Revolutionary Spirit

In which Paul Revere and the Raiders completely miss the true Spirit of ’67

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I sometimes wonder about why Paul Revere and The Raiders were never that famous in Britain. Maybe they were so successful in America because they didn’t have to come over here. Maybe the British didn’t really understand the garage band phenomenum, if we wanted something tougher….well we had the Stones, Them, the Pretty Things, the Animals. we didn’t need American imports doing it even if they had just as much right to do this music.

Anyway, Paul Revere and the Raiders were too busy being the house band on “Where the action is” to really care. “Where the action is” was a daily music and variety show created by Dick Clark as a summer spin off from his “American Bandstand” show, networked across the United States by ABC. by all accounts it was a huge show and the list of performing guests reads like a who’s who of mid sixties pop. The Raiders had had a few garage hits already when they started on the show – classics like “I’m not your stepping stone”, “Just like me” and “Kicks”, all great examples of their guitar and organ led stompers. They wore matching uniforms, had dance steps, the girls swooned over singer Mark Lindsay, the boys emulated the rough guitar licks, Columbia Records were happy with the amount of hits they scored (when Clive Davis trialled selling Greatest Hits LPs at a higher price the first albums he chose were by Bob Dylan and Paul Revere and the Raiders.)

But there was a big problem. The Raiders weren’t cool. Those uniforms for a start… how uncool was that? And the Dick Clark connection didn’t help either, he was the epitome of clean cut Amerika. And “Kicks” was an anti drugs song too, even if it was written by Mann and Weill about fellow songwriter Gerry Goffin. Being anti drugs in America in the mid  60s was almost as uncool as being pro-Vietnam War. Even having the Beatles’ PR guru Derek Taylor wasn’t going to help – he was better served by the material his other clients were making. You know, people like the Byrds and the Beach Boys, bands on the cutting edge of 1966 pop. It was with these thoughts in mind that the band approached their sixth album, recorded during the latter half of 1966 and issued in November of that year. The album was entitled “Spirit of ’67” but was more like a compendium of pop styles circa ’66.

The album has a blistering start with the single “Good thing“. The guitars aren’t distorted but are on the edge of clean, trebly and sharp as knives, the drums have a soulish Motown beat, the piano jangles and someone is frantically shaking a tambourine. But it is all about the vocals. Mark Lindsay is on the edge himself, half Jagger and half James Brown – all grunts and sighs, the good thing he is promising sounds more like a threat. Then theres the backing vocals – presumably the rest of the band – which drop in throughout the song playing against and  commenting upon Lindsay’s vocal, and at the end of the chorus the song goes a capella for some harmonised “good good good good things” and this listener thinks of “Good vibrations”  before realising it was issued before the Beach Boys’ single. Of course with Terry Melcher as the Raiders’ producer they may have heard the song during its long gestation. A good start then. “All about her” is all dulcimer mandolin and organ, clipped lyrics and trying desperately to be “Lady Jane”… “she’s a queen, its her game. I’m just a pawn”. One wonders how true the song is, certainly it is sung with a restrained passion. “In my community” is jaunty, built on Van Dyke Parks’ toytown organ fills and tries to create an us and them scenario but would you
want to live on the Raiders community? Not really. “Louise” takes “Drive my car” as its template, even paraphrasing a line or two, but definitely stealing those harmonies in sixths. “Why why why (is it so hard?)” is a musician’s sob story (“Sorry young girl I must go, my life belongs on the road”) and highly dubious (“I’ll leave or I’ll soon have a son”????) but jangles like the Byrds, even stealing the droning block harmonies from “If you’re gone”. Terry Melcher again, you see. “Oh to be a man” is another generation gap song, moaning about the expectations of the older generation, the cliches they spout, the lack of sympathy they display, and how the new generation just want to play, the backing vocals chime “childhood wildhood please don’t take my toys” like petulant toddlers.

