.' Then he came back a week or so later and he said, 'Oh, Chrysalis says you can do 'Mirror In The Bathroom,' they like it, but they would own the rights to it for five years.' We're like, 'No.' I said, 'You know, that's our best tune. We'd want it on our album. But so long as we can bring it out on our album, that would be fine, you can have it as a single.' So he went off again and he came back and he said, 'No, Chrysalis said if it's the single it can't be on your first album.'

    So we said, 'Well, tell them to f--k themselves.' and we said, 'We'll do 'Tears Of A Clown' then.' Because that always goes down great. And you can tell the fellows at Chrysalis they can argue with Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson about whose song it is. And so we just insisted, and as luck would have it, our song came out in October, and by December 6 it was #6 in the charts, and it was the runaway dance party hit of the Christmas of '79. It was on every jukebox and every turntable for every Christmas party. So I think it probably worked out really well, because I don't know if 'Mirror In The Bathroom' would have been that cheery as a Christmas single." (Read the full Dave Wakeling interview.)
  • The 2-Tone label was started by The Specials, another prominent band in the Ska movement, and Jerry Dammers was The Specials keyboard player. The song was not included on an album until the 1983 greatest hits collection What is Beat?.
  • In the US, this was never released as a single.

Comments: 2

  • Sam from Seattle, WaThis song (and version) had a brief, less than 10 seconds, cameo in an episode of American Dad, in the episode "Tearjerker".
  • Henry from Cork, Ireland"Tears of a Clown" was originally written as an instrumental by Stevie Wonder and his producer, Hank Cosby. Later, Smokey Robinson added lyrics and recorded the song with the Miracles.
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