Contemporary pop culture has created a sort of false binary between the Rolling Stones and The Beatles. While fans duke it out over whose catalog is better, a lot of other British Invasion bands don’t get anywhere near the recognition they deserve – bands like The Animals or Herman’s Hermits. All of them played an important role in shaping that movement, and thus also shaped contemporary pop music itself. But one band that seems to have been largely, and quite unreasonably, excluded from the conversation is The Dave Clark Five. Some people even argue that The Dave Clark Five were on the very top tier of the movement, right alongside the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Tom Hanks is one enthusiastic fan, who wrote and directed the feature film That Thing You Do inspired largely by the band, and he inducted them into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2008.
As the new PBS documentary The Dave Clark Five – Glad All Over details, the band was a force to be reckoned with in their hey-day. The Dave Clark Five formed in 1958 (two years before the Beatles did) and they are credited as being the first British Invasion band to tour the United States. What’s more: they achieved fifteen consecutive top 20 hits their first two years in the United States. They even beat The Beatles in record sales at one point, with “Glad All Over” charting higher in The U.K. than “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in 1964. Dave Clark and company are also right behind the Beatles as the second British Invasion band to play on the Ed Sullivan show.
Despite a few confusing tangents in the second hour, the documentary offers some very entertaining insight into what made Dave Clark’s outfit unique from their contemporaries, with soundbites from commentators as diverse as Elton John, Whoopi Goldberg and Sir Paul McCartney himself. Interviews with Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt actually yield some of the most interesting tidbits from the film; for instance, even though the Dave Clark Five has largely been eclipsed by the Beatles today, Springsteen recalled that at the height of their popularity, there was “an enormous amount of debate of ‘Is it the Beatles or the Dave Clark Five?’ And there were magazines that came out: ‘Beatles Vs. Dave Clark Five.’”
Springsteen also helped elucidate which pieces of the Dave Clark Five sound distinguish them from their contemporaries. For instance, they were significant for their use of saxophone in rock music – which no doubt inspired the use of saxophone in Springsteen’s E-Street Band. Another thing that made Dave Clark’s band unique was that Clark lead the band as the drummer. This set him apart from many of his contemporaries – especially The Beatles, where Ringo Starr’s approach to the instrument is purely perfunctory. The drumming in Dave Clark Five was much more significant part of their compositions, particularly in the chorus to “Glad All Over.” Another thing which set them apart was the gruff, throaty delivery of singer Mike Smith, whose voice more closely approximated the sound of the wizened American Delta blues man than Paul McCartney’s ever did.
The documentary also explores what made Clark such a force as a forward-thinking business man. For instance, he managed to preserve ownership of most of the band’s songs because he had enough savvy early on to insist that he retain control over the master tapes of the band’s hit recordings. While all of this information is interesting, the latter portion of the documentary begins to lose cohesive focus. The Dave Clark Five disbanded in 1970, and after the band falls apart, so too does the documentary. It begins to focus almost exclusively on Dave Clark’s life after the band and discusses some of his later undertakings: In one instance he produced the science-fiction rock opera Time, which was notable for featuring Sir Laurence Olivier in one of his last roles. Part of what works against the doc is the inordinate amount of attention it pays to Olivier’s life and death towards the end of the film.
The Dave Clark Five – Glad All Over Great Performances special airs in Nashville today (April 8) at 7 p.m. CT on NPT (available over-the-air on 8.1, on Comcast Channel 1008 and Charter Cable channel 708; some DirecTV subscribers may have a different channel setup: click here or here for more info). While the latter half of the program ends up feeling like an aimlessly constructed vanity project, the first part provides fascinating insight into the formation of one of the most historically significant movements to have occurred in popular music. It provides a fond look back for fans, and it also provides a crucial piece of history for the pop music enthusiast.
Great Performances, now celebrating its 40th anniversary, is a production of THIRTEEN for WNET. Visit Great Performances Online at www.pbs.org/gperf for additional information about this and other programs.
*Images courtesy Dave Clark International and WNET.