The Tracks Of My Tears

Album: Going To A Go-Go (1965)
Charted: 9 16
  • songfacts ®
  • Lyrics
  • One of the most gut-wrenching songs on record, this one is about a man who tries to hide his pain, but cannot conceal the tracks made by his tears. He has come out of a relationship with the love of his life, and the song is his confession to her that his high spirits are just an act and she's the only one for him, or perhaps what he wants to tell her but can't.

    Miracles leader Smokey Robinson came up with the concept when he was looking in the mirror one day, and thinking, What if a person would cry so much that you could see tracks of their tears in their face?
  • Miracles members Smokey Robinson, Warren Moore, and Marv Tarplin wrote this song. Robinson penned the lyrics; Tarplin, The Miracles' guitarist, came up with the riff. Robinson recalled: "'Tracks of My Tears' was actually started by Marv Tarplin, who is a young cat who plays guitar for our act. So he had this musical thing [sings melody], you know, and we worked around with it, and worked around, and it became 'Tracks of My Tears.'"
  • Tarplin got the idea for the music after listening to a calypso tune: Harry Belafonte's "The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)."
  • Robinson had the music Tarplin wrote on a cassette, but it took him about six months to write the lyrics. The words started coming together when he came up with the line, "Take a good look at my face, you see my smile looks out of place." From there, it was a few days before he got the lines, "If you look closer it's easy to trace... my tears."

    What to do with those tears was a problem, as he wanted to say something no one has said about tears. In a 2006 interview with NPR, he explained that he finally came up with the image of tears leaving lasting marks, and the song came together. "One day I was listening, and it just came - the tracks of my tears," said Robinson. "Like footprints on my face. So that was what I wrote about."
  • Four different artists have charted with this song in America. Johnny Rivers had the biggest hit, taking it to #10 in 1967. Two of the most acclaimed female vocalists of their time, Aretha Franklin and Linda Ronstadt, also charted covers, Franklin's making #71 in 1969 and Ronstadt's going to #25 in 1976.

    Other notable versions of this song include renditions by Go West in 1993 and Adam Lambert in 2009.
  • When he first recorded this song with The Miracles, Robinson left out the last chorus, fading it out on the "I need you, I need you" line. He was convinced to end on the chorus when he played the song at one of the famous Monday morning meetings at Motown, where songs were scrutinized by their team.
  • Robinson wrote a similar song a few weeks later called "My Girl Has Gone," which was released as the next Miracles single.
  • Motown head Berry Gordy has said that this song represents Smokey Robinson's best work.
  • The song was popular among American soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War, which is reflected in the 1986 Oliver Stone movie Platoon, where the song is used.

    Other films to feature the song include The Big Chill (1983), The Walking Dead (1995) and Bobby (2006). TV series to used the song include The Wonder Years and Wife Swap.
Please sign in or register to post comments.

