“Tears Of A Clown” gives Smokey Robinson and The Miracles their first #1 pop hit

“Tears Of A Clown” gives Smokey Robinson and The Miracles their first #1 pop hit


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While Motown Records founder Berry Gordy surely deserves credit for establishing the creative philosophy and business strategy that turned his Detroit-based company into a hit-making machine in the 1960s, the inner workings of that machine during the company’s early years depended almost as much on the talents of a young man named William Robinson, Jr., better known to the world as “Smokey.” Even if he’d never sung on a single Motown record, Smokey Robinson would still be regarded as one of the label’s most important figures purely on the basis of his production and songwriting work for acts like Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye and The Temptations. But Smokey Robinson did sing, of course, in his trademark falsetto, on some of Motown’s most beloved records: “Shop Around” (1960); “You Really Got A Hold On Me” (1962); “I Second That Emotion” (1967), to name only a few. After more than a decade of hits like these that never quite made it to the top of the charts, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles finally earned their first #1 hit when “Tears Of A Clown” topped the Billboard Hot 100 on December 12, 1970.

Like many of his other songs, “Tears Of A Clown” told a story to which any current or former lovelorn teenager could relate. Mining much the same emotional territory as he did in the song many consider to be his masterpiece, “The Tracks Of My Tears” (1965), Robinson showcased his ability in “Tears Of A Clown” to tell such a story using a catchy melody and clever wordplay—”Don’t let my glad expression/Give you the wrong impression“—without ever lapsing into corniness. It was that ability that led Bob Dylan to refer to Smokey Robinson as America’s “greatest living poet.”

Smokey Robinson’s association with Berry Gordy began even before Motown Records was founded, and it continued long after he stopped scoring hits of his own. Robinson’s “Shop Around” was the company’s first big hit (it was a Billboard #2 hit for The Miracles in 1960), and his “My Guy” (1964) and “My Girl” (1965) were #1 hits for Mary Wells and The Temptations, respectively. In 1967, Smokey Robinson became the vice president of Motown Records Corporation, a position he held for the next two decades until the company was sold to MCA in 1988.


The Tears of a Clown

"The Tears of a Clown" is a song by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles for the Tamla Records label subsidiary of the Motown Records label, originally released on the 1967 album Make It Happen. It was re-released in the United Kingdom as a single in September 1970, where it became a #1 hit on the UK singles chart. Subsequently, Motown released "The Tears of a Clown" as a single in the United States as well, where it quickly became a #1 hit on both the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B Singlescharts. [1]

The song is an international multi-million seller and a 2002 Grammy Hall of Fame inductee. Its success caused Miracles lead singer, songwriter, and producer Smokey Robinson, who had announced plans to leave the act, to stay until 1972.


Contents

Origins [ edit ] [ edit | edit source ]

Stevie Wonder (who was discovered by Miracles member Ronnie White), and his producer Hank Cosby wrote the music for the song, and Cosby produced the instrumental track recording. Wonder brought the instrumental track to the 1966 Motown Christmas party because he could not come up with a lyric to fit the instrumental. [2]  Wonder wanted to see what Robinson could come up with for the track. [3]  Robinson, who remarked that the song's distinctive calliope motif "sounded like a circus," provided lyrics that reflected his vision and sang lead vocal. In the song, his character, sad because he does not have a woman who loves him, compares himself to the characters in theopera Pagliacci, comedians/clowns who hide their hurt and anger behind empty smiles. [4]  He had used this comparison before: the line "just like Pagliacci did/I'll try to keep my sadness hid" appears in the song "My Smile Is Just A Frown (Turned Upside Down)," which he had written in 1964 for Motown artist Carolyn Crawford. The record is one of the few hit pop singles to feature the bassoon, which was played by Charles R. Sirard. [5]

"The Tears of a Clown" was an album track on 1967's Make It Happen but was not released as a single. By 1969, Robinson had tired of constantly touring with the Miracles, and wanted to remain home in Detroit, Michigan with his wife Claudette and their two children, Berry and Tamla (both named after aspects of the Motown corporation). Robinson informed his bandmates Pete Moore, Bobby Rogers, and best friend Ronald White that he would be retiring from the act to concentrate on his duties as vice-president of Motown Records.

