Single of the week

The Tears Of A Clown (Smokey Robinson & The Miracles)

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“People always commented on the tall one with the glasses, he was personable, approachable and he loved talking to the women. He also loved to talk to the guys, he loved to dance, love to sing and loved to perform, that was the joy of his life”, so said Smokey Robinson’s wife Claudette on hearing of the death of her cousin Bobby Rogers from the Miracles just three weeks ago.

Smokey Robinson added, “Another soldier in my life has fallen, he was my brother and a really good friend. We were born on the exact same day in the same hospital in Detroit. I’m really going to miss him very much.”

Bobby and Smokey formed the Miracles in 1954, originally as the Matadors, but when Claudette joined, it was considered too masculine so they changed the name to the Miracles. They were the first group to be signed to Tamla Motown and although they had a succession of hits in America, Shop Around, You Really Got a Hold on Me and Mickey’s Monkey, none of them charted in the UK, their first top 10 was The Tracks of My Tears in 1969. Clearly prior to that the British record buying public preferred the harder edge of The Four Tops, The Temptations and The Supremes.

Their next hit was over a year later and did even better when The Tears Of A Clown, or The Ears Of A Clown as one edition on the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles listed it, went to top the chart, but how did that song come about?

Well, in 1967, Stevie Wonder and Motown producer Hank Cosby came up with the music and they recorded an instrumental demo and asked Smokey Robinson to complete the song. It was quite common for Motown writers to work on each other’s songs at the time.

Smokey listened to the song for a few days and decided it sounded like a circus, and came up with the lyrics based on the clown. “I was trying to think of something that would be significant, that would touch people’s hearts, but still

be dealing with the circus,” he said. “So what is that? Pagliacci, of course, the clown who cries. And after he makes everyone else happy with the smile painted on his face, then he goes into his dressing room and cries because he’s sad. That was the key.”

A variety of instruments were used to create the circus sound including a bassoon and a piccolo which were played by the appropriately named Jim Horn. He had played saxophone on albums by The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys and U2 among others. The line, ‘Just like Pagliacci did, I try to keep my sadness hid’ was nicked from a another song Smokey had co-written in 1964 called My Smile Is Just A Frown (Turned Upside Down) and was recorded by another Motown singer, Carolyn Crawford.

Smokey left the Miracles for a solo career in 1972 being replaced by Billy Griffin. Although Smokey’s career took time to get going, he was rewarded with a number one in 1981, Being With You. The Tears Of A Clown was covered in 1979 as the debut hit by The Beat.

In the 2000s, Smokey made a variety of television guest appearances, including a brief stint as a judge on American Idol. On one particular show he sang The Tears of a Clown and received a standing ovation. He also had an acting role on the American sitcom One on One and in 2004 he branched out into the frozen food business through his company SFGL, which manufactured a brand of gumbo, pot roast and red beans & rice. In 2005, he became more experimental when he returned to music with a new album called Food for the Spirit which was aimed at the gospel community and followed it a year later with Timeless classics which was a collection of jazz standards.

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Kiss Me (Sixpence None The Richer)

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So many myths that too many believe; Rod Stewart played harmonica on My Boy Lollipop. Rubbish! It was Pete Hogman. Mama Cass choked to death on a ham sandwich. Rubbish! She died of heart failure brought on by the effects of obesity and crash dieting. Roy Orbison was blind. Rubbish! His eyesight was fine, he just preferred dark glasses. Sixpence none The Richer’s hit Kiss Me is about two lesbians. Rubbish. Read on.

Sixpence None The Richer, who took their name from the C.S. Lewis story Mere Christianity, were based in Austin, Texas and comprised lead singer Leigh Nash, bassist Justin Cary, guitarist Sean Kelly, guitarist Matt Slocum and Dale Barker on drums. Their beginnings came in 1991 after Nash and Slocum met at a church the two attended in New Braunfels, Texas. Nash grew up listening to Patsy Cline and other country music, and started singing in church as a youth. Whilst en route to church, Slocum gave Nash a tape of a song he had written. Nash recalled in a 1994 interview with The Light-house magazine, “We were on this church bus, and he came back and asked me to listen to Trust which was on this little demo tape, with this other person singing on it, and he just wanted to know what I thought of it. And, of course, I loved it.”

They originally made music for the Christian market. Their debut album, The Fatherless and the Widow, won the group a Dove Award which is the Christian equivalent of a Grammy.

