How Quentin Tarantino kickstarted a resurgence for the band behind “Kicks”
AUDIO: “Good Thing” by Paul Revere & The Raiders was used for the Once Upon A Time In Hollywood trailer
This summer’s release of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood seemingly brought about a renewal of interest in Paul Revere & the Raiders, the famed 1960s rock band whose music was featured fairly prominently in the movie.
Their string of smashes have been fixtures on oldies radio since the format was invented; anybody with an even cursory interest in Baby Boomer-era rock & roll has probably heard “Kicks,” “Hungry,” “Just Like Me” or “Indian Reservation” in passing, somewhere down the road. However, because of their teen-idol reputation, the band’s legacy is taken for granted. Their first hit single hit the airwaves in 1961, so they’ve been eligible for Rock & Roll Hall of Fame status for a while. Even so, the suggestion of induction has generally been brushed off every time. They weren’t quite the first rock act signed to Columbia Records – Link Wray and Dion, among many others, were on the CBS stable long before the Raiders showed up – but they definitely played a crucial role in updating that label’s image for the sixties, back when they were mainly known for Johnny Mathis and Andy Williams.
At a time when rock bands were expected to write their own songs, the Raiders attacked that role with gusto; most of their albums included several copyrights from band members. As the music evolved, the Raiders’ own sound did too, incorporating psychedelia, country-rock and bubblegum, with a one-album stopover into Memphis soul Goin’ To Memphis.
Despite this, there is one crucial thing that sort of prevents that Raiders from being taken seriously by “sophisticated” rock fans: their image. When the Raiders first broke big in 1965, just about all the rock bands of the time wore matching suits and, if they were cute enough, grinned for the fan mags that ran their photo. The Raiders, with their identical Revolutionary War outfits and tri-cornered hats, were no different and might have taken the cake altogether. They hosted a TV show on ABC called Where The Action Is which ran five afternoons a week, between 1965-67, and the band were all too willing to showcase their grinning mugs in mags like 16 and e for pinup shots. This was how rock stars played the game back then, and the band went along with it. However, the Raiders stuck with the teenybopper image a little too long, just a little after the Beatles, Kinks and Byrds matured their identities. Just listen to, and look at, the Raiders’ 1968 album, Something Happening. Several of the songs could easily pass for top-notch British psychedelia of the time, and the growing FM market could easily play songs like “Burn Like A Candle” or “Observation From Flight 285 In ¾ Time” next to the Moody Blues or the Move. However, on the back cover, there’s a grainy black-and-white shot of the band in action on the Smothers Brothers’ TV show in front of a gaudy set design, in identical glittery outfits. (Tommy Smothers wrote the liner notes.) A musician friend of mine tells me that he faded on the Raiders around this time for that exact reason – while the music was still great, their outdated image was too much to deal with.
They made belated attempts to “get hip” in 1969-70, growing beards and smiling less for the camera, but by that time their reputation was chiseled in stone as bubblegum rockers, and the hippies didn’t want to know. Part of this could be laid on Paul Revere himself; Mark Lindsay saw which way the tide was turning, and wanted to keep up with the Beatles and the Stones. Revere insisted they stay behind and keep cranking out smiley-face hits for the kiddie market. In this way, the Raiders were in the same bag as the Turtles, the Box Tops, the Monkees and Tommy James & the Shondells – too ambitious to be tied down to the Top 40 market, but not serious enough for the FM hippies at the Fillmore. The evolution of the Raiders shows that they weren’t just a boy band; they, too, were affected by the changes.
VIDEO: Paul Revere & The Raiders perform on The Smothers Brothers Show, 1967
Their earliest records, from the pre-Beatle sixties, are pretty good frat rock that varies in quality. Their strongest suit during this era may have been instrumentals like “Orbit” and “Like Long Hair.” One “early years” album, In The Beginning (on the Jerden label), contains surprisingly weak versions of rock standards like “Hey! Baby” and “Shake, Rattle & Roll.” When they signed with Columbia Records, they tightened up their game considerably. Their debut album for the label, Here They Come!, is a nonstop frat rock jubilee. Side two is all ballads, yet it hits as hard as side one, which was recorded live and includes raucous rockers like “Big Boy Pete,” “Do You Love Me” and “You Can’t Sit Down.” A year later, Just Like Us! showed up around the same time as the Where The Action Is television program. Besides the hits “Just Like Me” and “Steppin’ Out,” they applied their special brand of Northwest grease to remakes of the blues standard “Baby Please Don’t Go,” Marvin Gaye’s hit “I’ll Be Doggone,” “Night Train,” “Satisfaction,” and add a hard backbeat to Donovan’s “Catch The Wind.” Right around the time bands were recording more original material, Midnight Ride With Paul Revere & The Raiders and The Spirit Of ‘67 contained several in-house songs composed by the band (in addition to more hits). By 1967, psychedelia was arriving, with bands trying to keep up with Sgt. Pepper and Pet Sounds. The Raiders’ answer was Revolution!, which saw them experimenting with different textures and chord changes, in Columbia’s fabulous 360 Stereo. Ry Cooder, fresh from folk-rockers the Rising Sons, can be heard playing slide guitar all over it, “I Had A Dream” (a hit) included some boss Hammond B-3 organ, and the unearthly harmonies of “Wanting You” and “I Hear A Voice” sounded like Gregorian chants, proving that the Raiders could get as eclectic as any ten “progressive” rock bands in the US or UK.
