Classic Music Review: The Dave Clark Five, The Hits

The+Dave+Clark+Five+-+The+Hits+-+CD+ALBUM-449321

Ever since I posted the video of The Dave Clark Five doing “Bits and Pieces” as part of my review of Joan Jett’s I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll, I’ve been troubled, my friends. Troubled. 

The awkward, stiff, mechanical choreography of the band members disturbed me, especially when combined with the Nazi-like echoes from all that boot-stomping. Something told me this was more than an aversion to canned presentations or echoes of a past life under Hitler, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why it bothered me so much. After weeks of angst and frustration, I decided to consult the one source that explains everything you need to know in life.

Star Trek!

I found my answer in the TNG episode, “Data’s Day,” in the scene where Beverly tries to teach Data how to dance. He is mechanical, robotic, awkward. Even after he stops stepping on her toes, his smile is frozen, arctic, exaggerated. Just like The Dave Clark Five on “Bits and Pieces!”

Aha! The Dave Clark Five were androids!

Well, not the whole band. I think Mike Smith was the real one, controlling the androids from a strategically-placed position through his cleverly-disguised keyboard while giving the band a more terrestrial sound so they could more easily winnow their way into the hearts of millions of innocent, pubescent young ladies. I’ll go even further and provocatively suggest that The Dave Clark Five were not the only products of cybernetic engineering to participate in the Invasion. Mass production of androids is the only viable explanation for why hundreds of British performers appeared out of nowhere at the exact same moment in history to conquer the music world. Evidence? You want evidence? How about “The Freddie?” No human with any sense of self-respect could have conceived of or done The Freddie! Watch this clip and listen to Freddie’s robotic voice, study the awkward dialogue between Freddie and Trini Lopez, and pay close attention to the obviously programmed dance movements:

I think I’m onto something here! I’ve done some serious research on that period of history and I know my stuff! The Sixties were the decade of powerful, top-secret cabals staffed with handsome secret agents like James Bond and Jim Phelps mixing exploding martinis for sinister foreigners to thwart their deep and diabolical plans to destroy our cherished, hard-won freedom! The CIA, KGB, MI5 and the IMF team had powers that even the most paranoid people haven’t begun to imagine. I mean, we’re talking about people who had super-advanced technology that they stole from the aliens they locked up in Area 51 so they could fake the moon landing and get the public to believe that JFK and Marilyn Monroe were dead when I know for a fact that neither of them died, but that they used JFK’s inheritance to buy a remote tropical island so they could drink daiquiris and fuck all the time because that’s what JFK wanted to do anyway and Marilyn, well, she swung both ways and JFK liked variety and so they brought along another woman and, according to a very reliable source who’s written over thirty books on the subject, that person was none other than Amelia Earhart! 

Well, if they could do all that, they could make android rock stars, couldn’t they? Couldn’t they?

I’ll let you chew on my brilliant conspiracy theory for a while and get back to The Dave Clark Five. Baby Boomers remember them as the band who posed the greatest threat to The Beatles’ dominance of the charts. My generation nevah hoid of da bums. Seriously. Millenials know and actually like The Beatles, find the The Rolling Stones quaint and amusing museum pieces, and those who listen to garage rock on Little Steven’s Underground Garage probably know early Kinks, Yardbirds and maybe Them. The DC5? Wasn’t that some kind of airplane?

This collection might help restore some of their former glory, especially if the listener is called away to attend to a house fire about halfway through the record. The Dave Clark Five: The Hits is . . . how shall I say it? . . . front-loaded. All the great stuff—and there was some great stuff—can be found on the first half of the collection, in the first dozen or so songs. After that, well . . . Here’s an actual transcript of my reactions to some of the turkeys that fill the remaining digital space:

  • “What the fuck?”
  • “Arggh! What was that?”
  • “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!”
  • “Oh, no—not that! They did that?”
  • And several renditions of my personal favorite: “Oh, for fuck’s sake!”

I’ll limit my more insightful comments to the hits up to and including “Over and Over,” leaving the rest for an appropriately obscene epitaph. The album kinda sorta tracks the U. K. hit order, but don’t expect much in terms of musical development on this journey. The Dave Clark Five in their prime were a solid rock band with a great lead singer in Mike Smith but with a very small sweet spot that kept shrinking as the years rolled by. What this collection manages to accomplish is to clearly delineate the two phases of the band. The first phase was their “The Beatles’ #1 Challenger” phase, a period of musical and financial success that lasted a couple of years. Their second, lengthier phase was a bizarre mix of soul, surf, country, sickeningly sappy and flat-out lousy that we’ll call their “What the Fuck?” stage.