They changed labels a couple of times and in 1997 signed with Squint records and after a year of focused promotion and touring, they released a track from the album called Kiss Me. “It’s pretty crazy,” recalled Leigh on the song’s origins. “Matt wrote that song overseas. At the time he was reading some Dylan Thomas poetry, and I think he just started writing that song, and the words were a little different, the song was a little bit darker, but it was basically the same song, and we performed it the very night he wrote it.”

The song was a slow burner showing little sign of life for a few weeks until, in 1998, the producer of Dawson’s Creek plucked the song and had it used at a pivotal moment during a passionate scene in the TV show. That was enough for the song to make an appearance at the lower end of the Billboard Hot 100, but dropped off after only one week. In January 1999, the song was heard again this time in the romantic comedy film She’s All That which saw a cameo appearance by Usher. With the exposure in the film and another appearance in Dawson’s Creek  the following April, radio typically jumped on the bandwagon and the song climbed the US and the UK charts where it spent six weeks at number two there, kept off by TLC’s No Scrubs, Cher’s Believe and Ricky Martin’s Livin’ La Vida Loca, and number four over here. During 1999 it was the most-played song on the radio in 11 different countries including the UK, Canada, Japan, Australia and even Israel. In June of 1999 the BBC used the song as a closing theme during its broadcast coverage of Prince Edward’s Royal wedding.

Where the myth about the song being about two lesbians is anyone’s guess! It’s a simple love song about a couple meeting for the first time and starting a lovey dovey relationship. However, the video is a pastiche of a 1962 film by François Truffaut called Jules et Jim which tells the story of a tortured relationship between two mates and a woman they meet and it is set in Paris, so even that should have put paid to the rumours. If it had been written by a woman, then it would be more of a possibility.

After all that effort, things got harder for the band. They didn’t know what to do for a follow up. They’d ridden on the success of that single for so long and they didn’t feel that any other track on the album would make an appropriate follow-up, so instead they went with a cover of a song they’d been using for ages on tour and it was a lightweight version of the LA’s 1989 hit There She Goes. So what did Leigh make of it all? “It feels kind of surreal,” she explained in Billboard in 2000. “We’ve been together so long and have worked so hard for this, and now, I don’t really know what to think about it all, it just all happened so fast.” The album was re-issued to include the track which earned them some more money, but enough was enough and the band split in 2004.

Leigh Nash released some really good solo singles with Angel Tonight being one of her best, but lack of promotion failed to make it chart. Matt formed a new band, The Choir and guested as a guitarist and/or cellist with a number of up and coming American acts including Julie Miller, Wes King, Plumb, Switchfoot, Hammock, and Dividing the Plunder.

In 2007 they reunited albeit just Matt, Leigh and Justin, and released the My Dear Machine EP. They toured Europe and a Christmas-themed track entitled The Dawn of Grace arrived in time for Christmas 2008. The following year they signed with Credential Records and the album Strange Conversation was scheduled for the 2010, but the label had problems and the album was delayed until August 2012 when appeared under its new title, Lost in Transition.

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You Could Be Happy (Snow Patrol)

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Sometimes beautiful, gentle and heart-warming songs never really get the recognition they deserve because, they are either not promoted properly, lack airplay or are just tucked away on an album that, unless you’re a fan of that act, are unlikely to hear. This is true of You Could Be Happy by Snow Patrol which is to be found on their 2006 chart-topping album, Eyes Open.

The song is reminiscent of I Don’t Love You by My Chemical Romance from their album, The Black Parade which came out later the same year. There is nothing complicated about this song, but just a subject that most of us can relate to about loving someone so much it hurts. Growing close together and in a nice way, depending on each other and then for some reason something happens, which you can’t always understand, and it all falls apart and then you have to part.

Snow Patrol formed in Dundee in 1994 and compris; Gary Lightbody on lead vocals and guitar, Jonny Quinn on drums, Nathan Connolly on guitar, Paul Wilson on bass, Tom Simpson on keyboards, and Johnny McDaid on piano. They released three singles on three different labels which were all unsuccessful and then in 2002 their fortunes changed and they signed to Polydor records. They gained commercial status with the album the Final Straw the following year that eventually sold over three million copies and included the singles Spitting Games, Chocolate and Run. In 2006 Eyes Open became the biggest selling album of the year with over six million sales and all helped by the single Chasing Cars which, to date, has spent 113 weeks on the singles chart.

