By Brett Milano
Think of Paul Revere & the Raiders and you invariably think of the Revolutionary War costumes, the Dick Clark connection, the TV show “Where The Action Is,” the 16 Magazine photo spreads of Mark Lindsay and his ponytail…and, oh yeah, they made some pretty great records, too.
“The hats and the tights and the goofy costumes — all that gets burned in peoples’ retinas, and it can be hard to remove that,” says frontman Lindsay.
Phil “Fang” Volk, bassist for the first main lineup, agrees.
“I don’t think we ever got the street cred we deserve,” Volk said. “You take a band that played for years on the garage circuit. Then you put them on TV, and it changes the whole image.”
Collectors’ Choice three-CD set “Paul Revere & the Raiders: The Complete Columbia Singles” is the latest attempt to put that right. True, there isn’t much music here that hasn’t been reissued before, either on the double-CD set “The Legend of Paul Revere” or Sundazed’s reissues of the original albums. But it is the first set to put all the singles in one place, mostly restored to original mono (and without the much-disliked remixing on the Legend set).
Put it all together, and you’ve got a taste of everything that ever mattered about AM radio. With Lindsay (and at first, the late Terry Melcher) taking the lead in the writing and production, the band changed direction every few singles, getting from “Louie Louie” to more textured soul and pop, fusing The Stones with Phil Spector on “Him Or Me - What’s It Gonna Be?,” doing Southern rock before it was even a genre, going protest-pop on “Indian Reservation,” and finishing up with the one of the weirdest-ever Dylan covers — all in just more than a decade. If you bought the albums or played the B-sides, you’d hear ambitions that went well past the confines of the Top 40.
“I was influenced by everything out there,” Lindsay says. “Growing up, I listened to everything from classical to pop to comedy records. It would be a lie if I said I wasn’t influenced by The Beatles or The Stones, but I was aware of everything on the charts, and Terry, in the beginning, was very conscious of that. He originally pegged the Raiders as somewhere between The Kinks and The Stones, and tried to steer us in that direction. And we had plenty of angst and sweat to go along with it. Our first singles were very much mixed for AM radio; we were always shooting for the sound coming through those speakers. As we moved on, I wasn’t reinventing myself, since I liked all kinds of music so it was easy to switch up and lean in a particular direction.”
The new set shows one anomaly of the Raiders’ career: The singles were often wildly different from the album versions. Most sported different mixes on 45. “Too Much Talk” and “The Great Airplane Strike” had sections unique to the single; “We Gotta All Get Together” was a different (and better) recording than its album counterpart. The album cut of “Cinderella Sunshine” was not only twice as long, but also a completely different arrangement.
“I never put anything away,” Lindsay explains. “I’d cut two, maybe three versions of a song. Sometimes I’d cut it for the album, and when it came time for the single I’d think, ‘Maybe we can punch it up, streamline this a little.’ With something like ‘Cinderella Sunshine,’ the single came first, and after listening to it for a while I’d think, ‘Now I wish I’d done it this way, instead’.”
Also unique to the singles were instrumental B-sides that were purposely too loose (and at four and five minutes, too long) to challenge the A-sides for airplay. On “Shake It Up” and “B.F.D.R.F. Blues,” you hear the Raiders being a garage band, with Revere wailing on, of all things, a harpsichord — which just happened to be left over from a classical session.
“When I listen to those I say, ‘Wow, man, I had better chops than I thought’,” notes Volk. “I already knew what ‘Hungry’ and ‘Steppin’ Out’ sounded like; those were written lines. But when I hear those instrumentals, I hear cats that are just playing from their souls.”
Volk also wants to put to rest the idea that Lindsay and Melcher relied on session players in the studio. True, some hired guns were around: Ry Cooder was one of many guitarists on “Him Or Me” (Jerry Cole played the lead), and Van Dyke Parks did the organ mini-solos on “In My Community.” But the Raiders themselves — including Revere, at least in the early days — played most of the basic tracks. “I was the bass player on everything recorded when I was in the band,” notes Volk. “You hear a lot of talk about the Wrecking Crew being involved, but Terry and Mark would use them to augment the band.”
From the start, the Raiders risked getting too risqué for the radio. By now, it’s well documented that their version of “Louie Louie” had an F-word in the groove, one of Lindsay’s offhand shouts during the solo. In one of the great ironies, the censors instead went after The Kingsmen, whose lyrics were unintelligible but squeaky-clean).
