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Mike Smith: The Most Underrated Singer in Classic Rock?

dave clark five

In September of 2003, Mike Smith tragically landed on his head when attempting to climb the 7ft 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 in which has said that Mike Smith was one of the most underrated singers of the classic rock era.

Born in the Edmonton section of London in December of 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 continued to entertain people with his voice and piano. He said it was something that came easy 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.

Eventually, the Dave Clark Five would work their way into a recording contract, and issue their first single, covering Berry Gordie’s “Do You Love Me?” Mike Smith’s leather-lungs lead vocal was the stand-out performance of that record, but the single suffered. Pop band Brian Poole and the Tremolos got to the charts before them with their rendition. Poole and company reached #1, the DC5 only #20. This prompted Dave 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 UK hit, selling 130,000 copies a day at its peak in November of ’63.

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

After the Beatles’ three succeeding weeks on Sullivan, the Dave Clark Five would do the next pair of weeks with Sullivan. Their performance of “Glad All Over” would knock the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” out of the top chart slot, a historic first. DC5 would rack up 18 appearances with Ed Sullivan and hold the 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” became another #1 that would establish him as the UK’s new “Soul Shouter.” Mike’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 UK hits with “Can’t You See That She’s Mine” (#3), “Catch Us If You Can” (#5) “Over and Over” (#1 in the USA). 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 US release of their I Like It Like That album, that the world witnessed Mike 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 spot-lighted 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?

Many called the DC5 the Beatle’s biggest threat when the Fab Four were in their pop prime. But once they altered the landscape with the recording of Rubber Soul, Revolver, and eventually Sgt. Pepper, the DC5 could not keep up, nor could they shift with the times.

But Smith and company did try. They put out one semi-psychedelic single, “Inside and Out” in 1968, complete with an orchestra and fuzz guitars. It could have been early Pink Floyd except Mikes Smith’s vocals were still sounding full of soul, not mind-altering drugs.  Nobody was buying that the DC5 had gone hippie.

Although still making and selling albums at a considerable rate, Dave Clark called a band meeting in July of 1970 and announced the group was finished. The band parted ways as friends but never came together again. Smith would team up with Mike d’Abo of Manfred Mann for an album in 1976 and began a successful career as a writer of commercial jingles for companies all over the world.  After a long 25-year hiatus from live performances, he formed the Mike Smith Engine band that did limited tours in the UK and USA circa 2003.

Then came that fall at his home in Spain, after which he would pass on February 28, 2008, from complications of the paralyzing spinal injury. It was just 11 days before he was due to join his DC5 mates to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His wife told the world that he did indeed know that he got in, and in his final days, could not have been happier.

-Steven Valvano

-The Dave Clark Five, 1964 (publicity photo); Mike Smith is far left.

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27 comments on “Mike Smith: The Most Underrated Singer in Classic Rock?

  1. Ken Peterson

    Steve, fascinating background and detail. I have learned more about the history of rock n roll from you than any other friend. Thanks, Steve!

  2. I agree, was always one of my favorite singers, so talented.

  3. charlie smith

    thank you Steve for all your kind words about my wonderful and talented husband, Mike Smith. He truly was a genius but never for one moment did he ever realize his great talent and instead remained the most humble and kindest person on earth. Even during his difficult and painful times after his accident he always remained positive and every morning greeted me with a huge hug and his wonderful smile. Thanks to Bruce, Steve and Peter Noone he was able to have an electric wheel chair and would often go down the halls at Stoke Mandeville Hospital encouraging others who had similar injuries’ to not give up. He not only inspired so many people with his music but he also had a huge amount of love and compassion and was able to turn tears into laughter and despair into hope. Everyone adored him.

    • Bill Courtright

      I miss Mike and his sense of humor. One of the kindest souls I’ve ever known.

    • Steven Valvano

      Hi Charlie,
      Its wonderful that you reached out to me. This is truly special, just like Mike’s talent was for all the world.

      I have to tell you I love the story of how you and Mike got together after so many years apart. Makes my heart warm that love can always find a way, and you two were living proof.

      I was only 5 years old when the DC5 came to America, but along the influence of the Beatles, Mike and his pals had the most profound musical impact in my life as a drummer. It was permission to dream! That is: I too could be the drummer leader of a band and perhaps find someone else to do the singing as great as Mike Smith! Alas, didn’t come true, but I lived the life nevertheless.

      My only regret was when I was living abroad outside of the US (Surrey, south west of London) circa 2002-2004, Mike was doing his Engine thing, and I did not get to see him live. I had too many commitments and kids to deal with. I do remember reading the rave reviews of his short tours. No doubt you were proud of his work.