Commercial success [ edit ] [ edit | edit source ]

But in 1970, to capitalize on the Miracles's success there, and due to a lack of new material from the group, Motown Britain selected "The Tears of a Clown" from the group's catalog for single release. A new mix of the song was made in February 1970 for the single release, and "The Tears of a Clown" became a #1 hit in the UK after its September release.

This newfound popularity prompted Motown to release the song as a single in the United States, where it became a #1 hit on both the pop and R&B charts within two months of its release. Despite the fact that The Miracles had been one of Motown's premier acts in the early and mid-1960s and its first successful group act, "The Tears of a Clown" was their first and only #1 hit while Smokey Robinson was lead singer. (The Miracles hit #1 again several years later with the smash hit "Love Machine", but by that time Smokey had long since left the group, replaced by Billy Griffin. "Shop Around" had hit #1 on the Cash Box Pop Chart, but only #2 on Billboard's.)

The 45 single was issued with two different B-sides: the first pressing had an alternate version of the 1967 Miracles Top 20 hit single "The Love I Saw in You Was Just a Mirage" the second had a new Miracles song, "Promise Me." Motown released a Tears of a Clown LP in 1970 as well, which was essentially a re-packaging of the Miracles' 1967 Make It Happen. It was included again on the group's 1971 LP One Dozen Roses.

Two years later, Smokey Robinson decided to follow through with his plans to leave the Miracles and retire. Smokey Robinson & the Miracles embarked on a six-month farewell tour, which culminated in a July 16, 1972 performance in Washington, DC, where Robinson introduced the Miracles' new lead singer, Billy Griffin.

The song charted again in the UK in 1976, peaking at #34 (see The Miracles discography). "The Tears of a Clown" continues to be a popular radio request.


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The Number Ones: The Miracles’ “Love Machine (Part 1)”

Consider a scenario. Imagine that Gladys Knight, after going solo and leaving the Pips behind, never got back to #1 again. Now imagine that the Pips went on without Gladys Knight and that they did score a #1 hit of their own. Imagine, further, that this post-Gladys Pips smash was the group’s biggest-selling single of all time, with or without Gladys. And imagine that it was a disco song about being a robot who loves to have sex. That is a ridiculous thing to imagine, and yet it’s pretty much exactly what happened with the Miracles after Smokey Robinson left.

The Miracles were, of course, the longtime standard-bearers of Motown Records. The members of the group were still in high school when they met Berry Gordy in the late 󈧶s, and Gordy pretty much founded Tamla Records, his pre-Motown label, so that he would be able to put out Miracles records. (Smokey Robinson was the one who told Gordy to start his own label.) The Miracles’ 1960 single “Shop Around” was Motown’s first real smash. (In a cosmic chart injustice, “Shop Around” peaked at #2, stuck behind Lawrence Welk’s “Calcutta.” “Shop Around” is, quite obviously, a 10.) Throughout the 󈨀s, the Miracles — eventually rechristened Smokey Robinson & The Miracles — cranked out a series of classic singles. They also wrote hits for other Motown artists the Temptations’ “My Girl,” for instance, came from Smokey Robinson and fellow Miracle Ronald White.

As early as 1969, Smokey Robinson was making plans to leave the Miracles — to stop touring, to spend more time with his wife and kids, and to settle into his life as vice president of Motown. Those plans were put on hold when “The Tears Of A Clown,” a song that Smokey and the Miracles had recorded in 1967, became an out-of-nowhere surprise hit late in 1970. “The Tears Of A Clown” would be the only #1 hit of Smokey Robinson’s career, with or without the Miracles. And in 1972, Smokey really did leave the Miracles, though he made the transition as smooth as he possibly could. While hosting an episode of NBC’s The Midnight Special that year, Robinson introduced his replacement: Billy Griffin, a 21-year-old singer from Baltimore who had long idolized Smokey Robinson and who was now the new leader of the Miracles.

