Smokey Robinson and the Miracles Week No 8: The Tracks of my Tears
I know I haven't posted for a week, and I know that we've already had a whole week of Smokey and I know this is probably their most famous track and I don't usually do people's most famous track, but, as with all things in life, there's always a justifiable exception to the rule that makes the rule.
And this is it. The Miracles were the Miracles from 1958 to 1865 at which time, as was the case with many other groups, the lead singer wanted more credit for their identifying role, and they were officially credited on their records as Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. But they were truly a band, as were the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, in that they weren't only Smokey plus a bunch of backing singers. In the UK, with only 3 tv channels, we didn't get the regular visuals of the band that they did in the States of a genuine group performing. So we didn't know that the Miracles actually numbered six, a fact that even in US tv coverage was not always bourn out.
The original line-up was Smokey Robinson, Claudette Robinson, Pete Moore, Ronnie White, Bobby Rogers and guitarist Marv Tarplin.
Often Tarplin was missed from the visuals as this contradicted the Motown image of a series of vocal groups backed by an unseen musical ensemble. "The Tracks of my Tears" is a case in point, written by Smokey, Bobby Rogers and Marv who apparently came up with the whole of the tune with Robinson and Moore adding the words later.
This is also a classic case of time telling the truth about a great song.Whereas, in 1965, when "Tears" first made number 12 in the US Hot 100 chart, other songs were candidates for the great numbers of all time such as the Paul Anka composed Frank Sinatra number "My Way" and Paul McCartney's "Yesterday". Originally released in the US under "the Miracles" moniker, the song was a hit during the UK Tamla Motown invasion of 1969 under the name "Smokey Robinson and the Miracles". I remember. I was 14 and I bought it because I bought every UK Tamla Motown single release that year. It took me a while before I realised Smokey was a man. At first I thought it was a dud, because no-one from Tamla was having hits with slow numbers like this, but it slowly climbed the charts on the back of the Northern Soul inspired Motown boom, reaching the top ten. Nowadays it is recognised as one of the great songs, regularly featuring in the numerous "all time" charts concocted by music magazines and radio and tv stations.
Why? - a great, quite complex tune, beguiling lyrics, propelled by a typical Smokey oxymoronic metaphor: "I look happy but I'm sad" beautifully expressed in typically clever Smokey rhymes but summed up by the classic guitar intro by Marv Tarplin himself, perhaps (even including "My Girl" - another Smokey number) the greatest intro in all pop music. Apart from the fact that the guitar picks out a tune that anticipates the main vocal melody of the song, what makes it is that, in the second line, Tarplin has not cleanly held down a fret on his guitar, thereby committing a technical musical error. Whether deliberate or not, this perfectly illustrates the damaged relationship between Smokey and his ex, his thwarted love, further flawed by the fact that he's now going out with someone else even though he loves her still.
And there's that exquisite middle eight:
Outside I'm masquerading inside my hope is fading I'm just a clown since you put me down my smile is my make up I wear since my break-up with you.