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RockNotes: In Death, The Dave Clark Five Gets Its Due

I'm really kind of amused at how a good number of the obits for Mike Smith of the Dave Clark Five called the band unappreciated. Hell, I appreciated them even when, as a precocious moppet, they were the first band - other than the Fab Four themselves - to get a wall poster spot in my very, very humble 1964 bedroom, a place where Smith's growling "I like it like that" boomed out through the walls many times a day on the wings of a Sylvania solid state portable.

The DC5 were the Beatles if Ringo had been a heavy metal drummer and George had played sax at Chess Records. Their long string of classic British Beat, R&B-influenced songs in what was essentially a two-year period was truly tremendous, and Mike Smith's considerable contributions to their many melodic delights stand as a great achievement, surely deserving of a spot in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. The Dave Clark Five's induction is set for today, so Smith's sad death on Feb. 28 from the aftereffects of a paralyzing accident was oh so ironically ill-timed.

Underappericated? Maybe. But I think I appreciated them enough for at least 10 or 12 people. As has been noted be some writers, the DC5 were British Invasion Band No. 2 for those two years, a position that ensured millions and millions of records sold. The Rolling Stones came along ("Satisfaction") and knocked them out of that spot as surely as the Beatles did to Pat Boone. But in their golden period, Clark and Smith really defined some key things that would later be incorporated into blues-based hard rock. Clark's gunshot drumming was louder than pretty much any other British band, and Smith's forceful vocals kind of remind me of an earlier Joe Cocker: A lot yelling and a whole lot of soul. He was every bit the worthy rival to, say, Eric Burdon. What they called the Tottenham Sound.

mike_smith.jpgAnd they got tons of airplay. "Glad All Over," their first (and only) U.K. No 1. hit, was a constant staple of their Top 40 airwaves in early 1964. It was the first British Invasion No. 1 by someone other than the Beatles. It was followed quickly in the next few months with what's probably their defining R&B stomps, "Bits and Pieces," "Can't You See That She's Mine" and "Do You Love Me?" The latter song features an impressive vocal by Smith, demonstrating an incredible stretch. Then, that summer, came the haunting pop ballad side of the DC5, with "Because." That song highlighted yet another skill of Smith's, his memorable keyboard riffing in a band that didn't feature much guitar. He carried a big part of the instrumental load. (Much of the rest came from harmonica/sax player Denis Payton, who himself died less than two years ago).

What a year. Except that it wasn't over yet. Before Christmas, the band struck gold again. "Any Way You Want It" might be Mike Smith's magnum opus. His overpowering "it's alrights" building up to a thrilling crescendo with the title lyric is one of the key moments in the British Invasion, his double tracked-harmonies augmented with feedback distortion in a great touch by Clark, who, in yet another interesting thing about this band, produced the records and managed the band himself at at time when artists rarely had that option. The flip-side is that he was described as dictatorial.

The group reappeared on the radar in June 1965, when "I Like It Like That" and "Catch Us If You Can" washed over beaches and drive-ins everywhere. As I said earlier, "Like It" was one of Smith's most likable and memorable performances and probably my personal favorite. And "Catch Us" was perfect summer pop song, and just like the Beatles' "Help," it came from a movie the band made, Having a Wild Weekend - not exactly on a par with Richard Lester's Hard Day's Night, but most kids didn't care.

Everything peaked for the DC5 in the U.S. in the fall of 1965 when they finally got their only American No. 1, "Over and Over," a song that really crystallized the DC5 formula of foot-stompin' drums, Smith's soulful vocals and a wailing sax. But, in a harbinger of the future, this was also exactly when "Satisfaction" was making its paradigm-changing impact on American tastes, and it was never the same again for the Dave Clark Five. They didn't do psychedelia. They didn't want to drop out. They were more at home on the Ed Sullivan Show (where they appeared 18 times!) than in the streets protesting. The group soldiered on until 1970 and Smith spent most of the intervening years making a pretty good living as a music producer.

I think there are a couple reasons why the Dave Clark Five ended up being marginalized by history despite their once-overwhelming popularity. They of course were always unfairly compared to the Beatles, although in truth they only superficially sounded much like them. Their music was "good-timey" and upbeat, and thus became suspect once Baby Boomers got caught up in important things like changing world. It also didn't help that Smith never did interviews, was a bit of a recluse, and later, that Clark was reluctant to reissue DC5 music first on CDs, and then on digital formats (the group's music has just become available on iTunes, for instance, only in the last few weeks).

One of the things that made Smith's passing so sad is that he was still making some pretty good music before he was partially paralyzed in a 2003 fall at his home, which happened only months after his son Jamie had died in a scuba diving accident - now that's a true run of bad, bad luck. If being under-appreciated and victimized by fate ever has any real rewards in the hereafter, Mike Smith will be the richest soul in rock 'n' roll heaven.

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Catch up with the RockNotes collection. It tastes great and it's good for you.



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Posted on March 10, 2008


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