With Smokey Robinson gone from the group, the Miracles somehow barely lost a step. Their next three singles all missed the top 40, but 1974’s “Do It Baby” climbed all the way to #13. And then the Miracles put together City Of Angels, a 1975 concept album about a man who moves to Los Angeles to follow a stardom-aspiring woman and who, through a few twists of fate, becomes a star himself. Right in the middle of the album is “Love Machine,” a seven-minute disco odyssey about life as a sex robot. (The idea, I think, is that the guy, once he’s become a star, is doing a lot of fucking. It’s a bit of a narrative stretch, but then, so is every song on every concept album ever made.)

New frontman Billy Griffin co-wrote “Love Machine” with the long-tenured Miracle Pete Moore. It is a transcendently silly song: “Electricity starts to flow / And my indicator starts to glow.” At seven minutes, it’s long enough that Motown split it up into two parts, putting them on both sides of the single. This was the right thing to do. Seven minutes of “Love Machine” was too much “Love Machine.” But edited down to three minutes, it’s a charming piece of nonsense.

The funniest thing about “Love Machine” — funnier, even, than the sex-robot lyrics — is the way the Miracles keep their old early-󈨀s vocal style, singing in cheery doo-wop harmony over a style of music that would’ve been unimaginable when the group started. Bobby Rogers adds raspy Fat Albert-ass hey hey hey ad-libs, but the lead vocals are still chipper and sugary, even though the music is pure disco cash-in. The song itself doesn’t have too much structure, and it sure as hell doesn’t have any casually devastating Smokey Robinson turns of phrase. Instead, it has stuff like this: “I think it’s high time you knew / Whenever I think of you / My mind blows a fuse.” Smokey Robinson was too graceful to ever refer to himself as “a hugging, kissing fiend.” But the awkwardness of “Love Machine” is part of the charm.

The song also has a monster central hook, the kind of thing that will always be fun to sing along to: “I’m just a love machine / And I don’t work for nobody but you.” (The best part: The false modesty implied in the way they use the word “just.”) The arrangement works well, too, with those perfectly timed horn-stabs and that deep kick-drum thump. The bassline is an absolute motherfucker, a nasty hard bump from the session musician Scott Edwards. Those things are enough to make it a functional disco jam, even if the vocals are weirdly anachronistic and the song loses its way during the verses. It’s a stupid song, but it’s the kind of stupid song that’s very, very difficult to hate. In 1976, with disco ascendent, a dumb and fun and engaging sex-robot disco song could apparently become a huge hit, especially if it came from a legacy group like the Miracles.

“Love Machine” did not turn out to be the beginning of a Miracles renaissance. The same year they got to #1 without Smokey Robinson, the Miracles got into a contract dispute with Motown, and they ended up leaving the label for Columbia. They never charted again. As for Smokey Robinson, he did just fine as a solo artist, basically inventing the quiet storm subgenre and peaking at #2 with the buttery 1981 soft-soul reverie “Being With You.” (It’s a 7.) Robinson reunited with most of the original Miracles on the 1983 Motown 25 TV special. That same year, Billy Griffin went solo. He never charted. But he’ll always have “Love Machine.”

BONUS BEATS: Here’s Cheech Marin singing “Love Machine” in the 1978 movie Up In Smoke:


  • Smokey (1973)
  • Pure Smokey (1974)
  • A Quiet Storm (1975)
  • Smokey's Family Robinson (1976)
  • Deep in My Soul (1977)
  • Big Time (1977)
  • Smokin' (1978)
  • Where There's Smoke. (1979)
  • Warm Thoughts (1980)
  • Being with You (1981)
  • Yes It's You Lady (1982)
  • Touch the Sky (1983)
  • Essar (1984)
  • Smoke Signals (1986)
  • One Heartbeat (1987)
  • Love, Smokey (1990)
  • Intimate (1999)
  • Double Good Everything (1991)
  • Food for the Spirit (2004)
  • Timeless Love (2006)
  • Time Flies When You're Having Fun (2009)
  • Now and Then (2010)
  • Smokey Robinson
  • Ronnie White
  • Pete Moore
  • Bobby Rogers
  • Claudette Robinson
  • Marv Tarplin
  • Billy Griffin
  • Donald Griffin
  • Carl Cotton
  • Mark Scott
  • Dave Finley
  • Sidney Justin
  • Alphonse Franklin
  • Tee Turner
  • Pre-Miracles: Emerson "Sonny" Rogers
  • James Grice
  • Clarence Dawson
  • Hi. We're The Miracles (1961)
  • Cookin' with The Miracles (1961)
  • I'll Try Something New (1962)
  • The Fabulous Miracles (1963)
  • The Miracles Doin' Mickey's Monkey (1963)
  • I Like It Like That (1964)
  • Going to a Go-Go (1965)
  • Away We a Go-Go (1966)
  • Make It Happen (The Tears of a Clown) (1967)
  • Special Occasion (1968)
  • Time Out For Smokey Robinson & the Miracles (1969)
  • Four in Blue (1969)
  • What Love Has Joined Together (1970)
  • A Pocket Full Of Miracles (1970)
  • One Dozen Roses (1971)
  • Flying High Together (1972)
  • Renaissance (1973)
  • Do It Baby (1974)
  • City of Angels (1975)
  • Greatest Hits: From the Beginning (1965)
  • Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (1968)
  • Anthology (1974)
  • Anthology '86 (1986)
  • Anthology: The Best of Smokey Robinson & The Miracles (1995)
  • The Ultimate Collection (1998)
  • Ooo Baby Baby: The Anthology (2002)
  • Depend On Me: The Early Albums (2009)
  • "Shop Around"
  • "You've Really Got a Hold on Me"/"Happy Landing"
  • "Mickey's Monkey"
  • "Ooo Baby Baby"
  • "The Tracks of My Tears"
  • "My Girl Has Gone"
  • "Going to a Go-Go"
  • "(Come 'Round Here) I'm the One You Need"
  • "The Love I Saw in You Was Just a Mirage"
  • "I Second That Emotion"
  • "If You Can Want"
  • "Baby, Baby Don't Cry"
  • "The Tears of a Clown"
  • "I Don't Blame You At All"
  • "Do It Baby"
  • "Love Machine"
  • "Got a Job" (1958)
  • "Your Love (Is All I Need)" (1958)
  • "I Cry" (1958)
  • "I Need a Change" (1959)
  • "It" (1959)
  • "Bad Girl" (1959)
  • "The Feeling Is So Fine" (1959) / "(You Can) Depend on Me" (1959)
  • "Way Over There" (1960)
  • "Shop Around" (1960) / Who's Lovin' You" (1960)
  • "Ain't It Baby" (1961)
  • "Mighty Good Lovin'" (1961) / Broken Hearted" (1961)
  • "Everybody's Gotta Pay Some Dues" (1961)
  • "What's So Good About Goodbye" (1961) / "I've Been Good To You" (1961)
  • "I'll Try Something New" (1962)
  • "You've Really Got a Hold on Me" (1962) / "Happy Landing" (1962)
  • "A Love She Can Count On" (1963) / "I Can Take a Hint" (1963)
  • "Mickey's Monkey" (1963)
  • "I Gotta Dance to Keep From Crying" (1963)
  • "The Christmas Song" (1963)
  • "(You Can't Let the Boy Overpower) The Man in You" (1964)
  • "I Like It Like That" (1964)
  • "That's What Love Is Made Of" (1964)
  • "Come On Do The Jerk" (1964)
  • "Ooo Baby Baby" (1965)
  • "The Tracks of My Tears" (1965) / "A Fork in the Road" (1965)
  • "My Girl Has Gone" (1965)
  • "Going to a Go-Go" (1965) / "Choosey Beggar" (1965)
  • "Whole Lot of Shakin' in My Heart (Since I Met You)" (1966)
  • "(Come 'Round Here) I'm the One You Need" (1966)
  • "The Love I Saw in You Was Just a Mirage" (1967)
  • "More Love" (1967)
  • "I Second That Emotion" (1967)
  • If You Can Want" (1968)
  • "Yester Love" (1968)
  • "Special Occasion" (1968)
  • "Baby, Baby Don't Cry" (1969)
  • "Here I Go Again" (1969) / "Doggone Right" (1969)
  • "Abraham, Martin and John" (1969)
  • "Point It Out" (1969) / "Darling Dear" (1969)
  • "Who's Gonna Take the Blame" (1970)
  • "The Tears of a Clown" (1970)
  • "I Don't Blame You At All" (1970)
  • "Crazy About the La La" (1971)
  • "Satisfaction" (1971)
  • "We've Come Too Far to End It Now" (1972)
  • "I Can't Stand to See You Cry" (1972)
  • "Don't Let It End ('Til You Let It Begin)" (1973)
  • "Give Me Just Another Day" (1973)
  • "Do It Baby" (1974)
  • "Don't Cha Love It" (1974)
  • "Gemini" (1975)
  • "Love Machine" (1975)
  • "Night Life" (1976)
  • "Spy for Brotherhood" (1977)
  • "I Can Touch the Sky" (1977)
  • "Mean Machine" (1978)
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  • 1967 songs
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  • Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs number-one singles
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  • UK Singles Chart number-one singles
  • Grammy Hall of Fame Award recipients
  • Motown singles
  • Songs written by Henry Cosby
  • Songs written by Stevie Wonder
  • Songs written by Smokey Robinson
  • Song recordings produced by Smokey Robinson
  • Tamla Records singles
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Contents

