Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – The Tracks of My Tears

Smokey has one of the smoothest voices I ever heard. On top of that, he is one of the top songwriters of popular music. Bob Dylan called him “America’s greatest living poet.” and John Lennon was heavily influenced by him. The song peaked at #16 (only 16???) in the Billboard 100 and #9 in the UK in 1965.

Miracles members Smokey Robinson, Warren Moore, and Marv Tarplin wrote this song. Robinson penned the lyrics; Tarplin, The Miracles’ guitarist, came up with the riff. Tarplin got the idea for the music after listening to a calypso tune: Harry Belafonte’s “The Banana Boat Song (Day-O).”

From Songfacts

One of the most gut-wrenching songs on record, this one is about a man who tries to hide his pain, but cannot conceal the tracks made by his tears. He has come out of a relationship with the love of his life, and the song is his confession to her that his high spirits are just an act and she’s the only one for him, or perhaps what he wants to tell her but can’t.

Miracles leader Smokey Robinson came up with the concept when he was looking in the mirror one day, and thinking, What if a person would cry so much that you could see tracks of their tears in their face?

Robinson recalled: “‘Tracks of My Tears’ was actually started by Marv Tarplin, who is a young cat who plays guitar for our act. So he had this musical thing [sings melody], you know, and we worked around with it, and worked around, and it became ‘Tracks of My Tears.'”

Robinson had the music Tarplin wrote on a cassette, but it took him about six months to write the lyrics. The words started coming together when he came up with the line, “Take a good look at my face, you see my smile looks out of place.” From there, it was a few days before he got the lines, “If you look closer it’s easy to trace… my tears.”

What to do with those tears was a problem, as he wanted to say something no one has said about tears. In a 2006 interview with NPR, he explained that he finally came up with the image of tears leaving lasting marks, and the song came together. “One day I was listening, and it just came – the tracks of my tears,” said Robinson. “Like footprints on my face. So that was what I wrote about.”

Four different artists have charted with this song in America. Johnny Rivers had the biggest hit, taking it to #10 in 1967. Two of the most acclaimed female vocalists of their time, Aretha Franklin and Linda Ronstadt, also charted covers, Franklin’s making #71 in 1969 and Ronstadt’s going to #25 in 1976.

Other notable versions of this song include renditions by Go West in 1993 and Adam Lambert in 2009.

When he first recorded this song with The Miracles, Robinson left out the last chorus, fading it out on the “I need you, I need you” line. He was convinced to end on the chorus when he played the song at one of the famous Monday morning meetings at Motown, where songs were scrutinized by their team.

Robinson wrote a similar song a few weeks later called “My Girl Has Gone,” which was released as the next Miracles single.

Motown head Berry Gordy has said that this song represents Smokey Robinson’s best work.

The song was popular among American soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War, which is reflected in the 1986 Oliver Stone movie Platoon, where the song is used.

Other films to feature the song include The Big Chill (1983), The Walking Dead (1995) and Bobby (2006). TV series to used the song include The Wonder Years and Wife Swap.

Tracks Of My Tears

People say I’m the life of the party
Because I tell a joke or two
Although I might be laughing loud and hearty
Deep inside I’m blue
So take a good look at my face
You’ll see my smile looks out of place

If you look closer, it’s easy to trace
The tracks of my tears
I need you, need you
Since you left me if you see me with another girl
Seeming like I’m having fun
Although she may be cute

She’s just a substitute
Because you’re the permanent one
So take a good look at my face
You’ll see my smile looks out of place
If you look closer, it’s easy to trace
The tracks of my tears

I need you, need you
Outside I’m masquerading
Inside my hope is fading
Just a clown oh yeah
Since you put me down
My smile is my make up

I wear since my break up with you
So take a good look at my face
You’ll see my smile looks out of place
If you look closer, it’s easy to trace
The tracks of my tears

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

11 thoughts on “Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – The Tracks of My Tears”

  1. The original is the best. Linda Ronstadt is second. Adam Lambert did a sweet version of it. I remember Rivers version and, as well as it did, I keep expecting the song to go into a ‘Poor Side of Town’ riff. Aretha, no. She is an awesome singer but, she trashes this…to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My favorite Smokey and The Miracles song and on the shortlist of favorite Motown hits. Saw Smokey once- and learned a life lesson that I’ve never forgotten from that evening.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I got my friend “Helmet” to go- he didn’t care one way or another but I wanted to see Smokey- I was young and dumb at the time- and we were standing outside waiting for the doors to open and I was holding my tickets in my hand -to my side and someone came up and snatched them right out of my hands. We went all the way up there- so I bought two more tickets and we saw Smokey. From that point on I keep the tickets in my pocket until I have to get them out- funny every time I go to a ballgame or concert- I think back on that.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It wasn’t fun at the time- I was 20 I think and not rolling in the cash. The tickets were probably 15 each- but it felt like a fortune at the time–but in the long run- a life lesson learned. Life in the big city.

        Liked by 1 person

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