Sunday, July 25, 2010

July 23, 2009: The Nuggets Record Buying Guide: Paul Revere and theRaiders

In the autumn of 1972, future Patti Smith Band guitarist Lenny Kaye compiled a double-album that would help inspire the upcoming punk movement and revive interest in a form of music that had previously been dismissed as amateurish garbage compared to what more accomplished groups, such as the Beatles, the Stones, and the Beach Boys, were producing in the mid-60s. Of course, I’m talking about the American garage band/psychedelic one-hit-wonder comp Nuggets. After taking a gamble on the record, many listeners heard regional acts like New York’s the Vagrants, Boston’s the Remains, and Texas’ Mouse for the first time. Same thing goes for bands containing future stars, such as The Amboy Dukes (Ted Nugent), Sagittarius (Bruce Johnston), and Nazz (Todd Rundgren). Some of the songs actually were national hits, like the Standells’ “Dirty Water”, the Electric Prunes’ “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)”, and the Castaway’s “Liar Liar”, but few of these bands ever managed another one. Although most of the 27 tracks on Nuggets were unfamiliar, each one was a thrilling reminder of how fresh these third and fourth tier acts remained years after their fleeting careers had faded.

In 1998, the premier retro-rock label Rhino Records released a boxed set based on Lenny Kaye’s original vision that expanded those 27 songs to a staggering 118 and included better known acts like Paul Revere and the Raiders, Love, and the Turtles among the obscure ones. Three years later, Rhino released Nuggets II, which took Kaye’s concept international. I for one was inspired to check out groups likes the Smoke, the Action, the Move, the Pretty Things, Timebox, Les Fleur de Lys, and Marmalade after poring through this box sets’ 109 fiery tracks, and to call my effort rewarding would be an understatement.

In this new feature here at Psychobabble, I’ll be offering suggests about where to head next after discovering a band via Nuggets. Some of these should be pretty easy to write since a lot of these bands never got past their debut albums (and in some cases, they didn’t even get that far).

The Nuggets Record Buying Guide: Paul Revere and the Raiders
(represented on Nuggets by “Just Like Me” and “Steppin’ Out”)

I’ve decided to start with one of my personal favorite groups, and one that was not among Kaye’s original parade of oddities. In fact, Paul Revere and the Raiders scored an impressive nine top-twenty singles during their career (and when they’d shortened their name to the Raiders in the ‘70s, they even managed a number one hit with the MOR mediocrity “Indian Reservation”). But time has somewhat left Paul Revere and the Raiders behind, largely because the group was saddled with a goofy, bubblegum image forged by their insistence on wearing idiotic revolutionary war uniforms and their slapstick antics on Dick Clark’s Rock & Roll variety show “Where the Action Is”. Despite the Raiders’ sub-Monkees persona, they actually churned out some tough R&B-flavored garage rock and psych recordings, like “Steppin’ Out”, “Just Like Me”, the original version of “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone”, “Hungry”, “Louie, Go Home”, “The Great Airplane Strike”, and “Him or Me (What’s It Gonna Be?).” Some of their material did veer more toward bubblegum, but much of this was as wonderful as their harder-edged efforts, such as “Cinderella Sunshine”, a heady synthesis of light-psychedelia and effervescent pop worthy of Brian Wilson or, at least, Andrew Oldham. As a band, they were blessed with a dramatic, magnetic belter and fine pop songwriter in Mark Lindsay, an inventive bassist in Phil “Fang” Volk, and a powerful, funky drummer in Mike “Smitty” Smith.

Paul Revere and the Raiders delivered the goods on their long players, too. The first time this is really evident is on Midnight Ride (1966), on which they sidestep the covers that dominated their earlier albums and deliver the strong originals “Take a Look at Yourself”, “Ballad of a Useless Man” by guitarist Drake Levin (who unfortunately died of cancer this past July 4th), and the menacing “Louie Go Home” (a vastly superior remake of a more R&B influenced version the group recorded for a 1964 single, which the Who later covered as “Lubie [Come Back Home]”). The album also contained the first versions of the future standards “Kicks” (the band’s signature hit) and “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” by the Tin Pan Alley songwriting teams Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, and Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, respectively.

Even with these scattered triumphs, Midnight Ride is dragged down by a couple of saccharine ballads, “Little Girl in the 4th Row” and “Melody for an Unknown Girl”. The place you really want to start with Paul Revere and the Raiders is their next album, The Spirit of ‘67 (released at the end of ’66, ironically). The album is buoyed by arguably the band’s three best hit singles: the Beach Boys-meets-the Stones corker “Good Thing”, the fuzzed out proto-pop metal of “Hungry”, and the mesmerizing groove-fest “The Great Airplane Strike”.

The rest of the album is nearly as good, with quirky pieces like “In My Community”, “Why? Why? Why?”, and “Our Candidate” jiving alongside a pair of melodramatic stabs at dark-Scott Walker balladry— “All About Her” and “Oh! To Be a Man” — and a pair of fantastic Revolver-era Beatles pastiches: “Undecided Man”, which lifts the slashing string octet from “Eleanor Rigby”, and the raga-parody “1001 Arabian Nights”.

With enough hits to draw in casual fans and a wealth of quality album tracks to keep their attention, The Spirit of ‘67 is the perfect spot to form a Raiders addiction, but my personal favorite of their LPs is Revolution! (1967), which includes the huge hit “Him or Me (What’s It Gonna Be)” (the equal of any hit on The Spirtit of ‘67) and the minor one, “I Had a Dream”. From end to end, it is the most consistently strong Raiders record, with thumping blasts of sugary R&B like “Reno”, the sublime “Mo’reen”, “Wanting You”, and the hilarious “Ain’t Nobody Who Can Do It Like Leslie Can” (a Revere-sung tribute to his maid). “Upon Your Leaving” is the band’s best ballad because it smartly retains their blues influence. The shimmering “I Hear a Voice” is their finest foray into psychedelia. “Make It With Me” has so much rumbling bottom it sounds as if the band is about to fall through the studio floor. Listeners who don’t require several anchors of familiarity to get into an album should definitely start with Revolution!.

Good places to head next would be Midnight Ride or Hard and Heavy (With Marshmallow) (1969, which is hampered by an idiotic title and annoying spoken-comedy bits between the tracks, but includes the phenomenal “Cinderella Sunshine” and some excellent Stonesy numbers like “Time After Time”, “Money Can’t Buy Me”, and “Without You”, as well as the bubblegum classic “Mr. Sun, Mr. Moon”.

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