SONG: Tears of a Clown
ORIGINAL: Smokey Robinson & The Miracles (1967)
COVER: The English Beat (1979)

THE ORIGINAL

This song is total Motown genius, period. From the distinct up-tempo calliope motif with the bassoon that makes you think a circus is parading down your street, to the juxtaposition of Smokey telling us how sad he is and comparing himself to Pagliacci, trying to keep his sadness hid, the signature call and response of the chorus… did I mention that this song is total Motown genius, PERIOD?

Also, did you know that Stevie Wonder not only wrote the music for this song, he also played the drums? I love this song, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it.

THE COVER

This song has a great, fast, reggae/ska beat that follows the original arrangement to the letter. This version is heavy on guitars, a bippy-boppy bassline, and the standard saxophone stabs throughout and carries the bridge.

I think this is a great choice, and it fits the Ska/2 Tone/New Wave groove in an effortless way. I remember telling people that this was a cover, and they had to listen twice because it sounds pretty much like their other up-tempo songs.

WHO DOES IT BETTER?

I really love the original. I really love the cover. It’s a tie!

NOW YOU DECIDE!

About Author

Crystal is today's black Renaissance woman. She lives in Harlem, is always up for a new experience, is a magnet for all kinds of crazy, and smells like fresh flowers.

7 Comments

  1. bennett brooks on

    I’ve been listening to both of the songs forever! As everyone knows, Smokey is the king and one of the best writers of all times. If you took almost anyone one of his songs and made a cover the lyrics just stand the test of time.
    I love ska and so I always love how the Beat put their spin to it. Dave sings it great ever time.

  2. Robert Silva on

    This is easily the toughest one yet! As amazing as the original is, (and it is absolutely legendary) I have to a slight edge to The English Beat for making it their own.

  3. Andrew Gilchrist on

    Listen to both fairly often. In my early 20s I was insane for the Beat version. That said Smokey version can’t be touched one of my favorite vocal tracks ever.

  4. I didn’t know Stevie played the drums on the original! Anyway, the Beat cover is excellent and fun, but nothing can touch the original genius of the Miracles track. (Certainly the funkiest oboe ever recorded!)

  5. Oh, no. Not even. You know I love this kind of thing, and there are definitely some great examples out there worthy of this debate. But not this one. The original is a perfect record and one of my favorites of all time. It’s like asking me do I prefer my wife or a blow up doll of my wife. I’ll leave it there.

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