The DC5’s Mike Smith: Most Underrated Singer in Classic Rock?

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The Dave Clark Five in 1964 (l. to r.): Mike Smith, Lenny Davidson, Denis Payton, Rick Huxley, Dave Clark (Photo from Wikipedia)

Our friends at CultureSonar “help grownups find cool music, film, TV, books, events, activities and other worthy things.” The website has allowed us to share its story on the the Dave Clark Five’s Mike Smith, authored by Steven Valvano. Enjoy!

In September 2003, Mike Smith tragically landed on his head when attempting to climb the 7-foot gate of his Spanish villa. The heavy fall fractured his spinal cord in three places and left him permanently paralyzed from his waist down. He had innocently locked himself out of his home; his alternative route to get inside left him unable to move. Catastrophically, this included his talented arms and fingers, the very appendages that brought him fame and fortune as the lead singer and keyboard wizard for the Dave Clark Five. It was a brutal end to a very successful career. Retrospective views have since brought him great praise, one of which has said that Smith was one of the most underrated singers of the classic rock era.

Born in the Edmonton section of London in December 1943, Michael “Boomer” Smith began playing in a local pub at the age of 13. Seeing the musical excitement he brought to the younger customers, the owners of the Bushell Park Hotel asked the youth if he could entertain their patrons with that “Elvis stuff that the kids like.” His initial reply was, “I have to ask me folks,” and he continued to entertain people with his voice and piano. He said it was something that came easily to him. It was also something he loved doing ever since purchasing his first American record, Ella Fitzgerald’s “Every Time We Say Goodbye.” Soul and R&B music would become his specialty.

It would be another year until the young, entrepreneurial drummer Dave Clark would wander from his home in Tottenham into the Bushell Park pub. Clark was looking to upgrade his band, and upon hearing Smith’s special voice, he would ask him to join his group as lead vocalist and keyboardist.

Eventually, the Dave Clark Five would work their way into a recording contract, and issue their first single, covering Berry Gordy Jr.’s “Do You Love Me.” Smith’s leather-lungs lead vocal was the stand-out performance of that record, but the single suffered. Pop band Brian Poole and the Tremeloes got to the charts before them with their rendition. Poole and company reached #1, the DC5 only #20. This prompted Clark to turn to Smith and demand that he go home and write something of their own so that that kind of competitive incident would never happen again.

Smith came back with “Glad All Over.” (Clark would establish a practice of taking top billing and shared writing credits to his song and all subsequent songs going forward.) Soon they had their U.K. hit, selling 130,000 copies a day at its peak in November ’63.

Related: Our interview with Dave Clark

The Dave Clark 5 with Ed Sullivan

Simultaneously, Beatlemania had gripped the U.K. The Fab Four would soon kick open the doors to America for the DC5 and all other British invaders in February 1964 by appearing on Ed Sullivan’s weekly TV show.

After the Beatles’ three succeeding weeks on Sullivan, the Dave Clark Five would do the next pair of weeks on the program. Their performance of “Glad All Over” reached #6 on the U.S. Billboard chart and the DC5 would rack up 18 appearances with Ed Sullivan, a record for most appearances by a pop band on the show that had also presented the Rolling Stones, the Animals, and the Moody Blues.

Smith continued to write hits for the band, and his follow-up creation would be their next single. “Bits and Pieces” reached #4 in the U.S. Smith’s full, gritty voice could match any black soul singer of the day, and the blue-eyed soul singers (i.e., Joe Cocker) were taking notice of Smith’s booming voice.

Smith continued to lead their streak of top 20 hits with “Can’t You See That She’s Mine” (#4 in the U.S.) and “Catch Us If You Can” (also #4). Ironically, it was a cover, Bobby Day’s “Over and Over,” that gave them their only #1 in the U.S.. Perhaps their most influential song, one that many rockers (Kiss, Eddie Vedder and the Ramones) looked to as an early blueprint for heavy-sounding recording, was “Any Way You Want It.” Smith credited his writing abilities to his love for Hank Williams and an array of soul singers. He gained universal recognition for displaying his vocal dexterity with a pair of softer love songs, 1965’s haunting “Come Home” and the classic ballad, “Because.”

It would not be until 1965, upon the U.S. release of their I Like It Like That album, that the world witnessed Smith’s full abilities. The record was a collection of styles with his soaring vocals covering elements of R&B, (“She a Loving Girl”), pop (“I’ll Be Yours My Love”), country (“I’m On My Own”) rock (“I Need Love”) and ballads (“Goodbye My Friends”). All of these tracks spotlighted Smith’s abilities to lead the band through eclectic genres. His performance on the title track is the very showcase that gained Smith praise from his contemporaries as well as icons Bruce Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt and Tom Petty. Petty would later tell Smith that after listening to “I Like It Like That” he felt the band should have been called “The Mike Smith 5.”

So why has Mike Smith not become a bigger name on lists of the top 100 singers of rock and roll?

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6 Comments so far

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  1. Duke
    #1 Duke 5 May, 2022, 01:22

    Did the DC5 ever perform live or just lip sync?

    Reply this comment
    • Jeff Tamarkin
      Jeff Tamarkin 5 May, 2022, 07:59

      That’s a question that’s been up for debate for some time. Judging by their American television appearances, it would seem they always lip-synced. But they did start out in the clubs of London, where that would be impossible.

      Reply this comment
  2. NewDude
    #2 NewDude 5 May, 2022, 16:22

    The country sounding tune “I’m On My Own” mentioned in this article was actually sung by Lenny Davidson, the guitarist for the DC5. This was a rare occasion, as the great Mike Smith was the usual featured lead vocalist and a damn good one at that. Very underrated. Love the DC5!

    Reply this comment
  3. Da Mick
    #3 Da Mick 5 May, 2022, 18:26

    As was usual, Tom Petty got it right in saying the DC5 was all about Mike Smith. I’m not going to go on a diatribe here about Dave Clark, as I, and others, have already done that on the stories here that feature his interviews. I will only say that being that Mike Smith was indeed one of the greatest rock vocalists of his era, it’s a travesty the way HIS legacy, and his fortunes and opportunities to play his own music post-DC5 were manipulated and suppressed by that incomparable impresario of making fortunes on other people’s talent, Dave Clark. Aside from his tragic injury, the fact that because of Clark, Smith wasn’t legally allowed to use his own legacy, with the DC5, in singing his own songs, to make a living in his later years was a travesty compounded by the fact that it was Smith’s songwriting and voice that Clark used to create his own fame and fortune. Dave Clark has to have a decaying painting of himself up in an attic somewhere.

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  4. David
    #4 David 6 May, 2022, 23:16

    One of my best friends is Mike’s widow. She had no idea this article had been published until I sent it to her. I consider Mike to be in the Top Five of greatest rock vocalists. There’s something so appealing about his voice. And many people say they saw the DC5 live and they were excellent. I think for TV shows they, like many other bands of the time, used backing tracks. But you can SEE Dave drum in videos, and he obviously knew how to play the instrument, even if he wasn’t one of the greatest on the kits.

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  5. Mike
    #5 Mike 9 May, 2022, 10:42

    I loved the DC5, my cousin and closest friends pretended to be the group. I still have some of their albums. I always thought Mike Smith was underrated

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