Engineered and mixed by Kevin Beamish, "Love Machine" was produced by Freddie Perren, a former member of The Corporation brain trust in charge of the early Jackson 5 hits. It was written by Billy Griffin and his Miracles group-mate, original Miracle Pete Moore, with whom he wrote the rest of the City of Angels tracks as well. [1] The song's lyrics, delivered over a disco beat, compare a lover to an electronic device such as a computer or a robot. The seven-minute song was split into two parts for its release as a single, with "Part 1" receiving most notoriety.

"Love Machine" was the only two-part single of the Miracles' career.

"Love Machine" was a multi-million selling Platinum single, [2] and a number-one smash hit on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, the best-selling single of the Miracles' career, having sold over 4.5 million copies. [3] [4] [5] The single went to #5 on the Hot Soul Singles chart, [6] and went to #20 on Record World's National Disco file Top 20 chart. It was also a Top 10 hit in the UK, peaking at number three on the UK Singles Chart.

  • Lead vocals by Billy Griffin
  • Background vocals by Bobby Rogers, Ronnie White and Pete Moore
  • Growling by Bobby Rogers
  • "Yeah, baby" vocals by Ronnie White
  • Instrumentation by various Los Angeles studio musicians
Chart (1975-1976) Peak
position
Australia (Kent Music Report) [7] 89
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 1
U.S. Record World" National Disco File 20
UK Singles Chart 3
U.S. Billboard Hot Black Singles 5

All-time charts Edit

"Love Machine", to which Griffin and co-writer Miracle Pete Moore retained publishing rights through their publishing company Grimora Music (instead of Motown's music publishing company, Jobete), is the most-used song in Motown history and has generated more than $15 million in revenues. [9]

The term "love machine" was popularized in 1969 by Jacqueline Susann's best-selling novel of the same title.

The Miracles' "Love Machine" has since been used in many different commercials, motion pictures and television shows, including:


Tag Archives: the tears of a clown

“The Tears of a Clown,” from the 1967 Smokey Robinson and The Miracles album Make it Happen. Released as a single in 1970.
Sad lyrics in a happy melody create a perfect pop song.