It’s interesting that they remained popular in the U. K. through 1970. My dad was shocked to hear they did anything after 1966, and had pretty much the same reaction that I had to the second half of this record. Since he’s the one who gave his little girl a potty mouth by swearing voluminously during Giants games in the truly arctic winds of soon-to-be-history-thank-god Candlestick Park, I won’t bore you with the repetition of previously-used cuss words. I will, however, humbly and thankfully dedicate this review to my foul-mouthed father.

“Do You Love Me”: Every British band kicked off their careers with covers, usually of American R&B hits. This one was a particular favorite of those rampaging British in the years of invasion, recorded by such luminaries as Brian Poole and The Tremeloes and The Hollies. The original by The Contours was pretty rough for the Gidget era, even if it did pander to the mainstream by mentioning The Twist and The Mashed Potatoes. DC5’s version matches the energy of the original, as Mike Smith belts out a good, rough vocal and the three members without saxophones in their mouths provide enthusiastic response and background vocals. The only voice you don’t hear is that of Denis Payton, who played both alto and tenor sax. Let’s just say up front that Denis Payton will never be confused with John Coltrane.

“Glad All Over”: The monster hit that knocked The Beatles off the top of the charts (in the U. K., anyway) is simply one of the great rock ‘n’ roll songs of all time. A call-and-response song like “Do You Love Me,” this Clark-Smith piece is more disciplined and much more powerful. What accounts for the energy is a combination of Mike Smith’s confident vocal, Dave Clark’s neanderthal drum work and that inspired decision to split the opening lines of the chorus: “I’m feeling . . .” (BAM! BAM!) “GLAD/crash ALL OVER!” Goddamn if that isn’t one of the most exciting moments in all of rock! I also love the stop-stutter-stop crescendo at the end of the bridge, “I-I-will stay”with a slight touch of echo. The bass is fab, and Denny handles his rhythm sax part of four or five notes without a skip. They had to call it something, so they called it the Tottenham Sound, but it’s really Phil Spector with a British accent.

“Bits and Pieces”: I heard Joan Jett’s version before I heard the DC5’s, and have grown to love them both, as long as I don’t have to watch that performance on Top of the Pops. Joan’s is more sass, spit and gum-snapping indifference; Mike Smith’s is more “I’ve had it with this shit, woman!” Like “Glad All Over,” it opens with the drums, and like both preceding songs, it’s a call-and-response number (the snob who wrote the Wikipedia article on this song just had to refer to it as “antiphonal” to raise his cred with the Greek scholar community and raise his chances for entry into Oxford). Let’s see . . . drums as the centerpiece, call-and-response vocals, sax and guitar as rhythm instruments . . . do I detect a formula here? They would vary this formula only slightly through phase one, but they deserve credit for milking this formula for all it was worth.

“Can’t You See That She’s Mine”: Another Clark-Smith composition (with two lines pinched from Ray Charles’ “Sticks and Stones”), they vary the formula and let Mike Smith take center stage with a snappy organ, a knockout vocal with superbly slurred phrasing. They give Denny a shot at the saxophone solo, and sad to say, he blows it (Ha! I love my puns!). But I love this song—Mike Smith could extend those growls as well as anyone, the hallmark of a great rock singer.

“Everybody Knows (I Still Love You)”: This is one of the more interesting songs in their catalogue, with dark harmonies, offbeat chord combinations and shifting tempos. The verse structure is actually bifurcated (love that word!), with a slower, moodier half followed by a more soulful and dynamic section. The DC5 were actually pretty strong on ballads, and I wish they’d done more of those instead of crap like “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” which appeared on their first album. I kid you not.

“Don’t Let Me Down”: The B-side to a 1966 single called “Satisfied with You,” a country-and-western number that was so awful it didn’t even make the cut for this album. This boogie-woogie piano number is much more their style, but it doesn’t measure up to their early hits.

“Anyway You Want It”: One of the limitations of the Dave Clark Five was that their songwriters had a combined vocabulary of about twenty-five words. This one was written by Dave alone, so the repetition is extreme. Not only do they sing “It’s alright” ten times in a row during the chorus, but they repeat “Any way you want it” fourteen times and “That’s the way it will be” ten times. Dave even commits the cardinal sin of using the title line “Any way you want it” for the first and third lines of the bridge. Given the enthusiasm they bring to the music here, Dave could have put a little more effort into the lyrics so that it didn’t wind up sounding like a Burger King commercial. Musically, it has a strong, forceful sound. A warning to all you young fellows, so young and so fine: bad lyrics can kill.