The Raiders are back in garageland for side two’s opener “Hungry“. That clip there gives an indication of their style, the dance moves, the uniforms and hats… Anyway Lindsay is trying to explain his modus operandi, what drives him. Unsurprisingly he’s hungry but he never makes clear what for besides saying he wants ‘good things’. However his performance does the talking, all his sighs and hissing and sharp intakes of breath – he sounds like Hannibal Lecter eyeing up a tasty morsel. (The single version of the song is a bit tamer, Lindsay holds back on his grunting but his lascivious needs are still plain) Meanwhile the band rock it up, lots of stop start jolts, fuzztone guitars and Vox Continental organs in overdrive. “Undecided Man” turns their Xerox onto “Eleanor Rigby”, all staccato string stabs (arranged by Mort Garson) and Lindsay trying to be Macca. He doesn’t know what to do after thinking ‘twenty two years about it’, he’s at the crossroads, oh dear more cliches. What next? How about a daft Dylan shaggy dog story blues workout? Yeah why not. “Our candidate” is just such and passes by with harmonica blasts and little to redeem it. “1001 Arabian nights” was written by Lindsay and Melcher under the influence of Donovan and weed, and it shows in its one chord drone, chanting backing vocals and close mic-ed intimate vocal, but goes on too long. Finally the Xerox is turned back on the Stones circa “19th nervous breakdown” with a little bit of “These boots are made for walking'” thrown in for good measure.  “The great airplane strike” is a song based on fact, a real strike in July ’66 at LAX airport. Lindsay gives up trying to escape the chaos and decides to live in the airport. And why not? If Tom Hanks can do it….

The album was a success, thanks to the three hit singles and probably not because of Derek Taylor’s bored sleeve notes (“they are very good, they are also very successful, which is not always the same thing…this is all we intend to say….”). But there was trouble brewing within the ranks. The guitarist, drummer and bass player wanted recognition and songwriting credits but Revere and Lindsay weren’t interested so during the summer of 67 the Raiders lost three members, replaced by others in a quick turn around and aided by session musicians during the recording of their next LP “Revolution!” issued towards the end of that year. It wasn’t just any old session musicians either – Hal Blaine, Ry Cooder and Jerry Cole all participated. It’s just a shame the album was mostly piffle. It starts well with “Him or me – what’s it gonna be?” which is a fine continuation of their garage pop style, more sharp hooks and riffs but a slight lack of personality. It goes downhill from there. “Reno” is the kind of dull blues that the Electric Prunes made before they discovered guitar effects. “Upon your leaving” plods with lots of harmonies but little purpose. “Mo’reen” and “Gone, movin’ on” sound ike any anonymous bubblegum group. “Wanting you!” wants to be meaningful and is just a slog but at least Lindsay sounds committed to the song. “I had a dream” is back to fairground organ, cliched lyrics and the sound of yawning, literally. It was a single, which was a daft move considering the next song “Tighter” is a perfect pop gem, blasting through two minutes in a lightly psychedelic manner. “Make it with me” is another slog only notable for the enormous noise generated by the bass in the chorus. The album’s nadir is Paul Revere’s Ringo spot, “Leslie”, a jokey song about how great his partner is at cleaning and making his breakfast in bed. You would hope his tongue is in his cheek but you can’t be sure. So far the album has been mediocre, a few good songs and a lack of the bite shown on their previous LP, even if those ideas were secondhand.

Then the album closes with “I hear a voice“. A piano repeats a simple haunting descending phrase, with a celeste or xylophone adding melody. Then massed harmony voices echo in, like a gregorian chant, a mood is established and continues in its spooked way for three minutes before fading out. When I bought these two albums in 97 this song stood out as so different, so peculiar, so out of character from everything else. Then a few years ago while cleaning the laminate floor in the dining room I actually listened to the words and got REALLY spooked. I ended up not cleaning, just putting the song on repeat as I took on the lyrics. I’m not going to spoil that discovery for yourself but hell, that’s a heavy subject for a 1967 pop album.

After that where next for the Raiders?  They were overtaken by events and other artists, first the Monkees then the bubblegum bands like Ohio Express. But there was another TV show “Happening 68” and more albums and singles (I’ll link in their groovy “Observations from Flight 285” because I love silly psychedelia), an attempt to go anonymously heavy as Pink Puzz, a huge hit with “Indian reservation” in 71, then country rock and splits and reformations, and there’s still a version touring America right now. But those two albums are worth a listen if you have the time.

Next time… Probably what I said last time. Hopefully I will have my phone back (third repair in six months) and I can stop using the Hated Android Experience which this blog post has been created on. Enjoy!

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