*Note – I’m not even going to try to rank songs. I just plan to periodically write a little bit about some songs that I like.

Clowns got a bum rap in American culture over the past 50 years. When I was a kid, in the 70s, they were happy icons of childhood mirth and wholesome good times. In addition to being the best part of any circus, they sold fast food, breakfast cereal, and household cleaners (!?), and had TV shows. A friendly clown even came to my elementary school to teach us kids about being safe around strangers. He told us if we were ever kidnapped we should make ourselves vomit by sticking a finger down our throat so the kidnapper would toss us, barf-covered, out of the car.

By the early 90s, clowns were viewed in a different light. Maybe it was Stephen King, maybe it was Bob Goldthwait, maybe it was The Simpsons. Maybe ICP? Or maybe it was the fact that folks finally spoke out to say they were pretty creepy all along. Suddenly, clowns were not so cheery. But despite its previous history as an icon of fun, the clown had never been positively portrayed in popular music. In songs, clowns were almost always contemptible or malevolent or pitiable.

The Everly Brothers’ “Kathy’s Clown” was an object of ridicule. Roy Orbison’s candy-colored clown “In Dreams” tricked the lovelorn into believing a lie. The dying performer in The Kinks’ “Death of a Clown” is so pathetic he encourages the audience to drink along with him to his own abject end. It’s pretty brutal stuff. “The Tears of a Clown” actually lands on the uplifting end of the Spectrum of Misery of Musical Clowns.

The song is special because of the sad lyrical content set against the fun, calliope-style music. It’s in a long line of songs about putting on a brave face, including Robinson’s earlier “The Tracks of My Tears,” through Adele’s “Someone Like You.” (And let’s not forget the McCartney-esque directness of McCartney’s “My Brave Face.”)

Motown’s famed “Funk Brothers” played the backing music. They were a rotating cast of musicians who played on thousands of songs, so it’s unclear who played on this one. The upbeat melody starts with flutes and a brilliant counter-melody on bassoon. It gives way to the main bass line in a few seconds. The pumping, uplifting sound, with driving drums, is accompanied by a blurting trombone that keeps it sounding circusy. The music was written by Stevie Wonder and his producer, Hank Crosby. Wonder couldn’t think of lyrics, so he gave the song to Robinson. Smokey had the genius idea to write lyrics that go against the song’s happy sound, but retain a circus theme.

Smokey’s voice is smooth as ever, and The Miracles’ harmonies are brilliant. At 0:37, and throughout the song, when Robinson sings “I’m sad,” and The Miracles repeat it while drum fills ricochet around them, it’s about the best 15 seconds of sound ever put to record. Then a brief rising scale (“there’s some sad things known to man …”) resolves in the title line, which somehow sounds even better! When he softly sings “the tears of a clown/ when there’s no one around,” and that flute/bassoon riff enters, the juxtaposition of words and sounds always gets me right in the feels. I could listen to this song every day.

The lyrics are terrific, and the bridge cleverly refers to the tragic Italian opera Pagliacci (“Clowns”), about a clown who discovers his wife is having an affair. (“Just like Pagliacci did/ I try to keep my feelings hid.”) I’ve always been impressed that a pop song referenced an opera, or any stage production other than Romeo & Juliet. Then again, the first million-selling recording ever was Enrico Caruso’s 1903 recording of “Vest la Giubba,” from Pagliacci, so Robinson probably heard it a lot growing up.

As a fan of 70s/80s music, I must point out the great cover of the song by The English Beat, who nicely folded the song into their ska-based musical approach. But as good as that version is, nothing comes close to Smokey’s original. It’s got the sound, the lyrics, the style … it’s got everything.


Last Do‐wah Played By Smokey Robinson

William (Smokey) Robin son, whose soft, high‐pitched oo‐oo‐oohs and do‐wahs with strings created a new sound and set a special mood in “soul” music for young, pri marily black audiences throughout the sixties, has oohed his last do‐wah with, his group, The Miracles at the Apollo.

