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Sounds on Sunday: 50 years on/10

POP MUSIC was once so new and daring: it’s shocking to think that it’s over 50 years old. Some standards have been around for over half a century… What, then, were we listening to 50 years ago? It was an odd year, 1970. The influence of the older generation saw a good deal of old school easy listening in the charts – while the movements that were to develop during the 1970s were not yet established. Come with us – whether it’s down memory lane or to unknown territory – and remember or find out what it was all about.

Elvis Presley stayed at the top spot with The Wonder of You for six weeks – pretty much the entire school summer holiday of 1970 – so we are getting well ahead of ourselves now. His reign at the top was broken on 8th September 1970 when Smokey Robinson and The Miracles reached number 1 in the Charts with Tears Of A Clown.

Tears has its roots back in the 60s. Written by Smokey Robinson and, it transpires, Stevie Wonder (and his long term collaborator Hank Cosby), it was originally a track on Make It Happen, an album that Smokey Robinson and the Miracles released in 1967. It was released as a single in the UK in July 1970 and, as was usual then, took a while to reach the top spot. Perhaps it was this success which led the record company to release the single in the US, where it also reached the top of the charts.

What made the song so successful – and memorable? It may be the catchy tune and the arrangement of the original, which makes it instantly recognisable.  It’s not a song anyone has been able to improve on by messing around with it (not even Queen of Unfortunate Covers Petula Clark). These were the work of Steve Wonder and Hank Cosby. Robinson brought the words to the party – words which, we try to put it politely, it is not necessary to understand in order to enjoy the song as a whole. The clown is a comedy character in modern circus, but was originally a sad and perhaps lonely figure – hiding his tears behind that comedy.

The single’s success led to Robinson staying with the Miracles until 1972, when he retired to spend more time with his family and less time on the road. The Miracles enjoyed more chart success with the new lead singer Billy Griffin.

So here we are – a break-up song that is upbeat and catchy. Is it Lockdown music? Yes: but don’t wallow in the sadness behind your brave Lockdown face. Play it, dance your heart out in the privacy of your kitchen – and give thanks for Tamla Motown.

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