Once upon a time (and a very weird time it was), there was a rock band from Idaho that dressed up like Revolutionary War heroes. During its heyday from 1965 until 1971, the band, Paul Revere & the Raiders, had a bunch of top 40 singles, four of which made it to the top five on the Billboard charts. And like these stories usually go, as seemingly quick as they arrived on the scene, Paul Revere & the Raiders went to that rock & roll heaven known as the oldies circuit.
With the release of The Complete Columbia Singles, it’s an appropriate time to take a look at the legacy of Paul Revere & the Raiders. The three-disc set, which includes the A- and B-sides of every single the band released on Columbia Records from 1963 to 1975—66 songs in all—is a bit overwhelming at first. There’s a lot of music on here, some of which even the most devoted 1960s rock archivist might not be all that familiar. It’s certainly interesting to chart the development of the band, from their version of “Louie Louie” (legendarily recorded in the same month and same studio as the more famous version by the Kingsmen) up to the AOR, proto-disco flavored “Your Love (Is The Only Love).”
In between, the Raiders’ sound follows familiar rock tropes. Early on, there’s a healthy dose of classic, late-50s/early-60s blues-heavy rock, best exemplified by songs like the rollicking “Over You.” When the mid-60s hit, you get the obligatory hot rod songs (“SS396” and “Corvair Baby”), which perhaps are a bit average, but to the Raiders’ credit, come from records that saw an extremely limited release. The late ’60s saw the band moving towards a harder edge (for example, the fuzz-drenched “Rain, Sleet, Snow”) and psychedelia (culminating with “Sorceress With Blue Eyes”). At the end of the run, the band found itself alternating between the aforementioned AOR-style music and the straightforward rock that had always been a part of its repertoire.
This is a singles collection, though, and ultimately Paul Revere & the Raiders are best remembered for those singles that became hits. Some, like “Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian),” haven’t aged well. Others, like “Good Thing,” remain solid ’60s pop-rock songs. Approximately four decades later, however, the Paul Revere & the Raiders legacy seems to rest on two great tracks.
First, and perhaps most famous of the pair, is 1966’s “Kicks.” It’s a Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil composition built upon a foundation of one of the most memorable guitar riffs in ’60s pop. Its message is ostensibly anti-drug, telling listeners, “Before you find out it’s too late, you’d better get straight.” In a deeper (and less square) sense, though, one can view “Kicks” as a warning to the ’60s generation, foretelling the looming American hangover of the ’70s. It’s undoubtedly a classic, but its didactic nature (compare the narrator of “Kicks” to the more empathetic voice in Jan & Dean’s “Dead Man’s Curve,” which delivered the same warning two years earlier) keeps it from the all-time rock pantheon.
While “Kicks” might remain the best known Paul Revere & the Raiders hit, the band’s first song to make the Top 20, 1965’s “Just Like Me,” cements the group’s legacy as one of the bands of their generation worth remembering. Here is a song that takes full advantage of the dynamics that make the then still developing rock genre so universally moving. Lyrically, it’s the lament of a pathetic loser who’s been dogged by chicks far too many times than he can count. But while vocalist Mark Lindsay takes on a suave-as-hell air as he croons the verse over a somewhat subdued, tension-building groove, he lets completely loose during the chorus, screaming out his frustrations over a guitar riff that somehow turned into a prototype for both “More Than a Feeling” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Sure, it’s a bit of a take on the Kinks, but it arguably goes a bit further, alternately tackling teenage sensitivity and bravado with appropriate tenderness and aggressiveness. It’s brilliance like this that makes The Complete Columbia Singles worth a listen, for if you dig deep enough, you’re bound to find kernels of that brilliance in more than a handful of the compilation’s lesser-known tracks.