Classic Music Review: The Dave Clark Five: The Hits

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.

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Altrockchick

Independent music reviewer appearing on altrockchick.com and 50thirdand3rd.com. Originally from San Francisco, I am now a French/EU citizen living in Nice. And I look great in leather.

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