Comments: 15

  • Conejo from Clovis New MexicoPerfect song for the one that got away believe me 12 years and I still miss her oh well life goes on, but from experience young bucks if you find a good one don't f**k it up ya feel me they don't come around everyday hold onto her you won't regret it dueces!
  • Jennifur Sun from RamonaI had always thought maybe this song was written about the breakup of his marriage.
  • Babbling Babette from Tulsa OkOh yes, what a terrific song. I bought the single upon first release & it was heavily played on radio stations in Kansas City & Topeka when I was a student at University of Kansas at Lawrence. Love it even now. The Miracles were fantastic! Smokey's voice is unique. I also bought the follow-up hit "My Girl Has Gone." The area rock & roll or R&B stations in the KC area ranked these 2 Miracles hits higher than did Billboard. I recall they were in the Top Ten there. Even though Billboard ranked them in the teens, they were definitely hits.
  • James from San Fernando Valley, CaliforniaThe follow-up song "My Girl Has Gone" is mentioned in the Songfacts section above, and someone wrote that the record flopped. This is not the case at all. "My Girl Has Gone" reached #14 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, whereas "Tracks of My Tears" only reached #16. Also, "My Girl Has Gone" reached the top 5 on the R&B charts. It hardly can be considered a flop! Along with "Tracks of My Tears" it remains one of my favorite Miracles records.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn July 13th 1973, the Miracles performed "The Tracks of My Tears" on the NBC-TV program 'The Midnight Special'...
    Exactly eight years earlier on July 13th, 1965 it was in its first week on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart, at position #81...
    (See next post below).
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn July 11th 1965, "The Tracks Of My Tears" by the Miracles entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #81; and on August 29th, 1965 it peaked at #16 (for 1 week) and spent 12 weeks on the Top 100...
    It reached #2 on Billboard's Hot R&B Singles chart...
    Their record "Ooo Baby Baby", which preceded it on the Top 100, also peaked at #16 on chart; and interestingly enough both songs were eventually covered by Linda Ronstadt.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn June 17th 1967, Johnny Rivers performed "Tracks of My Tears" on the ABC-TV program 'American Bandstand'...
    Twenty days earlier on May 28th, 1967 it entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart...
    (See the next post below).
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn May 28th 1967, "The Tracks of My Tears" by Johnny Rivers entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #70; and on July 2nd it peaked at #10 (for 1 week) and spent 9 weeks on the Top 100...
    Linda Ronstadt's version reached #25 on February 22nd, 1976...
    It was also covered by Aretha Franklin, her version peaked at #71 in 1969.
  • Deethewriter from Saint Petersburg, Russia FederationIn the five-LP publication The Motown Story, by Motown Records, Smokey Robinson explained the origin of this song in these words: "Tracks of My Tears" was actually started by Marv Tarplin, who is a young cat who plays guitar for our act. So he had this musical thing - [sings melody] – you know, and we worked around with it, and worked around, and it became "Tracks of My Tears."
    Tarplin's guitar licks at the songs' intro have become instantly recognizable worldwide.
    "The Tracks of My Tears" was a #2 hit on the Billboard magazine R&B singles chart, and it reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100. Belatedly released in the UK in 1969, "The Tracks of My Tears" became a Top Ten hit that summer reaching #9; a 1987 re-release - as "Tracks of My Tears" - appeared on the UK charts with a #82 peak (both UK releases were credited to Smokey Robinson and the Miracles).
  • Ron from New Harmony, UtI just listened to the Adam Lambert version available on I-tunes and he's singing on top of the original instrumentation and backing vocals. Looks like Berry Gordy and Smokey struck an agreement with American Idol and being astute businessmen, are still raking in some cash. Good for them.
  • Hanny from Roden, NetherlandsA true classic , Smokey has one of the most beautiful voices.
  • Sara from Silver Spring, MdThis is on Mike McDonald's second Motown album
  • Ross from Independence, MoThis is #50 in Rolling Stone's list of 500 greatest songs.
  • Victor from Vienna, Vabeautiful song....one that we can all relate to
  • Eric from Franklin, MaIt's too bad that today's pop "artists" can't come up with lyrics like this. Good job Smokey
see more comments

Stephen Christian of AnberlinSongwriter Interviews

The lead singer/lyricist for Anberlin breaks down "Impossible" and covers some tracks from their 2012 album Vital.

"Private Eyes" - The Story Behind the SongSong Writing

How a goofy detective movie, a disenchanted director and an unlikely songwriter led to one of the biggest hits in pop history.

Taylor DayneSongwriter Interviews

Taylor talks about "The Machine" - the hits, the videos and Clive Davis.

Zakk WyldeSongwriter Interviews

When he was playing Ozzfest with Black Label Society, a kid told Zakk he was the best Ozzy guitarist - Zakk had to correct him.

80s Video Director Jay DubinSong Writing

Billy Joel and Hall & Oates hated making videos, so they chose a director with similar contempt for the medium. That was Jay Dubin, and he has a lot to say on the subject.

Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of WayneSongwriter Interviews

The guy who brought us "Stacy's Mom" also wrote the Jane Lynch Emmy song and Stephen Colbert's Christmas songs.