Every Halloween, I like to post a horror-themed Top Ten. In recent years, I've done My Top Ten Frankenstein Songs, My Top Ten Vampire Songs, My Top Ten Haunted Songs and My Top Ten Zombie Songs (although for some reason, I didn't post that one at Halloween). I was going to do werewolves this year, but it turns out there's something much scarier out there at the moment... and I don't mean Donald Trump. Louise has even made us buy new curtains in case we glance out and see one of these stood in our garden. And so, as a special Halloween treat, I bring you My Top Ten Clown Songs. Let's be careful out there...
Special mention to the scariest clown you'll ever hear: Harpo's Rock 'n' Roll Clown. Now I wouldn't want to meet him on a dark night.
Second special mention to the weirdest threesome in rock history... Joni Mitchell, Tom Petty and... Billy Idol: Dancin' Clown.
Final special mention to Insane Clown Posse. They're supposed to be scary, but I think they're hilarious.
Other fine clowns who were in the running include Elvis Costello (three times, actually), Neil Diamond, Admiral Fallow, Toby Keith, The Cocteau Twins, Jimmy Webb, Brett Anderson, Grand National, Status Quo and Manfred Mann... obviously. Yes, I could have done a Top 20, but I don't do those anymore.
Here's the clowns that did make the circus...
10. The Replacements - Lay It Down, Clown
Let's set the pace, shall we? In case you think this Top Ten's gonna be full of big shoes, cars with their wheels falling off and custard pies in the face. Here's Paul Westerberg's switchblade-carrying clown, angry that rumours keep spreading all over town...
9. Malcolm Middleton - Crappo The Clown
And don't come to Malcolm Middleton looking for a red nose either. A broken nose, maybe...
Two people left in my world
One of them's a dick, can you guess who it is?
Can you win a prize?
Malcolm Middleton: he can destroy hope. Me, I find him perversely hilarious (but in a very different way to Insane Clown Posse).
This is the world we live in now, Turin Brakes. I picked up two of your albums (and one by Counting Crows), at 'three for a quid' in the local charity shop the other week. That said, I liked them enough that I might pay full price for the next one.
Last clown, drinking in a bar that's about to be closed down7. Warren Zevon - Something Bad Happened To A Clown
A hero, I was in people's plans I was shaking their hands
I got lost in the world, slow motion walking and diatribe talking
As bad as things be, I'm a natural survivor
By the time you reach the end of this list, you'll realise there's not one happy clown in sight. No wonder they all end up turning bad...
He used to honk his horn and everyone would laugh6. Idlewild - Like A Clown
He used to honk his horn
She doesn't think he's very funny anymore
Footprints in the sawdust leading to the edge of town
Something bad happened to a clown
Great track from last year's "comeback" album, Everything Ever Written.
The typical code of conduct5. Everly Brothers - Cathy's Clown
At the international clown hall of fame
Not to smile until you've painted on your smile
You go looking for laughter
Yeah, you could be another poet like John Crowe Ransom, Whitman or Hart Crane
All those words you leave behind
Will fit together in time
Like a clown
You'll do anything for fame
Tell me did you ever meet another clown
Who said I'll be around for you now?
Don't want your love anymoreThe best opening Phil & Don ever wrote. It sold 8 million copies on 7" alone. John Lennon copied the vocal arrangement on Please Please Me.
Don't want your kisses, that's for sure...
Aussie band You Am I wrote an entirely different song with the same title. That didn't quite sell 8 million.
4. Dave Davies - Death of a Clown
Dave Davies' only real solo hit (though I have featured one of his other, less successful, solo singles here before) is a resigned shrug towards the circus-like life of a touring rock star, co-written with Ray.
3. Ron Sexsmith - Clown In Broad Daylight
One of my favourites from Ron, although the live acoustic Ron-cam recreation above isn't as good as the album version. Great lyrics though...
Everything is alright for against the backdrop of ordinary life2. Judy Collins - Send In The Clowns
It's the easy laugh that gets you through
Your working day and the hogwash
Sad but true, he's a clown in broad daylight
One of the saddest songs ever written. Hence it's been recorded by everybody from Frank Sinatra to Grace Jones, Lou Rawls to Madonna. I'm particularly fond of Mark Kozelek's latest version (not the one on youtube), but Judy's is the definitive recording. The song was written by Stephen Sondheim for the musical A Little Night Music, and he claims it's not literally about circus clowns: just fools like us.
1. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles - Tears of a Clown
And this is why Smokey Robinson is a god. Just listen to these lyrics: in a chirpy pop song, for Smokey's sake!
Just like Pagliacci didThe music was written by Stevie Wonder who couldn't come up with a decent lyric so took it to the Motown Christmas party and played it to Smokey in the hope he'd come up with something. He did.
I try to keep my surface hid
Smiling in the crowd I try
But in a lonely room I cry
The tears of a clown
Tears of a Clown is also one of the only pop songs to feature a bassoon. More on that here.
There are those who will tell you that The Beat's version is better, but they are men of a certain age (i.e. about 5-10 years older than me) and though it's a fine opinion I respect greatly... I must disagree.
Which one honks your horn?