Thursday, January 3, 2008

Glad All Over

I can remember all sorts of specifics from my youth. I think as I get older my memory of things back in the mid-1960s actually improves (while my memory of this morning gets fuzzy). But, while I can remember watching band after band take the stage on The Ed Sullivan Show, I can’t remember what it was like to actually have a serious discussion over who was better – the Dave Clark Five or The Beatles, even if I do remember the question coming up.

There was a brief window in 1964, maybe even into early 1965 when The DC5 were riding high in the charts and showing up all over TV. Pretty soon however, you realized that Lennon & McCartney were actually growing as writers, turning out song after song and stretching the boundaries of what pop music could be, while Dave Clark & Company had pretty much done what they were going to do, never really producing a complete “album” as opposed to a steady flow of LPs with one hit single and tons of in-one-ear-and-gone-tomorrow filler.

But Dave Clark, the mastermind behind the band, understood the pop music business as well as any of the era’s impresarios and stretched the band’s talents to include eight top ten records and 15 albums in the United States between 1964 and 1967. In those three short years they made more appearances on the Ed Sullivan show than any other band, eighteen in all.

Dave Clark was born on December 15, 1939. With a reputation as a daredevil, he worked as a stuntman in over 40 films. When his soccer team needed money in 1960, he decided to form a band. He bought a set of drums and learned how to play them. The band started out life as a backing group for Stan Saxon, a North London singer. They signed a recording contract with Ember/Pye in 1962, and became more and more popular in England. Their first single in the UK was “Do You Love Me.”

Shortly after Liverpool gave the world Mersey Beat, the DC5 began to promote themselves as the vanguard of the “Tottenham Sound.” The band’s peak came early when in January 1964 they knocked the Beatles "I Want To Hold Your Hand" off the top of the UK Singles Chart (the position it had held for 6 weeks) with "Glad All Over." Toppling the Beatles brought some major press for the group and they took advantage of this with the release of their next single, "Bits and Pieces" which reached number 2 on the British Charts.

The Dave Clark Five took the U.S. by storm with 6 sold out tours and 15 Top 20 hits in three years. One of their tours included an amazing 12 sold out shows at Carnegie Hall in 3 days. Five more records from the group were released in 1964 that reached the top fifteen in the U.S., including the top ten songs, "Can't You See That She's Mine" (#4) and "Because" (#3). Their hot streak continued the following year with "I Like It Like That" (#7), "Catch Us If You Can" (#4) and their sole U.S. #1, "Over and Over", which had been released earlier by Bobby Day as the flip side of his hit, "Rockin' Robin".

All told, The Dave Clark Five placed 17 records in Billboard's Top 40 to go with 12 Top 40 United Kingdom hits between 1964 and 1967. Their song "Over And Over" went to number one in the U.S. on the Billboard Charts Hot 100 at the end of December 1965.

The band was also distinctive on three ways. In a design uncommon for a pop group of that (or any) era, the leader was the drummer. Dave Clark would play and sing with his drums positioned at the front of the stage, with the guitarists and keyboard to his rear and sides. The group was also unique in the British Invasion because it featured a saxophone, a sort of hold over from the early rock bands of the 1950s (and an element that would not resurface in a rock band for another decade when Clarence Clemmons took center stage with The E-Street Band).

The real genius of Dave Clark, and what set him apart from all of his contemporaries, was a business sense that was decades ahead of its time. Right from the beginning, he held ownership of all the DC5 masters and continued receiving royalties for years. Even more, he retained all the rights of the group’s numerous TV appearances, which is why you so rarely see them included in the growing stream of British Invasion TV specials. In the DVD series that’s been released collecting old Ed Sullivan highlights there are multiple disc releases of the British Invasion era that feature The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Animals, Herman’s Hermits, Freddy & The Dreamers and others, but there isn’t a single DC5 clip included.

Perhaps it was Clark’s background in cinema that was responsible for the band’s most individual accomplishment.

After the success of the Beatles movie A Hard Day's Night in 1964, the DC5 released their own film Catch Us If You Can (released in the United States as Having a Wild Weekend) in 1965. Directed by first time director John Boorman whose next film would be the film that gets my vote for Best US Crime Film Ever, Point Blank (1967), and Deliverance four years after that (and Boorman got closer than Kubrick to directing The Lord of the Rings in 1970, producing a screenplay that’s a very interesting single film adaptation), the film is immediately interesting for the way in which it deviates from the Richard Lester Hard Day’s Night pop-group-in-a-movie-formula. The Wikipedia entry has a nice summary:

“Far from being a conventional pop vehicle, this serious, thought-provoking film concerns itself with the frailty of personal relationships, the flimsiness of dreams, and the difficulty of maintaining spontaneity and integrity in a stage-managed ‘society of the spectacle.’ (That such a message is articulated through one of the very mass media that have created this society is just one of several ironies.) Boorman, an established documentary filmmaker and veteran of TV commercials, already displays great technical skill in this early film. This debut offering is particularly compelling (it drew favorable notices from Pauline Kael and Dilys Powell), not least because of the enormous cultural energy of the time (mid-1960s) in which the film was made.”

By 1967 pop music was awash in the bright colors and paisley of psychedelia which proved a difficult fit for the band. One of the strangest moments in pop music came with their last single, a cover of Neil Young's "Southern Man." The best description was a comment made by my friend, Indianapolis musician John Sheets after I played the single for him. There was a long pause, and John looked at me and said in the most serious tone I've ever heard him use, "Everything about that was wrong."
Below, however, is the "psychedelic" DC5 covering The Youngbloods in the early 1970s and doing a rather nice job of it.

When the group split, Clark attended drama school. Mike Smith continued in the music business, writing commercial jingles and producing other artists. Lenny Davidson became a guitar teacher in Hertfordshire and ran a business that services church organs. Rick Huxley went to work for the Vox musical instrument company before opening Musical Equipment Ltd in Camberwell, and then turned to electrical wholesaling. Dennis Payton went in to the real estate business and continued to play music part time until his death in December 2006.

In March of 2008 The Dave Clark Five will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

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