Friday, 28 October 2016

My Top Ten Clown Songs

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).

8. Turin Brakes - Last Clown

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 down
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
7. Warren Zevon - Something Bad Happened To A Clown

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 laugh
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
6. Idlewild - Like A Clown

Great track from last year's "comeback" album, Everything Ever Written.
The typical code of conduct
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?
5. Everly Brothers - Cathy's Clown
Don't want your love anymore
Don't want your kisses, that's for sure...
The best opening Phil & Don ever wrote. It sold 8 million copies on 7" alone. John Lennon copied the vocal arrangement on Please Please Me.

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 life
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
2. Judy Collins - Send In The Clowns

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 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
The 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.

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?


  1. Of course, I would have Costello in there somewhere (probably a live version of Clowntime is Over done with the TKO Horns), but your top five is impossible to knock. This scary clown phenomenon is as stupid as it gets, but I'm happy to learn from you that it isn't just another dumb American thing.

    I may never get this chance again. So, I'm taking this moment to recommend 'Shakes the Clown.' The Boston Herald called it "the Citizen Kane of alcoholic clown movies." Seriously.

    1. Costello has his turn around here more than most, but when I listened back to his various clown songs, I couldn't find one that leapt out. A TKO horns version would do it though!

      I'll keep an eye out for Shakes: sounds fun!

  2. Brian's right, that top 5 is impeccable, but I too would've had to include Costello somewhere in the equation.

  3. Three Turin Brakes Albums for a quid? An absolute outrage! Cracking top 10; I've missed a few

    1. Well, two and a free Counting Crows album. Maybe not so much of an outrage.

  4. Replies
    1. Quick - change the name of the blog!

  5. Very good indeed, as ever - I still have memories of Leo Sayer performing dressed as a clown back in the day. Deeply disturbing even then. Then there's the "Clowns to the left of them, jokers to the right" lyric which translates well to a roadsign joke!

    1. Leo wasn't as disturbing as Harpo.

      Stuck In The Middle - one of my favourites. But there were so many with clown in the title this week, I didn't have to delve into the lyrics.

    2. Also the joke about the ushers at Gerry Rafferty's funeral - clowns to the left, jokers to the right

    3. Sadly, Bob Holness will not be able to attend. I wonder which side he'd have sat on?

  6. Clowns, like rainy days and Mondays, always get me down.

    Send in the clowns should be amazing but it is rarely well done. I prefer Frank.

    Can I add culture club 'that's the way' for a fantastic first line and Helen Terry's voice?

    1. I was discussing my long-held, somewhat irrational aversion to Culture Club over on another blog ( this weekend. But I'll let you have that, because the lyrics are pretty cool.


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