Unlike virtually every rock and roll ensemble in history, this British Invasion band was fronted by a drummer, whose unique style of play created a sound that is as distinguishable today as it was more than half a century ago. The group’s lead singer, Mike Smith, called by Bob Dylan, “the single greatest white male vocalist of the 1960s,” remained such a revered figure in musical circles that everyone from Joe Cocker to David Bowie viewed him as a revelation. The band’s saxophone player, Denis Payton, produced R&B-rooted solos, which were so fetching that it convinced a young Bruce Springsteen to hire Clarence Clemons because he wanted his septet, the E Street Band, to sound like them. Renowned guitarist and producer, Miami Steve van Zandt, called the group’s mid-1960’s singles… “the absolute best productions made during the mono era.” And Bruce Springsteen’s longtime drummer, Max Weinberg, declared, “When you attend an E Street concert today, there will be at least 20 to 25 songs featuring Dave Clark’s familiar tum-tum-rolls.”
As Mick Jagger once said to critic Dave Marsh in Rolling Stone Magazine, “The Dave Clark Five was the best pure rock and roll band that came from the British Invasion.”
During their heyday, the DC-Five headlined such giants as the Rolling Stones, Otis Redding, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and The Who. When they were formally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, it was lifelong fan Tom Hanks who presented them to an adoring audience. Later that evening, Billy Joel, Bon Jovi, Jeff Lynne, and Joan Jett paid tribute to them during a memorable musical revue onstage at Carnegie Hall, where the DC Five had once performed 12, sold-out shows in three days 43 years before.
In 1964 and throughout much of ’65, this celebrated band from Tottenham, North London, brazenly managed to spot the Beatles single-for-single. Like every other group at the time, however, the Dave Clark Five ultimately couldn’t match the Lennon-McCartney juggernaut, especially when the Fab Four demonstrated an astounding ability to change their sound with virtually every record. Nevertheless, for those of us who loved rock music back then, the DC Five’s music was such that every time one of their singles popped on one of our local AM radio stations, you quickly cranked up their music to decibel 10. In the end, the band had 17 hits on the Billboard Top 40 and also appeared on the influential Ed Sullivan Show a record-breaking 18 times between 1964-68.
In a decade that gave us such LP masterpieces as Astral Weeks, Sam Cooke Live At the Copa, High Tide and Green Grass, Rubber Soul, Revolver, Blonde on Blonde, Days of Future Past, and I Never Loved a Man The Way I Love You, it was The Dave Clark Five’s Greatest Hits that was my most-played-album in 1960’s real-time. As Tom Petty commented a few years ago on his Sirius radio show, “My copy of that record was so full of scratches that I had to purchase a new one by 1970.” Me too.
The first time I purchased The Dave Clark Five’s Greatest Hits was the fall of 1966 with some newfound money I had earned as the neighborhood paperboy. Recorded in crystalline mono by Epic Records – with the distinctive canary-yellow label – the record’s 10 songs seemed to literally jump right off the record-player like a Saturn-Five rocket. For pop fans at the time, the DC Five’s uninhibited, gleeful singles chased away any storm-clouds and gave us a reason to believe. “Their music reverberated, primarily because it was percussion-based, which was both original and distinctive,” remarked Bruce Springsteen in 2014. “For kids like me, their recordings were like instant adrenaline shots.” Thus, a greatest hits package of such treasures was a must for those who cherished their songs.
For marketing purposes, this initial greatest songs package hit the ground running with its opening tune, “Over and Over,” a classic cover of the 1958 Bobby Day hit that turned out to be re-imagined by the DC-Five in a genuinely inspired cover. In the late fall of 1965, it was the band’s latest single to hit the market. To the commonplace listener, however, “Over and Over” was a reminder that you needed to strap yourself in and hold on. Of course, there was a hipness to the “with-it” message, “everybody there was there,” as well as the idiosyncratic tom-tom-beat that drove so many of Dave Clark’s songs. In addition, the intensity of lead singer Mike Smith’s vocals was omnipresent. His husky baritone in “Over and Over” knifed right through the percussion-centered musical accompaniment even as he provided a lilting keyboard riff. The memorable bridge was framed by Denis Payton, whose riveting harmonica solo proved worthy of Delbert McClinton, while the vocal harmonies sung by both drummer Dave Clark and lead guitarist Lenny Davidson provided a palpable sense of panache. The number one song in the US during Christmas week, 1965, “Over and Over” turned out to be the group’s last tangible hit in its nearly two-year competitive battle with the Beatles.