“Wild Weekend”: Okay, try to follow me people. The Dave Clark Five made a movie called Catch Us If You Can. That movie was released in the United States as Having a Wild Weekend, and there was a soundtrack album of the same name, but only four of the twelve songs appeared in the movie. If this sounds like a less-than-focused approach to movie-music-making, you’re right! This collection calls the title track “Wild Weekend,” dropping the “Having a” for reasons unknown. After that ridiculously long explanation, all I have to report is that this is a cliche-ridden number that was probably written in eleven seconds.

“Catch Us If You Can”: The alternative title track has the virtue of a more interesting musical arrangement with the spare finger-snap verses contrasting nicely with the sax-bottomed chorus. The instrumental solo is weak, with thoroughly average harmonica and a sax reminiscent of a duck call. The point of the lyrics is . . . what? “Catch us . . . live at Twickenham . . . if you can?” “Catch us . . . in our new movie . . . if you can?” And why would I want to hear them “yell with all of our might?” In the end, the song reminds me too much of the theme from The Monkees.

I have not seen the movie, which received mixed reviews. Here’s the opening clip with the theme song (uh, British film version theme song):

“Because”: About a year-and-a-half out-of-place on this record, “Because” is one of the great love ballads of the era, pure and simple. It’s also their strongest and most interesting arrangement, from the opening strum (first time I’ve mentioned guitar here, people!) to the blues-tinged riff on the organ that ends the instrumental passage. The lower-pitched harmonies give the song a sincere, gut-level feel that more than compensates for any sweetness. The UK record company refused to release this as an A-side single because they were afraid it strayed too far from the formula, another classically dumb decision by the guys at the top. This is Dave Clark’s songwriting masterpiece, and it more than deserved A-side attention and publicity.

“I Like It Like That”: I don’t care for either Chris Kenner’s original or DC5’s cover much, but if I had to choose, I’d take Mike Smith’s vocal over Kenner’s any day of the week. Mike overplays his hand on the closing line, but really, this song doesn’t give a singer much to work with, as it’s a rather silly song.

“Reelin’ and Rockin'”: Not even close to the Chuck Berry original. One of Mike’s weakest vocals, largely because he never finds the right groove for this song. The arrangement is sloppy and has the sound of a last-minute decision . . . a bad one.

“Over and Over”: This is one time that the cover crushes the original. First recorded by Bobby Day, the guy who brought you the gag-me-with-a-spoon “Rockin’ Robin,” The DC5 takes this song and makes it their own. The shared vocals are tight, the rhythm sax actually sounds strong and full and Dave’s got the drum fills down to a science. It’s also a harbinger of the decline to come, for at this point in their career, they should have managed to wean themselves from cover songs.

After “Over and Over,” The Dave Clark Five began their transformation from credible rock outfit to third-rate lounge act. They opted not to take the more experimental directions other bands were taking during that pivotal year of 1967, but for reasons unknown, they also stopped playing to their core strength: doing energetic, fun rock ‘n’ roll. Instead, they became a pop cover band, and their song selection was simply atrocious. “Put a Little Love in Your Heart?” Are you fucking kidding me? “Sha-Na-Na-Hey-Hey-Kiss Him Goodbye?” Oh, for fuck’s sake! The Youngbloods’ “Get Together?” What the hell?

The imaginative explanation for this shocking decline is that the original androids wore down, had to be replaced, and because they’d used all the alien-built parts left from the Area 51 spaceship, they contracted with British Motor Corporation, noted for making irresistibly beautiful automobiles that spent most of their lives in the mechanic’s shop. The earthbound explanation is that there was a fundamental flaw in the band’s structure: Dave Clark was the leader and the band manager. That is an artistic conflict of interest, and since Dave wasn’t that artistic in the first place, management won out . . . and we all know that most managers are primarily concerned with preserving power and status. This led to what appears to have been a “retrenchment strategy,” where they relied on their core audience in the UK to keep buying whatever crap they put out to preserve the capital earned from the Invasion. Their last U. S. single to make either Top 100 list was “Please Stay” at #96 in early 1967; their last nine singles failed to chart on either Billboard or Cashbox. Their presence hung in the air a few years longer in the U. K., where even “Get Together” made it into the Top Ten. All indications are that it was only going to get worse; the two previously unreleased tracks, “Universal Love” and “Every American Citizen,” only proved that The Dave Clark Five had no business trying to grapple with metaphysical or spiritual topics.