The whole context of You Could Be Happy is to say a final goodbye to someone you cared so much about knowing deep in your heart that there is no way it will ever work. He wants her to know that he wants her to be happy even thought realistically he wants it to be with him, but it will never be. The lyric, ‘Do the things you always wanted to do without me there to hold you back’ is perhaps an admission that he felt he was controlling her but now she can have the best life, but sadly it’s not with him.

The television companies never fail to spot a song’s potential. In American Open your Eyes was used in the television shows Grey’s Anatomy and ER and You Could Be Happy was no exception as that was used in the television series Smallville which is based on, and uses the characters from Superman. It has also been used on Australian television for trailers for soap Neighbours and appeared in the finale of the second season of BBC sitcom Gavin and Stacey.  In July 2006 Snow Patrol were the last performers on the penultimate Top Of The Pops too.

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Chasing Pavements (Adele)

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Many singer’s debut album’s are often their best because they had time to put the effort in before the record companies try and hurry them for a follow up. This applies especially if the songs are of lost love, broken romances or even a tribute to the dearly departed. Adele, always wanting to be in control, and quite rightly so, took her time with her second album, 21, which was all about an old romance and the hurt she felt and it proved more successful than anyone could have imagined with the phenomenal hits Rolling In The Deep, Set Fire To The Rain and Someone Like You. That said, it takes nothing away from her debut album, 19, which was full of the same sentiment and was also a chart topping album.

Adele was born Adele Laurie Blue Adkins in 1988 in Tottenham, north London and was brought up by her mother after her father walked out on her when she was two years old and she still has never forgiven him for that. When she was nine, the family moved to West Norwood in south London and one of her first songs she wrote, Hometown Glory, was about that new location.

Hometown Glory failed to chart first time around, so her record company, XL released, the track Chasing Pavements which, in January 2008, reached number two and spent 19 weeks on the chart. In America it peaked at number 21, but might have got higher if it had more airplay because according to the Daily Mail the single had been banned by several radio stations because it was perceived that the meaning of the title was referring to the singer chasing gay men. In 2009, Clayton Perry interviewed Adele and this is what she said it was really about, “I had a fight in a club once with the boy the album’s about, and then I ran off down the street. It was really late – it was six in the morning and I’d gone into this bar where my ex was drinking and punched him in the face.” She was then thrown out of the bar and began walking away alone. “There was no one chasing me,” she continued, “And I wasn’t chasing anyone, I was just running away. I remember saying to myself, ‘What you’re chasing is an empty pavement.’ It’s a metaphor. It’s impossible to chase a pavement but I was chasing that pavement.”

She began singing some words into her mobile phone and then arranged the song when she got home. “It’s me being hopeful for a relationship that’s very much over,” she reflected, “The sort of relationship you hate when you’re in it, but miss when you’re not.” The week the song entered the chart, Adele said in the Sun newspaper that it was about splitting up with her ex and having her heart broken for the first time. She added, “That song is about should I give up or should I just keep trying to run after you when there’s nothing there? I was only with him for four months but when I signed my record deal I had to write an album, and as I hardly had any songs, I wrote about him.”

What helped the song so quickly was, apart from the exposure on the Jonathan Ross show, the soap Hollyoaks aired it three times, firstly in a concluding scene of Hannah Ashworth’s anorexia, secondly in a beginning scene of Charlie

Dean’s custody battle and finally in a scene showing Dominic Reilly reflecting on Tina McQueen talking to him.

In the US, she won her first two Grammy’s where the song won her Best Pop Female Vocal and Best New Artist of 2008 too. Over there it has also sold 1.5m copies so far.

The accompanying video was directed by Mathew Cullen and, despite being shot in Los Angeles, it actually focuses on a car crash in a white Peugeot in London’s Hyde Park. It depicts two different points of view firstly of the real world in which the car’s occupants are lying motionless on the pavement after the accident, and the scene during the chorus has the camera above them looking down. Adele is seen in the first view, inside a car with a man. She sings before getting out of the car and walking past a group of people who are running towards the crash victims. She continues singing till the end and closes with the victims being taken away on stretchers. The other one is where the couple come to life and move as if standing up. The couple appear to re-enact their relationship from the start. They appear to be content again, but it is short-lived after he discovers that she had taken another lover. She writes something on a piece of paper and when the man reads it, he is angered, but forgives her and they begin rekindling the passion they had before the crash.

In 2009 the real ‘boyfriend’ demanded a slice of the royalties from 19 after learning several of the tracks were inspired by their break-up. Adele told The Sun newspaper, “For about a week he was calling and was deadly serious about it. Finally, I said, ‘Well, you made my life hell, so I lived it and now I deserve it.’ He really thought he’d had some input into the creative process by being a prick. I’ll give him this credit – he made me an adult and put me on the road that I’m travelling.”

