America had just put its first group of troops on Vietnam ground and another Ranger lunar probe proved that the moon isn’t made of cheese, but heartache is timeless, especially when Smokey Robinson’s on the task. Arguably his masterpiece, Robinson came up with the lyrics for “Tracks of My Tears” while shaving, working out the tears metaphor in the mirror and eventually dropping the true blue track on this June day in 1965.
Paired with a classic Motown hook from co-writer Marv Tamplin, and glistening brass in all the right bittersweet places, Robinson found a way to cut through the bullshit of a white-picket fence American smile to get to the real deal cathartics, The Miracles’ harmonies providing the fingersnap swoon. The Who’s Pete Townshend was so enamored with the way Robinson cast the “substitute” lover character he wrote a song about it.
In that same interview where he revealed the song’s ‘shaving’ inception, Robinson spoke a bit about his philosophy on the moment love meets lyric:
I know there’s no new subjects. There’s no new words. There are no new chords. No new notes. There are no new anything. All this stuff has been around for thousands of years. Whatever language you speak, has been going on for thousands of years. So you’re not going to get any new words to put in a song. But the best way that I can think of to write a song, for me personally, is ‘how can I say I love you differently than it’s been said to you before?
No need to bottle them tears, people, the story’s in the tracks:
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