Simply put, when you stop growing, you die, and that’s what happened to The Dave Clark Five and many other Invasion bands who failed to expand their sound during the great shift in 1966-1967. Having said that, I can completely understand how they achieved status as the top contender to the throne in 1964. They put out some outstanding rock songs and two exceptionally strong ballads, and on a singles-only basis, The DC5’s output that year is pretty impressive, even when compared to The Beatles’ single releases. When you go deeper, though, and look at the music on the albums, there is no contest: The Beatles had far more depth in their catalogue. Even then their albums were full of songs that could have easily been Top 10 singles had they chose to flood the market even more than they had already. DC5 never came close to producing a memorable album because they lacked range and musical imagination.

My feeling is we should remember, honor and enjoy the great music they produced during a very exciting time in musical history and leave it at that.

19 responses

  1. […] The Dave Clark Five, The Hits […]

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  2. […] Latest Classic Music Review: The Dave Clark Five: The Hits […]

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  3. Interesting thoughts on this particular band… especially your android theory! Well, I’m gonna toss various facts in your direction which might explain that a little more and just what the DC5 were actually about. Ready for an alternate history lesson?

    OK. The DC5 stand unique within British Invasion bands for a variety of reasons. As you pointed out, Dave Clark was their manager, but he was more like a dictator. A very canny geezer. No other band were ruled with such an iron grip. Dave Clark was a complete control freak and a deceitful one at that. You might have noticed there has never been any books on the DC5 published – that’s exactly how Clark wants it since he’s desperate to keep his myths alive. The man has spouted so much bullshit that when one starts unearthing the truths… well… For instance in 1963, he did a deal with EMI that nobody else was smart enough to do – a tape lease deal whereby Dave controlled the ownership and copyrights. So, he got much control and a higher royalty rate than The Beatles and this was before the DC5 even had any hits. Then, he formed his own publishing company – Spurs Music – which would control all original compositions whereby he enforced another scam on the rest of his bandmates… Whenever you see the name “Clark” on songwriting credits, delete it. He never had a songwriting or compositional bone in his body. He insisted that his name be added as co-writer to EVERY song his bandmates wrote and got his way. Ker-ching – more money and since he also owned the publishing he was making a fortune. The rest of the band? He had them signed to specially written contracts that gave Dave total control and the members were put on a weekly wage in lieu of royalties and sharing the profits. That remained in place until they split and apparently the wages never increased, so Denis Payton was getting toyshop money yet Dave was raking in all of Denis’ royalties from the publishing and fake credits but Payton never saw any extra for it, just his usual weekly wagepacket. Those guys were well and truly screwed whilst Dave laughed all the way to the bank. Yes – they WERE robots – Dave instructed them on what to wear and say in interviews etc. They basically had to have his permission to go to the toilet – that was how controlled the band were. Unsurprisingly, Dave failed to make friends with other bands – The Kinks, The Hollies, The Beatles and others HATED him.

    You’ve noticed that Dave apparently wrote a couple of songs on his own notably “Because” – superb song as you’ve stated. Now, one would think if Dave could write something as sophisticated as that then what the hell happened later on? The answer is simple – he never wrote it. The actual writer was an ex-friend of his called Ron Ryan who also wrote or co-wrote “Bits and Pieces”, “Can’t You See That She’s Mine” and “Anyway You Want It.” Problem – Dave insisted that Ron’s name not be listed as songwriter and his own put in place and that Ron would still get his royalties. Guess what? Ron get stiffed and after “Anyway” became a hit, Ron asked Dave for his money and Dave refused to cough up. Cue some legalities and arguments which resulted in the rest of the band being ordered never to speak to Ron again and Ron was airbrushed out the band history. If you google Ron Ryan, you’ll find out much more… he’s a great bloke, very open and forgiving. Ron is deeply proud of “Because” but it understandably pains him that Dave takes all the credit and money. Furthermore, Dave didn’t like the song… he grumbled about it being a ballad. Ron insisted it was time they did a ballad to show another side of the band. Dave agreed to record it and shoved it out as a B side. That was entirely Dave’s decision – not the record company. Dave didn’t have as much control in the States where that song got picked up and became a hit. Yet to this day, Dave insists he wrote it entirely on his own and he’s so proud of it. Bullshit.

    Get the picture? Dave Clark was a rather Machiavellian guy pulling all manner of scams that generated HIM a mass fortune. The DC5 were simply a money making machine for him. And guess what? He didn’t play the drums on those early hits – that was session drummer Bobbie Graham. Dave was too busy in the control room overseeing the production and wanted to make sure everything was done quickly, so Bobbie was hired. Dave could play drums, but not quite like that. His drumming was much simpler – listen to those later hits you dislike and whenever you hear rat-tat-tat fills like a Tommy Gun, that’s Dave on the drums!