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Frontier Psychiatrist (The Avalanches)

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A certain generation will bang on about ‘today’s music’ not being anything original, well back in 2001 they may have had a point if they’d heard the new debut album, Since I Left You by the Avalanches which comprised totally of samples.

The Avalanches were originally called the Alarm 115 when they got together in Melbourne in 1994 and were Robbie Chater and Darren Seltmann . Their first four shows were performed under the variously named bands Swinging Monkey Cocks, Quentin’s Brittle Bones, and Whoops Downs Syndrome. It was at their fifth gig that they chose the name the Avalanches taken from an obscure 60s surfing song called Ski Surfing with the Avalanches by an American band with the same name.

By 1995 they were fed up playing punk music to small audiences and so they recruited Tony Diblasi, Gordon McQuilten and DJ Dexter Fabay to create sample-driven music leaning towards funk. “Our music is about finding the beauty in what people throw away,” described by Chater, “A lot of sample based music is really lazy and I guess we have a point to prove and want to put it on a par with traditional songwriting.”

The debut single, the title track, reached number 16 in April 2001. Q magazine described it as ‘The most dazzling record of its kind since DJ Shadow’s Entroducing some five years earlier. The Austin Chronicle in Texas claimed it was ‘hands down the best example of the sheer giddy pleasure of turntablist art you’ve likely ever heard’. Matthew Horton, said in his book 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, ‘It is microcosm—busy, daft, composed of countless unconnected parts, yet somehow entirely natural as a whole.’

Some ‘samples’ on the album came about by accident, Robbie explained, “I guess the last six months, once we had sort of finished the main part of recording, we went back and listened to what we had, and there’s lots of great little moments that we thought maybe should be on there, and they ended up being bridges between the tracks, even if they weren’t finished songs. Frontier Psychiatrist was a good example of something we didn’t plan and just happened from us just fucking around.”

Frontier Psychiatrist starts with horse neighing noises followed by dialogue which comes from the John Waters film Polyester, followed by Maurice Jarre’s overture from Lawrence of Arabia. Other verbs came from Canadian comedians Wayne and Shuster. “They used to appear on the Ed Sullivan show in the US.” remembered Chater, “I have an old spoken word comedy record of theirs and it has a track/sketch called Frontier Psychiatrist. The plot of this is an outlaw who comes into town and shoots people, the Frontier Psychiatrist intervenes, cures the outlaws neuroses, so he is a “well adjusted cowboy”. The outlaw leaves the saloon greeting everyone cheerfully instead of shooting them, and then the Sheriff shoots him. The psychiatrist questions why the Sheriff shot him, and whole cycle begins again.” There is a parrot in there too. DJ Dexter reveals where the parrot came from, “It was a record by a Christian lady who talks about finding religion through animals. It’s actually her doing the voice of a parrot.” All of this is set to an orchestral background plucked from obscurity and features the Enoch Light version of the composition My Way of Life from 1968 and was composed by Bert Kaempfert, Herbert Rehbein and Carl Sigman.

The album was produced by Bobbydazzler which was an alias for Robbie Chater and Darren Seltmann. Only the comedians and the parrot were credited on the album sleeve but I can reveal the other uncredited samples include golfing instructions, Christianity records and Reading for the Blind tapes.

The song’s video was directed by Kuntz and Maguire and features various characters re-enacting and playing various elements of the track, including vocal samples, violins, horns and drums.

Their sound impressed many artists who willingly gave their permission for their music to be sampled, this included Madonna who let them use a riff from Holiday and Jimmy Webb for By The Time I Get To Phoenix.  The Manic Street Preachers and Badly Drawn Boy have both commissioned the boys to remix their tracks and in the early days, they supported Public Enemy at a concert in Australia and that was enough for Flavor Flav from the group to take them under his wing and manage them properly.

They’ve never been forthcoming with too much new product although they did announce in 2007 that they had recorded approximately 40 new tracks and were very hip-hop based. At the beginning of 2012 a few musician who had been working with the band had revealed on their own Twitter accounts what they had been doing and once of the tracks was Called Frank Sinatra, although it has yet to materialise.

However in August 2012, a demo of a new track entitled A Cowboy Overflow of the Heart was released and it featured the musician David Berman reading a poem he composed over music by The Avalanches.

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