As a farewell to fans who, like Smokey, first went to the Apollo as teen‐agers and, now brought their children, he sang what they told him to.

“Bad Girl!” they shouted. And Smokey crooned: “She not a bad girl be‐cause . . . she wants to be free.”

“Shop Around,” they shouted. And Smokey wailed:

“Just because you be come a young man, now . . .

“There still some things that you don't understand now . . .”

“Baby, Baby,” they shout ed. And Smokey barely whis pered: “Oo‐oo‐oo, Baby, baby . . .”

And the Miracles—four of them were right in there, as they had been as classmates of Smokey's at junior high school in Detroit. Sweet. Quiet. Harmonious.

Actually, neither Smokey nor the Miracles—who made their professional debut 13 years ago at the Apollo when processed hair and zoot suits were in—are really retiring.

As a unit, now wearing smartly tailored jump suits and Afros, they have two more dates before the Mira cles find a new lead singer and Mr. Robinson, who is a vice president of Motown, the black entertainment con glomerate, goes on to “do other things.”

“Other things” will prob ably include more writing— he has written most of the songs the group has record ed—and more producing. Over the years, he has pro duced, in addition to the Mi racles, other Motown groups, including the Supremes. Smokey not only produced their latest album, “Floy Joy,” but wrote the songs as well.

Behind him are such hits as “Tears of a Clown,” for which he wrote the lyrics and melody (Stevie Wonder and Hank Cosby put the notes to it), which sold two million records in the United States and one million abroad.

Other records that sold a million or at least made the Top Ten that he wrote and sang with the Miracles in clude “I Second That Emo tion,” The Tracks of My Tears” and Motown's first million‐selling record, written jointly by Smokey and Mo town's founder, Barry Gordy, “Shop Around.”

But when Smokey Robin son leaves the Miracles, whatever their future, an era will have ended, an era marked by sit‐ins, Freedom rides, school desegregation and Freedom songs. And one in which thousands of stu dents in the Movement re laxed from protest activities by listening to what the black historian Roscoe Brown calls “popular soul,” produced by such groups as Smokey's.

“If I had known that Smokey was going to be at the Apollo for the last time, I would have come up just for the show,” said State Representative Julian Bond of Georgia, who was active in the Student Non‐Violent Co ordinating Committee in its heyday.

“I've always said, if I could only sing like Smokey . . .”

Mr. Bond, who at 33 is two years older than Smokey and a poet, recalled the sing er's popularity with the “Movement people.”

“Weɽ close up the student office [in Atlanta] on one side of town and go all the way across town to this little place where they had a juke box and sit for hours talking about the Movement and lis tening to Ray Charles and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.

“Ray gave us soul and Smokey gave us soul and poetry, too. He was kind of the romantic poet of my gen eration.”

In the South, Mr. Robinson said there were times “when we were lucky to come out alive. Weɽ stop at a filling station — if theyɽ let us stop, and people would pull guns on us just because we wanted to go to the bath room. They had signs that said, ‘Men,’ ‘Women’ and ‘Colored.’

But Smokey feels that ex periences like this are re sponsible for the group's en durance, its longevity. “It was like they hit you in the face and say, ‘Take this and see if you can get back up.’” Smiling at this, Mr. Robinson, soft‐spoken and rail‐thin, leaned back in his chair, and continued:

“When you work for it, and you grind out those miles and those hard times, it makes you realize, Hey, man. You just another cat. And be cause you sing and in show business does not make you any better than the grocer, ‘cause his son's got 10 of your records and if he didn't have em, you wouldn't be nothing.’”

Another advantage of the perspective of years, as Smokey sees it, is the insight it gives on the business end. In 1958, Barry Gordy decided to start his own company because he and the people like Smokey, with whom he was working “weren't getting accurate counts of the rec ords we were selling.”

“We did two fairly good records for one company, and after the writing, producing and singing for both of them, they sent us a check—Barry and us—for $3.19.”

