Paul Revere & the Raiders (from left): Mark Lindsay, Mike Smith, Phil Volk, Paul Revere, Drake Levin: If you wanted to rock—and most American teenagers did in 1965—the Raiders would damn well rock you. You could bank on it. The Raiders did.
Any Given Sunday:
The Moment of Paul Revere & the Raiders
By Christopher Hill
Hungry for Kicks: Singles & Choice Cuts 1965-69
Paul Revere & the Raiders
Let us not talk falsely now, as the Joker said to the Thief, so here’s a granular bit of truth from the 1960s that you might not get from the Revised Standard Rolling Stone Hall of Fame Canonical History of Rock & Roll. The distinctions that are made, in retrospect, between serious and lightweight music from that era, between high pop and low pop, between history-making art and disposable kitsch, were not nearly so obvious at the time as they seem now. The icons of the era, the Beatles, Stones, Dylan, etc., did not occupy the heights alone. In the interstices between their slots on the charts, lots of other music thrived. And—here’s the important fact—that other music was listened to, and dug, and taken “seriously” by the same people, the same kids, who put the Beatles/Stones/Dylan, etc. on the charts. Which brings us to Paul Revere and the Raiders.
The fact is that there were millions of real rockers who logged just as much time listening to Paul Revere and the Raiders between 1965 and 1967 as they did the Rolling Stones. That the kids who made “Like a Rolling Stone” a hit did the same with “Kicks” and “Good Thing.” That there was one point at which serious young men who might one day be rock critics could want to be both John Lennon and Mark Lindsay, the Raiders’ front man, at one and the same time.
Paul Revere & the Raiders, ‘Kicks’ 1966
Talking about the Raiders raises the larger topic of garage rock. Which runs the risk of turning the conversation serious, and if there’s one thing you shouldn’t be when talking about the Raiders, it’s serious. Nevertheless—the torrent of great one-off or regional hits in the mid-‘60s demonstrates a principle that’s dear to the heart of rock ‘n’ roll: the old football wisdom about how on any given Sunday any NFL team can beat any other NFL team applies to rock & roll too. Groups of four or five anonymous untutored teenagers in anonymous suburbs huddled in rec rooms, basements and garages, could emerge with one shattering burst of inspiration able to hold its own, for its two minutes and thirty seconds, against the best of what the icons were doing.
Most of these bands achieved their incandescent instant and then receded back into anonymity. But up in Oregon a young man with the unlikely name of Paul Revere, gifted with canny musical and commercial acumen, could see there was a potential killing to be made if a band could figure out how to turn out these kind of hits dependably.
Paul Revere and the Raiders figured it out.
Paul Revere & the Raiders, ‘Ups and Downs,’ live on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, 1967
The first ingredient was a charismatic front man, and that Revere already had in his friend Mark Lindsay. The next piece was a particular kind of sound.
Though Revere and Lindsay personally had no particular feeling for the ornery adolescent attitude that propelled garage hits like “Talk Talk” by the Music Machine or “Psychotic Reaction” by the Count Five, they could hear that the product of that attitude was a vividly agitated and abrasive energy that pushed the limit of what the pop music market would tolerate. Early Raiders hits like "Just Like Me" and “Hungry” offered up attention-getting levels of guitar noise ("Just Like Me" featured an unusual double-tracked guitar solo from guitarist Drake Levin, for example). Add a certain frustrated male energy, a la the Stones, which Lindsay could convincingly mimic, and an aptitude for tightly constructed pop songcraft and the Raiders started making hits.
There were other elements that went into the mix, and they were of the highest quality the era could provide. Material from Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, the legendary team behind “On Broadway,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin” and “We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place,” to name just a few; and production from Terry Melcher, the man who engineered the Byrds' ringing sonic cathedral, soon gave the Raiders a big-time sheen.
Paul Revere & the Raiders, ‘Steppin’ Out,’ on the Canadian TV show Swingin’ Time
Live, the Raiders would do almost anything to please an audience (their regular television gig on Dick Clark's Where the Action Is showcased the band’s anything-for-a-laugh Borscht Belt humor). But the thing about the Raiders is that the “anything” they would do included dependably rocking out. If you wanted to rock—and most American teenagers did in 1965—the Raiders would damn well rock you. You could bank on it. The Raiders did.
For a while it seemed that the Raiders’ hits would never stop coming. Eventually Lindsay and Revere were able to assemble tightly constructed pop-rock the way a gifted mechanic can tune a car engine.
Were the Raiders square? Sure they were square, compared the Byrds or even the Chocolate Watch Band. All they really had in common with the emerging counterculture was the length of their hair and a decibel level. But if you were on the Sunset Strip in 1966, the noise from the clubs would have made “Hungry, “Kicks,” “Just Like Me,” part of the vibe on the street.
Paul Revere & the Raiders, ‘The Great Airplane Strike,’ a #20 single from 1966 performed on Hollywood Palace
As mass Bohemianism flooded the western world in the late 60s, the taste in rock heroes turned toward coolly wasted anti-social artistes. The Raiders had held their own with the Stones, but Jim Morrison’s schtick was one the Raiders simply couldn’t pull off. But as the curtains were coming down on their time in the spotlight, the Raiders hit a glorious streak and released three of their finest high energy confections in a row—“Him or Me (What’s It Gonna Be?),” “Good Thing,” and “Ups and Downs.” Their native goofiness, previously restricted to between-song antics on stage, slipped its leash and got into the music. They dropped their characteristic hectoring tone towards the opposite sex and just…let go. The three songs comprise a sort of comic response to life’s exigencies. As much as they roared and rocked they had a crazy kind of bounce which suggested resilience rather than aggression, some kind of big slap-happy climax to their career.
Were the Raiders important? Depends on how you define it. They didn’t change the world. But in terms of dependably providing kicks for the kids, they were as good as most of their peers, their streak of “any given Sundays” lasting long enough to leave an imprint on their era.