      All the best-SV

      • charlie smith

        After almost 35 years we couldn’t believe that we both still had photographs of each other!!!! I shared with him letters his dad had sent me asking me to come over to London to be with them but my parents would never have allowed that even though I was over 21 years old. In those days we still obeyed our parents wishes.
        Mike told me that when we finally met up again in 1999 he knew that when I got out of the cab in front of his home he knew in his heart that this time he was going to marry me. We often giggled over that one

        It’s a shame that you didn’t get to see him perform when he made his come back in 2003. He was gob smacked that the fans still remembered him and would bring up albums for him to sign after his shows. He was thrilled to be back on stage and we had planned on moving back to the U.S. so he could continue touring when he had his horrible accident. When he played the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame he dedicated his show to his mom and dad and said afterwards that they would have been so proud of him. His shows were always sold out and his voice was as strong as it was in the 60’s. …shame you didn’t get to catch one.

        When people ask me what it was like living with him I tell them that we loved, we laughed, and at times we cried together but I thank God everyday for bringing us together after all those years apart. At our wedding we played a song called “Someone Had A Hand In It”. It’s a beautiful song and was just so true….

        • charlie smith

          the correct title of our song was ‘KEEPER OF THE STARS” by Tracy Byrd.

          • Steven Valvano

            Charlie, this is so interesting. Can I please ask you a question privately? If you can, please send your email to my personal email address: Valvano@optonline.net, and we can take this off-line. Thanks for considering, – Steve

  4. DC5. One of my favorite bands when I was young. Thanks for this story.

  5. Jim Berrier

    Mike Smith is in my top five male rock vocalists. He is greatly missed. Thanks for the article.

  6. Steve Baratta

    I consider myself very lucky to have met Mike Smith and see him perform up close, especially during Bits and Pieces. His kindness and talent will always be remembered.

  7. Jean Sanderson

    Saw him in New York in the 60’s and stayed outside his hotel hoping he would come out. He did around 10:30 pm and signed an autograph. He was so sweet and kind. I was only 14. My mom nearly killed me for staying out so late but it was worth it to see him.🥰
    Thank you so much for writing this article. It brought back such happy memories.

    • Steven Valvano

      You are welcome Jean, They were so under rated. If we think about it, the DC5 did more in the 60s than the likes of say at Pink Floyd, but we Floyd gets more press due to their 70s music. Enjoy- SV

  8. John Aughinbaugh

    Mike Smith was great and his reputation would be even greater if Dave Clark would have released the iron grip he held on the recordings for so many years. I also think Clark’s need to be at the center of everything, and the dislike that engendered among many, didn’t help.

  9. Martin Ruiz

    Very nice write up. The DC5 are one of my favorite bands, when I was a radio DJ they got plenty of air time.
    I often wondered why he did not get as much recognition as he deserved. I never knew he wrote the songs also, another hidden talent.
    Marty

  10. I have been a fan of the DC5 since the mid 60’s. I bought DC5’s best of double CD release in the 90’s and I still listen to it now and then. It bugs me that Dave Clark would establish a practice of taking top billing and shared writing credits to MIke Smith’s songs. Did Dave Clark actually write any songs? I wonder if this was an ego and greed thing of Dave Clark.

  11. Rob Sobkoviak

    What a great article about this underrated singer. I count the DC5 as one of my most favorite bands and “Because” as my all-time favorite song. There is such a kinetic connection between the DC5 and the proto-punk garage sound of the mid to late-1960’s. I think in that respect the Dave Clark Five was so much more influential than most of the other bands of the day. The pounding drums, Mike’s soulful shouts…it’s where punk came from. Why Mike Smith isn’t a household name eludes me—perhaps if he had a bigger stake in the product he created or could have been involved in more of the business decisions that affected his destiny. Regardless, the body of work he left behind is more than a period piece or a quaint reflection of a sub genre. Mike Smith’s music laid the foundation for what we all live about Rock music today. Thanks for a great story about him.

    • Steven Valvano

      Thank you Rob….and Denny Payton was one of Rock’s unsung utility men…Not only sax, but guitar and backing vocals as well. -SV

  12. Larry Lewis

    NO one, before or since, has matched the power of the DC5’s “in your face” studio production, of which Mike’s pipes were an essential element. It remains that unique and for me is the epitome of the ’60s British sound. The entire population of the village in which I grew up could fit into that studio’s echo chamber!

    I’d crawl over broken glass to read a definitive bio on the band….and I’ll wager I’m not alone. If only just to clear up assorted questions and myths floating ’round, all these decades. Great article, Steven, and now I gotta go slap on the ‘phones and catch that bass slide, each time Mike yells, “Watch me now!” in, “Do You Love Me.”

  13. Robert Bourland

    I’d like to know more about superstar drummer Bobby Graham’s role in a lot of the recordings. Also Vic Flick on guitar and Ron Ryan’s uncredited songwriting.

    • Larry Lewis

      These are some of the questions I alluded to as well, Robert. Lots of background info that could be woven into a book. Still, would truly Clark open up to an author or continue to keep the facts close to the chest? I suspect latter, sadly.

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