From the beginning, Mr. Robinson and Mr. Gordy worked closely, trying new formulas in music and busi ness. And what started out as a family affair has blossomed into one of the largest com panies in the music industry.

When asked about Mo town's assets, performer Smokey puts on his other hat, his voice gets heavier and businessman Smokey replies:


Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

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Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, American vocal group that helped define the Motown sound of the 1960s and was led by one of the most gifted and influential singer-songwriters in 20th-century popular music. In addition to Smokey Robinson (byname of William Robinson b. February 19, 1940, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.), the principal members of the group were Warren (“Pete”) Moore (b. November 19, 1938, Detroit—d. November 19, 2017, Las Vegas, Nevada), Bobby Rogers (b. February 19, 1940, Detroit—d. March 3, 2013, Southfield, Michigan), Ronnie White (b. April 5, 1939, Detroit—d. August 26, 1995, Detroit), and Claudette Rogers (b. June 20, 1942, New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.). Whether writing for fellow artists Mary Wells, the Temptations, or Marvin Gaye or performing with the Miracles, singer-lyricist-arranger-producer Robinson created songs that were supremely balanced between the joy and pain of love. At once playful and passionate, Robinson’s graceful lyrics led Bob Dylan to call him “America’s greatest living poet.”

Coming of age in the doo-wop era and deeply influenced by jazz vocalist Sarah Vaughan, Robinson formed the Five Chimes with school friends in the mid-1950s. After some personnel changes, the group, as the Matadors, auditioned unsuccessfully for Jackie Wilson’s manager. However, they greatly impressed Wilson’s songwriter Berry Gordy, who soon became their manager and producer. Most importantly, Gordy became Robinson’s mentor, harnessing his prodigious but unformed composing talents, and Robinson, assisted by the Miracles, became Gordy’s inspiration for the creation of Motown Records.

With the arrival of Claudette Rogers, the group changed its name to the Miracles and released “Got a Job” on End Records in 1958. The Miracles struggled onstage in their first performance at the Apollo Theater that year, but good fortune came their way in the form of Marv Tarplin, guitarist for the Primettes, who were led by Robinson’s friend Diana Ross. Tarplin became an honorary (but essential) Miracle, while Robinson introduced Gordy to the Primettes, who soon became the Supremes. In 1959 Robinson and Claudette Rogers were married, and “Bad Girl,” licensed to Chess Records, peaked nationally at number 93. The fiery “Way Over There” and the shimmering “(You Can) Depend on Me” were followed in 1960 by “Shop Around,” the second version of which became an enormous hit, reaching number one on the rhythm-and-blues charts and number two on the pop charts.

While Robinson was writing such vital songs as “My Guy” for Mary Wells, “I’ll Be Doggone” for Marvin Gaye, and “My Girl” for the Temptations, he and the Miracles proceeded to record stunning compositions, including “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” (1962), “I’ll Try Something New” (1962), “Ooo Baby Baby” (1965), “Choosey Beggar” (1965), “The Tracks of My Tears” (1965), and “More Love” (1967, written following the premature birth and death of Robinson’s twin daughters). The Miracles complemented their songs of aching romance and mature love with buoyant numbers such as “Mickey’s Monkey” (1963), “Going to a Go-Go” (1965), “I Second That Emotion” (1967), and “The Tears of a Clown” (1970).

In 1972 Robinson left the Miracles to pursue a solo career. Without him the Miracles enjoyed moderate success in subsequent years—the disco-era “Love Machine (Part 1)” hit number one on the pop charts in 1975—while Robinson produced such solo hits as “Cruisin’ ” (1979), “Being with You” (1981), and Grammy Award-winning “Just to See Her” (1987). He also unintentionally inspired the new soul radio format that took its name from the title track of his 1975 conceptual album A Quiet Storm.

Robinson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. The Miracles were inducted in 2012. In addition, Robinson was awarded the 2002 National Medal of Arts. He also received a Kennedy Center Honor in 2006, and in 2016 he won the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Patricia Bauer, Assistant Editor.


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