"Tears of a Clown," the last number one hit for Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, reached the top of the charts in the fall of 1970. If the song sounds more like prime Smokey & the Miracles than a last gasp, there's a reason for it -- the song was first released as an album track in 1967, when the group was still near the peak of its powers. In retrospect, it's hard to see why it wasn't immediately released as a single, since it's about as perfect as Robinson -- or Motown, for that matter -- ever got. "Tears of a Clown" achieves an ideal blend of song, performance, and production; it's impossible to think of the song without hearing Robinson's voice or the impeccable arrangement, which positively crackles with lovely little touches like the isolated bassoon note in the main riff. This is what the Motown sound was -- catchy, fun, propulsive, and deceptively intricate. As a matter of fact, it so perfectly encapsulated everything Motown was about that ABC essentially borrowed this arrangement for its 1987 tribute "When Smokey Sings." However, "Tears of a Clown" retains its punch when it's stripped from its quintessential Motown arrangement, thanks to the brilliant, tight writing. For instance, on the English Beat's wonderful ska revision -- possibly the most radical reworking of the song -- the essence remains the same, thanks to the song's structure: the carnival-esque opening refrain, the soaring medley, and Robinson's deft lyrics. Even on lesser covers, the brilliance of the writing shines through, which is testament to what a fine song "Tears of a Clown" really is. And even though the English Beat delivered a splendid cover, it doesn't top Smokey & the Miracles' original -- which isn't only one of their best singles, it's one of the best singles Motown ever released.