The second tune on the album, 1964’s “Everybody Knows,” remains my second favorite Dave Clark Five number ever, a single so infectious that it should have its own zip code. From the unforeseen chord changes to the incredible instrumentation provided by saxophonist Denis Payton and lead guitarist Lenny Davidson, it is Dave Clark himself who drives the bus here with his propelling percussion work. The song is bridged together by some Lennon-McCartney-Harrison-like harmonies, led by their alpha-dog lead vocalist, Mike Smith. When I showed this clip to my class one time, several kids were astonished that Dave’s drum-set was positioned in the front, with the guitarists, keyboard player, and saxophonist behind him. In every way, the great Dave Clark was the leader of this band.
The Dave Clark Five’s Greatest Hits’ third entry, “Can’t You See That She’s Mine,” reached as high as number 2 on the Billboard Top 40 the week of July 18, 1964. It also has been my all-time personal favorite Dave Clark Five number, a tune so kick-ass that my pulse still soars every time I hear it. Keyboard player and lead vocalist Mike Smith dominates throughout, with an amusement park ride-like introduction that morphs into his familiar gravelly vocals that exuberantly frame the rest of the song. When you see the video, however, you will surely notice the extraordinary musicianship of Mr. Clark, from his riveting percussion work to his auxiliary vocals, which support Smith at every turn. Underrated lead guitarist Lenny Davidson adds the essential licks, while Denis Payton provides the finishing touches with a breathtaking solo that forms an instrumental bridge for the last verse. When I used to host oldies shows in college back in the mid-’70s, “Can’t You See That She’s Mine” was one of those songs where everyone got up and danced.
The record’s fourth number, “Bits and Pieces,” was, in reality, one of the DC Five more pedestrian releases, a B side throwaway for most bands. Here, though, in a seminal “Tops in the Pops” television presentation on the Beeb, the band proves that this number is downright irresistible. The rhythmic jungle of sound is deftly choreographed by the planned stomping of feet and reminds us why Dave Clark, who directed the band’s movements, was both the spiritual and musical leader of the group. In addition, the exceptional bass guitar work of Rick Huxley tears straight through you. As an aside, it should also be noted that the copyright to “Bits and Pieces” is still owned outright by Dave Clark. As Paul McCartney once commented, “We all should have all taken business lessons from Dave. John and I lost millions and millions of pounds because of our mismanagement. Dave Clark never did. He got it when none of us cared.”
“I Like it Like That,” the single that ends Side 1 of the record, turned out to be a faultless cover of the 1961 R&B hit by Chris Kenner. In less than two minutes, Mike Smith here provides an iconic vocal performance that many rock critics believe actually surpasses John Lennon on his more famous “Twist and Shout.” This isn’t just some persistent teenage bewailing as Lennon does so fervidly throughout his Beatles hit. In Smith’s re-do of “I Like It Like That,” his vocals are a manly plea for both temptation and lust. When Bob Dylan introduced the song on his satellite radio show a few years ago, he called Mike Smith’s performance throughout the group’s cover version, “an authentic tour de force.” I couldn’t agree more.
Side 2 of The Greatest Hits of the Dave Clark Five begins with the title song of their only feature film, “Catch Us If You Can.” An exuberant harmonica solo by Denis Payton forms the bridge to some of the best harmonies the band ever recorded. Not only is Dave Clark’s drumming truly buoyant here, but his primal screaming, which spoofed Paul McCartney’s Little Richard-like yowl is downright hysterical. Like virtually all successful DC Five numbers, the simplicity of the number belies the complexity of the musicianship.
Many fans of the DC Five regard that the seventh tune included in their greatest hits package, “Because,” as the most illustrious single they ever generated. Within the context of 1964, this was the group’s famed retort to the Beatles’ “This Boy” and “Do You Want to Know a Secret?” In every way, it was a beautiful slow ballad, whose luminous harmonies and melodies matched the lyrics themselves. Mike Smith’s reverent vocals, his improvisational organ solo that forms the bridge, and the exceptional bass guitar licks by the underrated Rick Huxley create a veritable masterpiece. Paul McCartney once called “Because” a “daunting song” to match if you happened to be in the rival band. “Those blokes threw everything they had into that one,” claimed Sir Paul. Brian Wilson recently called “’Because’ one of the two or three best songs that were recorded in 1964.” Throughout that summer, this gorgeous single dominated the radio waves on both sides of the Atlantic, reaching number one in North America by the Fourth of July. Such indelible musical memories still beat inside of us like a second heart.
