Tuesday, July 13, 2010

July 13: The Miracles, "The Tracks Of My Tears"

Artist: The Miracles
Song: "The Tracks Of My Tears"
Album: Going To A Go-Go
Year: 1965

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Though one can easily make the case that no single member of a band is larger than the group as a whole, there are a number of instances where if a specific member of the group is removed, the group in question would have a great deal of trouble finding success.  When one takes this idea to the "Motown Era," it becomes harder to support, as a majority of the groups were so talented, that one could argue the "replacability" of nearly every performer.  However, there is one man who not only defined his own group, but in many ways defined the entire Motown era, and while many do not know the name William Robinson, there are few people on the planet who do not know the name "Smokey" Robinson.  Along with the rest of his group, The Miracles, he was part of more than fifty Top Forty hits throughout the 1960's, and he also penned some of the most memorable songs of the era.  The Miracles alone had more that forty of these hits, and looking at the groups' catalog is much like looking at the back of a "Best Of Motown" compilation.  From classics like "Ooh Baby Baby" to "You Really Got A Hold On Me," there are few groups with as impressive a catalog as The Miracles, yet their biggest hit can be found on their 1965 album, Going To A Go-Go.  In many ways summing up the unparalleled talent within the group and standing as one of the defining songs of the "Motown Sound," there are few songs that bring the power and beauty that one finds in The Miracles 1965 single, "The Tracks Of My Tears."

When one considers the most well-known guitar riffs of all time, most do not look to the Motown era, as that period is far better known for its amazing vocal and lyrical contributions.  However, in the case of "The Tracks Of My Tears," the opening guitar refrain is without question one of the most memorable ever composed.  Truth be told, it was this riff, played by Marv Tarplin, around which the song was composed.  After this brief, beautiful intro, the song drops into something far more resembling the classic "Motown sound," yet the music as a whole stays rather reserved, with little more than the guitar and a small rhythm section appearing on the track.  Though the verses seem sparse insofar as instrumentation is concerned, as one expects from The Funk Brothers, it is no less powerful, and the amount of soul and energy the group is able to inject into the somewhat softer arrangement is no less stunning than any of their other work.  When the horns kick in at the choruses of "The Tracks Of My Tears," the song seems to almost overflow with emotion, and it almost creates a somewhat strange "tension/release" quality to the song.  "Tracks Of My Tears" is also musically significant as it is one of the few Motown songs that placed the tambourine as a prominent part of the music, and it is the ability to make this instrument sound so grand that defines the true talents of The Funk Brothers.

While it is hard to claim that anything could outshine the sensational musical performance of The Funk Brothers, on "The Tracks Of My Tears," some of the most well-known and influential vocals in history were recorded. With Smokey Robinson taking the lead vocals throughout, the song remains the defining song of The Miracles and instantly solidified Robinson as one of the most iconic voices to ever record.  Bringing a smooth, somewhat relaxed approach to his singing of the verses, Robinson saves up his stunning power for the chorus sections of the song.  Throughout "The Tracks Of My Tears," Robinson uses the entire vocal scale, and his ability to reach the highest notes in the music register remains largely unrivaled to this day.  Perfectly complimenting his vocal work, one would be hard pressed to find more memorable lyrics than are found on "The Tracks Of My Tears," and the song is without question one of Robinson's finest compositions.  Though nearly every line on the song has become iconic, there are few lyrics ever written that so perfectly capture the emotion of a broken heart than when Robinson sings, "...my smile is my make-up I wear since my break up with you..."  The raw, honest feelings which Robinson conveys throughout the song remain just as powerful today as they did decades ago, and this is the true "magic" behind "The Tracks Of My Tears."

Strangely enough, though it is one of the most iconic songs in history, and was released in the heart of Motown's "Golden Era," when "The Tracks Of My Tears" hit record stores, it did not even crack the Top Ten on the singles charts, and it was not even The Miracles most successful single.  However, the song represents just how extraordinary a song can become when the music and singing "click," and "The Tracks Of My Tears" also puts on display how to properly "balance" vocals versus music on a song.  With The Funk Brothers composing one of their more reserved, yet unquestionably moving songs, "The Tracks Of My Tears" proves the power of subtlety, and one can also hear playing from The Detroit Symphony Orchestra on the song.  Over the decades, everyone from Dolly Parton to Bryan Ferry to Soul Asylum have recorded versions of "The Tracks Of My Tears," but regardless of how good a performance they may have given, no other version has ever come close to the sound and energy found on the original.  This is likely due to the "closeness" to the track that there surely was within the performance of Smokey Robinson, and though the track certainly would not have been as good without the rest of The Miracles, it is hard to argue that it is not Robinson's work that makes the song what it has become over the decades.  Remaining one of, if not the definitive Motown song, there are few recordings of any genre that can compare to the power and emotion found on The Miracles monumental 1965 single, "The Tracks Of My Tears."

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