    There is much more I could add to all of this… I’ve only covered the basics but it does help explain various things about the DC5 and how they differed from the rest. When all is said and done, when it comes down to the music, yep, those hits up to 1967 were mostly wonderful blasts of power pop. Mike Smith was a superb vocalist who unfortunately never realised just how good he was – Mike is the man who wrote “Glad All Over” – Ron Ryan has confirmed it was 100% Mike and for that alone, Mike deserves to be remembered since it’s such a joyous piece of pop.

    1967 was the turning point in many ways. Dave realised their star was starting to wane in America so he quit touring and after that, the DC5 became a studio project, only ever performing (and always miming) on TV shows. Dave was the man who made all the decisions and those later records… well… just what Dave was thinking is anybody’s guess. It was then that the curse of him managing the band became apparent since the band needed an outsider to push them and get them recording better material.

    Anyway, enough of my blabberings. Just wanted to fill you in with various details to enhance your views and theories!

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    1. That is fabulous information! I knew he was a control freak but not to the pathological level you described. I really wavered between Mike Smith and Dave Clark to play the role of the one who controlled the androids, but I couldn’t bring myself to believe that Mike Smith was inhuman. Now I have a whole new theory! Android revolt! Dave Clark wanted to take over the world!

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      1. Talk about knowing when to stop… Dave Clark was that smart. He didn’t even allow himself to cabaret & nostalgia ignominy, but he rather re-releases his old recordings and videos when he sees fit to.

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  4. > In the end, the song reminds me too much of the theme from The Monkees.<

    OK, only that it was the other way around, it was the "Theme From the Monkees"'s fingersnaps and snare drum triplet wallops that were nicked from "Catch Us If You Can". But I rate good plagiarism above lousy originality; I'll take the Monkees over the DC5 anytime – yes, test tube primates are better than androids.

    (But I admit I like many 1963-65 DC5 songs.)

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    1. Well, when I get to the American Counterattack, we’ll see about those test tube primates!

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      1. About time! If you trash the Monkees, we’re in for our second big disagreement. You think listening to someone defend Arthur was tedious…

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        1. Foul! Foul! Attempting to Intimidate the Critic! Penalty to be determined after review!

          You might want to start jotting down some notes now . . .

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  5. I remember a story about Dave Clark having some kind of army to buy all of his own records around the world so as to make them rarer… Well, si non è vero trova bene… Anyway, his records are among the hardest to find nowadays, even the few ones issued here down in old Brazil.

    And another proof of Dave’s quality control slipping during the late 1960s is that even song titles began to repeat; he has two different songs titled “Everybody Knows”, both of which, of course, were hits.

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  6. You are so right. Once again.

    I was never deep into this band for reasons I never bothered to think about. I reacted viscerally. These guys didn’t grab me and that was that. I liked a few of their hits back in the day, but the DC5 never really did anything for me, not in any enduring sense. On reading the ARC analysis I finally put words to it. Or rather ARC did. These guys were stiff, mechanical…they had no soul–5 marionettes.

    Aside from being hugely prolific, the ARC has the enviable ability to drill down to the essence in precise language, often with humor. What a great gift.

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  7. I can only hope you are feeling better .
    Maybe it was something in the reviewing air.

    The reference to IMF Mr Phelps and Area 51
    helped a great deal.

    I worry that your review can only help Mr. Clark in what ever
    Tax haven he resides in today.

    Nick Messitte at Forbes seems to have suffered as well
    When he decided to riff on Springsteen’s terrible new compilation today.

    Credit where credit is due….you do review where no one has gone before…
    A bit like Star Trek.

    Until the next episode …………………

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  8. The best thing in this review is Trini Lopez.

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  9. While I disagree with you about the DC5 – they were always shit – I love pretty much everything else about this piece.

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    1. Well, at least I got to 80% shit! We’re close!

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  10. Brian Jones Bones | Reply

    What to say what to say?? In 1964 it didnt take much to please us. Heck there are some poor souls out there that think “Honey” and “MacArthur’s Park” are cool! Many groups from the 60’s have not aged well! I liked the Rolling Stones and Animals much better than the DC5. The DC5 always seemed contrived to me. Someone nailed when they called them “The British Monkees”!

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  11. I’d rate “Anyway You Want It” higher than altrockchick does here, partly out of sentiment (I liked it at the time, because it was British), and partly — mostly — because of that overdone vocal echo effect (“Heyhey heyyyyyyyy”) and its segue into the mandatory “It’s alright [it’s alright]…” section. I don’t recall another Brit Invasion hit that used that particular echo effect previously.

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