“B.F.D.R.F. Blues” had a title that would’ve never seen the light of day spelled out (“Big deal, rat fink” would be the clean version). And the two Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil-penned hits, “Kicks” and “Hungry,” had grown-up slants for a teen-idol band. “Kicks” could have referred to any number of things; Lindsay’s animal growls on “Hungry” clearly refer to one thing only.
“To be honest with you, I never understood the depth of the lyrics in ‘Kicks’,” Lindsay says. “It wasn’t even written about a girl; it was about [Carole King’s writing partner] Gerry Goffin who was dabbling in some hard stuff at the time. I was naïve; I just thought it meant that it wasn’t as easy to have a good time as it used to be. Then Time magazine asked me how it felt to have recorded the first anti-drug song, and I said, ‘We did?’”
As for the more overtly sexual “Hungry,” he says, “The feedback I got later [from the teenybopper fans] was that it was a little scary for them, and really exciting. Some of our stuff was more obviously geared for the 16 Magazine readers, and some was for the fans at the dance halls, so we appealed to both. I suppose that later came back to haunt us.”
There were also psychedelic hints between the lines, though most of that was on album tracks — the most psych single was the B-side “Observation From Flight 285 (in 3/4 time)”, sort of a hazier cousin to “Eight Miles High.”
“I could only get away with so much of that on the records,” Lindsay says. “Though I have great visions of driving up the Canyon listening to Jimi and thinking, ‘God, where did that come from?’ I remember that ‘1001 Arabian Nights’ (one of their trippier album cuts) came after Terry and I listened to Donovan one day, through the cannabis haze that was around L.A. at the time.”
The Raiders’ teen-idol days effectively ended in 1968, when Volk, guitarist Jim “Harpo” Valley (who’d replaced original member Drake Levin) and drummer Mike “Smitty” Smith all jumped ship, and a new round of Raiders, with guitarists Freddy Weller and Keith Allison, came in.
Melcher also fell out around this time, and Revere got less involved in the studio, leaving Lindsay solidly in charge — though both Weller and Allison (who was last seen playing guitar on Ringo Starr’s latest album) would have a hand in the new, Southern-styled direction. Lindsay’s debut as sole writer/producer, 1968’s “Too Much Talk,” was the group’s first — and, until “Indian Reservation,” only — political single.
“We traveled a lot in the South at the time, and I’m sure that inspired it,” Lindsay says.
Around the same time, the group’s Christmas album was the most political thing it did, just when the label was expecting the group to do ‘Sleigh Ride’,” he said.
The start of the 1970s found Lindsay making his most ambitious Raiders album “Collage,” but having greater success with a more pop-friendly solo career. The Raiders’ comeback hit, “Indian Reservation,” was in fact recorded as a solo single.
“I honestly didn’t know if it would be the biggest smash or a giant flop, and I can usually call records within 10 points. All I knew was that there’d be no middle ground on it. We had ‘Birds of a Feather’ up as the next Raiders single; and I knew that would go Top 30. And I said, ‘Well, I have this other thing I recorded, but I’m really reticent to put it out’.”
Thanks to a few factors — an especially strong vocal, Hal Blaine’s tom-tom hook, and Revere setting out by motorbike to visit radio stations — it was the group’s first and only No. 1.
Yet “Indian Reservation” didn’t totally revitalize The Raiders’ career. An album comprised mainly of leftover tracks was rushed out; there was only one follow-up (“Country Wine”). Both tellingly lacked original songs, as Lindsay was still smarting after the near-flop of “Collage.”
“Birds of a Feather” was indeed a modest hit as a follow-up; but the last batch of Raiders singles never stood much of a chance. The oddball Dylan cover “(If I Had to Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It) All Over You” wasn’t even intended to.
“That was the last single on our contract, and it was definitely the big F-You to the label. If I thought it could have been a hit,
I wouldn’t have sung it with so much Dylanesque twang,” Lindsay says.
One more single followed without Lindsay, but by then, the band had simply run its course.
“ ‘Indian Reservation’ put us back on the road, but my taste for the studio had basically soured at that point,” Lindsay admits. “I honestly didn’t know what to do next; I know we didn’t want to go back and do “Louie Louie’ again. Though in retrospect, that might not have been that bad an idea.”
Lindsay began a solo career that’s still going strong. Revere still tours with latter-day Raiders, and Volk just did a new CD with his band Fang & the Gang. Sadly, both Smith and Levin have passed away.