And then came 1968.
AUDIO: Paul Revere & The Raiders Alias Pink Puzz (full album)
The battle line were clearly drawn by then. Rock’s innocent malt shop era had ended. Either you were a hip FM band like the Doors, the Quicksilver Messenger Service, or Canned Heat, or you were a clean-cut AM radio act like the 1910 Fruitgum Company or the Classics IV. The Raiders, at this point going through as many lineup changes as the Byrds, weren’t unaware of what was going on, but Paul Revere insisted they remain chained to the pop image. Lindsay could experiment his ass off in the studio, but they were still going to have to put on the matching suits and entertain an audience that was getting younger by the days. They hosted a new series called Happening, which featured the Raiders and other musical guests…playing to an audience of what looked like middle-schoolers. The title of the Something Happening album tied into the basic premise of the show. The album that followed was Hard & Heavy With Marshmallow; despite the returning presence of “Ryland Cooder” on slide guitar, the album was a slight step backwards, as the songs took a more decidedly bubblegum turn. It was around this time that Lindsay apparently couldn’t take it anymore and released their most eclectic album to date, 1969’s Alias Pink Puzz. The story behind the album title is simple: sensing their lack of hip cred, Columbia sent a test pressing of the next Raiders album to the FM rock stations…credited to Pink Puzz. The hip DJs loved it, and several stations were adding the soon-to-be-released LP to the rotation. When they thought it was safe, Columbia announced that the jocks had been tricked into playing a Paul Revere & the Raiders album. The record was swiftly dropped from those same stations. So what did the DJs hear, when they thought it was a new band with an over-the-top name? To this writer’s ears, Alias Pink Puzz sounds like a three-way between Moby Grape, the Flying Burrito Brothers and the Stooges. The hit from this album was “Let Me,” which sounds like Iggy & the Stooges with commercial potential. Another track, “Down In Amsterdam,” is built around a guitar riff that sounds like something Scott Asheton would have pounded out on the Stooges’ Fun House LP. Elsewhere, the country roots of guitarist Freddy Weller and bassist Keith Allison are on full display, bringing the sound closer to the emerging country-rock genre.
VIDEO: Paul Revere & The Raiders in a 1969 Pontiac GTO commercial
Emboldened by this step forward, the next album, Collage, made no secret of the fact that they were catching up to the “grownup” rock world. Both Lindsay and Allison were rocking full beards, the name was shortened to “the Raiders,” and the songs themselves, which ranged from country-rock to a Laura Nyro cover to a couple of Led Zeppelin appropriations, all had interstitial segues in between songs, like a Concept Album. The record even received a rave review in Rolling Stone, written by record collector and future Patti Smith guitarist Lenny Kaye. He would also go on to compile the Nuggets anthology, which anthologized a grip of ’60s garage bands that were all Raiders contemporaries. Kaye clearly knew how powerful this band was.
AUDIO: The Raiders “Think Twice” from the Collage LP
The problem was, for all Mark Lindsay’s efforts, Collage was their lowest-selling album in years, augmented by the fact that there was no hit single from the album. There are photos of a bearded Lindsay visiting an FM rock DJ in Chicago (Scorpio, at the long-dead WGLD), with a copy of Collage in his hand. I will always wonder if that station ever added the album to the playlist, but the question was moot; the LP was a commercial failure, even though it was an artistic success.
The Raiders retreated to simpler mainstream sounds after this. Mark Lindsay had a sideline solo career as an easy-listening balladeer. The Raiders themselves, with Mark still in the band, had a surprise #1 hit in 1971 with “Indian Reservation”; the album of the same name was loaded down with forgettable covers of Top 40 hits. The final LP was 1972’s Country Wine, which had them leaving Columbia the same way they came in, with the songs divided into a Fast Side and a Slow Side, as well as an ominous note to record buyers in the credits (“have a nice life”). With no real direction, the band basically bided their time in Vegas, with a few more random singles. By 1976, with Lindsay gone, there was one final 45 on Drive (“Ain’t Nothing Wrong”), which found them in Pablo Cruise or Little River Band territory. And that was that.
As the eighties approached, and sixties nostalgia became a real thing, several Raiders hits became fixtures on oldies radio formats (back when they were still playing songs from that period). A few diehard garage collectors understood that Paul Revere & the Raiders, in many ways, anticipated the punk movement, along with a gang of other similar bands from the same era. But the general way of thinking was that the Raiders were one of those bands where you only needed the greatest-hits albums; not to be taken seriously as, say, their Columbia labelmates the Byrds, who were with the company about as long. Although they were an entirely commercial concept (despite Mark Lindsay’s desire to take it farther), the band left behind a legitimately good body of work that goes past the hits and extends to the misses, album tracks and B-sides, as well.
VIDEO: Dick Clark 1979 reunion show with Paul Revere & The Raiders