“Any Way You Want It,” a frolicking, speed-of-sound-rocker, logically followed “Because on the album, reminding listeners that the Dave Clark Five were primarily a fast-paced dance band. Mike Smith admitted years later that the DC Five were intentionally mirroring the Beatles “big vocal sound” throughout this radiant gem, which features four of the band’s members in a classic call-response refrain to soloist Mike Smith’s strident lead vocal. The reverberated “hey…hey…hey” was not electronically mastered; Smith actually used vocal elocution to pull off the trick! This is one of those songs that remind you that the authentic joy transcended any gloom in virtually every one of the Dave Clark Five’s singles.
Only the DC Five could follow-up one impossibly fast-paced rocker with another, as they did on their greatest hits package with the indefatigable 1964 smash, “Do You Love Me?” A remake of the Contours ’62 Motown classic, the boys here decide to record their cover version in Mach 3 speed, daring the listener not to get up in dance forthwith by undocked impulse. Mike Smith’s singing here is an epiphany, but you could argue that it is Dave Clark’s machine-gun-drumming that drives the engine. Sax-player extraordinaire Payton provides the musical harmony with his decisive playing, providing a musical blueprint for Clarence Clemons to emulate a generation later for the E Street Band. Like all eminent Dave Clark Five numbers, the ongoing collaboration between the circle of band members here is exemplary.
Not surprisingly, the tune that concludes their first greatest hits package also happens to be the DC Five’s most cherished hit record. With its marching band stomps that supports an irrepressibly adolescent chorus, “Glad All Over” became the first major British Invasion hit in North America by a band other than the Beatles. It was also the single that knocked “I Want to Hold Your Hand” off the top of the British hit parade. “I was going through my record collection, and I saw the title ‘Glad All Over,'” remembered Dave Clark Five singer Mike Smith to journalist Dave Marsh of Rolling Stone. “I couldn’t remember what the song was like, but I thought it was a great title. So I sat down at my dad’s piano and wrote ‘Glad All Over.'” As Bruce Springsteen recollected years later, “The title of their most popular song was how we felt each time we heard a Dave Clark single back then.”
While The Dave Clark Five continued to achieve palpable success through 1966, they managed to generate just one more significant hit in the States thereafter. Their last top ten single in the US, a phenomenal cover of Marv Johnson’s 1959 classic, “You Got What it Takes,” was released in late April 1967, skirting the psychedelic singles that would then dominate just the subsequent Summer of Love. Although the band continued to have modest success in the UK for a spell, by 1970, they quietly disbanded. The proverbial one-trick pony, the band had exhausted their unique musical template and didn’t – couldn’t – reinvent themselves as the Beatles did so with album after album. Let’s be honest, you didn’t turn to the DC Five to figure out the mysteries of life as you did when you listened to the Fab Four, the Moody Blues, or Pink Floyd. Ultimately, their music just made you feel better at the time. In retrospect, that was not a bad legacy to maintain.
Still, for the group’s legion of fans, we all continued to wave their banner and never stopped listening to them. We were thrilled when Dave Clark ended up working with such artists such as Freddie Mercury, Stevie Wonder, and Cliff Richard as a producer and musical entrepreneur. We rejoiced when keyboardist and singer Mike Smith began performing with his own band in 2001 after a 25-year hiatus and were stunned to discover that he still had the same umph behind his vocals. We also wept when Smith died of complications to a fall suffered at home, just two weeks before he and the band were to be formally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Happily, when Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band began to steadfastly cover a batch of the DC Five’s singles onstage, we rejoiced that a new generation of fans had begun reexamining the group’s timeless music.
For Christmas 2016, my wife ended up giving me an unexpected pleasure – a turntable with a built-in speaker. I instantly fingered through my stack of old records that I had kept and quickly located The Dave Clark Five’s Greatest Hits.
Riddled with scratches made by a careless needle 50 years ago, the DC Five’s music still filled me to the brim with sustained delight. When my son, Max, asked about the cacophony of audio blemishes throughout the album, I reminded him that some were so old that they had been made while Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were still alive. “You are listening to an antique, Max, a cultural fossil from a different time and place!” I bellowed.
Max chuckled and began to listen.
“Great tunes!” he exclaimed. I merely smiled and nodded my head affirmatively. a smile planted on my face, my right foot tapping away at the beat of every song. It made a good day even that much better.
I guess that was the point The Dave Clark Five was trying to make all along. That music like theirs has the capacity to make you feel glad all over.