For the week of 12/3/2012…

“Bits and Pieces” by the Dave Clark Five

The Dave Clark Five were one of the biggest bands of the British Invasion; my dad loves the pop music of that era, so naturally I grew up hearing a lot of Dave Clark’s music.  It’s likely that you think of the Rolling Stones and the Kinks as the major counterparts to the Beatles during the British Invasion, and those bands certainly have left a bigger mark on rock music.  However, the Dave Clark Five were actually the original “second band” of the Invasion, scoring the first non-Beatles British hit on the U.S. charts with “Glad All Over” in January 1964.  (In the U.K., it knocked “I Want To Hold Your Hand” out of the #1 spot!)  They quickly followed up that single with “Bits and Pieces,” which, like its predecessor, sold a million copies.  “Bits and Pieces” peaked at #2 on the U.K. chart and #4 on the U.S. charts; it was the second of seventeen Billboard Top 40 hits the band would notch before breaking up at the end of the decade.

I think that “Bits and Pieces” is far and away one of the best British Invasion songs recorded by a band other than the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, or the Kinks.  Here’s why:

First of all, like a number of Dave Clark Five songs, this really captures a raucous rock ‘n’ roll energy, despite being a pop hit.  It revives some of the ’50s wildness of Chuck Berry, Johnny Burnette, and Little Richard, and just feels like it pushed the envelope a bit more than the teen idol mush that had been dominating the radio in the interim.  Before each verse in “Bits and Pieces,” there’s a pause where all we hear is the clopping of boots as the band stomps out the beat; then drummer (and songwriter) Dave Clark pounds away at his snare drum to kick off the verse and the band begins to swing back and forth between two chords.  Whatever instrumentation there is, it’s all in service of that beat.  At the end of the song, there’s no fade-out; Clark’s snare intro returns and comes crashing down as the bassist plucks one last note.  The band rips through the whole thing in just under two minutes.

Second and most importantly, “Bits and Pieces” stands out from the other songs of the era about breakups’ aftermath — and there are plenty of them — because of how angry it is.  It’s not because of the lyrics.  Take the first verse:  “Since you left me and you said goodbye/All I do is sit and cry/You went away and left me misery/And that’s the way it’ll always be.”  These aren’t shocking lyrics; they’re pretty generic and could be taken from any number of ’60s songs.  But most songs with those lyrics would be slower, or sadder.  The message of the song would be that the singer is crushed, dejected, and misses his ex, that he wishes she would take him back.  But the DC5’s lead singer, Mike Smith, isn’t weepy here — he’s pissed off at the girl who’s dumped him.  His delivery of these lyrics falls somewhere between a shout and a howl.  He’s not sad that “that’s the way it’ll always be” — he’s enraged about it.  And where a post-breakup ballad might add a hint of bitterness with second verse lyrics like these — “You said you loved me and you’d always be mine/We’d be together til the end of time/Now you say it was just a game/But all you’re doing is leaving me in pain” — Smith makes the rawness of his wounds sound totally authentic, delivering that last line in what can only be described as a roar.  I suppose that when you put downbeat lyrics to  a decidedly upbeat song (the backing vocalists sound pretty happy about falling to pieces, don’t you think?), as a lead singer you’ve got to go for angry or bitter.

I guess what’s ultimately so interesting about “Bits and Pieces” is that while it’s quite of-its-era, it’s also kind of unique for its time.  That is, it has several elements that clearly date it to 1964 — the yakety sax; the halting attempt to play some organ chords during the bridge; and especially the sing-song, aren’t-their-accents-cute backing vocals.  But I’m hard-pressed to think of any other songs from this time period that channel such outright anger about getting dumped.

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