The Legacy of Paul Revere & The Raiders and The Monkees
The Monkees and Paul Revere and The Raiders; two of rock n roll's bastard children. The earliest direct assault to dominate teen's hearts and pocketbooks, as well as television, radio, and beyond. Or as Micky Dolenz puts it, "the first time that television and music industries combined forces in a concerted attack against the American consumer." In the years that followed, both bands have been relegated to very different roles in popular culture; one band remains a distant memory, the other propelled to popularity and praise no one could have predicted in the lazy days of 1967.
Even today, both bands struggle to carve out a legacy for themselves and their band, and their importance in rock history. Today, I will attempt to do that for them. This is a critical look at the legacy of Paul Revere and the Raiders and The Monkees.
"We were a force in the industry for a good three years! We had the biggest concert attendence, the best record sales, the most national television exposure! We were the American group that defied the British Invasion!"- Phil Volk (aka Fang)
Now I don't know what source Phil used to make those arrogant claims, but they certainly are laughable. In the years that followed their rise to fame, the Raiders are notorious for making egotistical claims about themselves in light of being ignored by most rock critics, and most of the American public since the early 70s. Claims such as, "In their time, Paul Revere and the Raiders (PRR) were adored and honored far and wide as the torch-bearers of American rock" (?!?!?!), saying that in comparison the Monkees "were suitable viewing only for dopey nine year olds," claiming they wore Beatle boots and leather outfits before the Beatles, and basically declaring themselves the BEST AMERICAN ROCK BAND OF THE 60s, DARNIT, in so many words. Welcome to the PRR self-promotion machine.
It's only natural that after being forgotten and ignored for thirty years, that they would feel the need to assert their own self-importance, after all, when one is unjustly ignored, its only natural to want to get noticed for the work that's been accomplished. And yes, The Raiders have been unjustly ignored by rock critics, and you know what, it's never going to change. Despite the fact that in their heyday, PRR had one of the most solid bands, one of the most inventive bass players, excellent production by Terry Melcher, a fabulous lead singer, and the beginnings of a great raucous rock band, they sold out and look where it got them...nowhere.
What even the members of PRR fail to understand, is that even in 1966, when they were a 'force in the industry', they weren't hip with fellow rock bands nor the burgeoning rock journalism scene. And that is why they've been dismissed all of these years; The Raiders may have been good, but they sure weren't hip.
There are esstentially four parts to their eternal un-hipness; their goofy name alluding to the Revolutionary War, the cheesy costumes they had to wear, their inability to grow with their audience and change their sound, and yes, the damn song "Kicks", all made them rock and roll outcasts, hip with only those who religiously read Tiger Beat magazine. Though they claim that The Monkees were only popular with the 'dopey nine year olds', in fact, it's the other way around.
Unlike The Monkees, PRR was not a manufactured group. They were together before Dick Clark plucked them from the Northwestern US to appear on his new variety show "Where the Action Is." At this point in time, PRR was a proto-punk group made up of Mark Lindsay, Paul Revere, Phil Volk (Fang), Mike Smith (Smitty) and Drake Levin. They had been in the Northwest music scene for years, playing the standard 60s rock and soul numbers. In the mid-1960s, Dick Clark, trying to bounce back from the British Invasion that sent his show "American Bandstand" out of popularity, tried to repeat his earlier pupeteer successes with Fabian and Bobby Vee by shifting his priorities to California-- the new frontier for music.
By 1965, the East coast music scene was dead (after all, bubblegum was replaced by the Beatles and all of the folkies moved to CA). The West was the best, and Dick Clark was yet again trying to capture the youth market.
His new show was "Where the Action Is", a musical show with skits and a house band that would perform the hits of the day. This was not a new idea, "Shindig", "Hullabaloo" were already on the air. But what Dick Clark needed was a new band, a band he could control just like he had with Fabian five years earlier. Enter PRR. Signing anything with Dick Clark, a geezer who only wanted to cash in on youngsters, was PRR's major mistake. If not for doing "Where the Action Is" (WTAI), I think their place in music history would have been much greater. But nevertheless, they became the house band on WTAI. Much has been said in the Raider camp that somehow their show was a precursor to MTV. Nothing could be furthur from the truth (and an ironic, arrogant claim concidering that Monkee Mike Nesmith is credited for inventing MTV with his program "Pop Clips"). And even if it was, shows like Ed Sullivan, Shindig, The TAMI Show, and Top of the Pops were mainstays on tv way before Dick Clark had the commercial gleam in his eye. I can't comment on the revolutionary merit or quality of WTAI, as i've never seen it. Dick Clark refuses to release the episodes for purchase or in re-runs, which is probably a sign that it wasn't much to be proud of.
Once under Dick's control, he forced them into their Revolutionary War getups; tight white pants, tri-corner hats, tall black boots, and their hip factor went straight down from there. Also gone was the punk sneering of Mark Lindsay, and the harsh rock tunes. Now they were singing "Before you find out its too late, girl you better get straight", on "Kicks", one of the first anti-drug songs, and basically buying into Dick's every whim and fancy. They had decent beginnings, but now they were eating from the puppeteer's hand, which is what makes them different from the Monkees, they were content being under control of a puppeteer.
But still, musically, The Raiders were excellent. And unlike the Monkees, music was always the focus, not the TV show. They had a tight band, Fang was one of the best bass players of the day, Smitty was a solid drummer, they had memorable riffs, and Mark had a fantastic rock voice. Their greatest asset was Terry Melcher, who was one of the best producers of the decade. With all of this going for them, how could they go wrong? Well, as it turns out, their musical pastures were not very deep. Other than the typical rock and soul numbers and the sickly ballads, the Raiders didn't offer the world any new musical directions. Maybe because their puppeteer's wouldn't let them?
Despite their musical merits, the Raiders were terminally unhip among their fellow musicians, in direct contrast to the Monkees' ability to get smack dab into the hip rock world. The Raiders, quite frankly, did not know the right people. To the pop stars in L.A, the Raiders represented everything bad and manipulated and manufactured about music, they appeared to be the establishment in twenty-year-olds bodies. Even their clothes, those Revolutionary War clothes seemed like a direct message from the older generation to support America in the war in Vietnam, it represented patriotism. In 1966, especially for the younger generation, being patriotic and wearing clothes the symbolized the glory of war was not a hip thing, AT ALL, and the Raiders silly clothes spoke to the 'counterculture'. And the message wa
s, 'Yay America, War is a wonderful, patriotic thing. Go kick the commies butts!'
The counterculture saw the Raiders pro-war garb and name as a symbol of the older generation's support of the war in Vietnam. Also add to the fact that in the 1960s, nearly every rock star who got drafted found some way to get out of the draft, either by paying someone, pretending to be a homosexual, taking a lot of drugs, faking instanity, etc. But by Raiders member Drake Levin serving his country during the war, it furthur supported claims that the Raiders were un-hip, pro-war, uninformed individuals. It made them look square, like the squeaky clean teen idols of the late 1950s who did what they were told to do. Even their band name, Paul Revere and the Raiders struck a negative chord due to it's Revolutionary War connection. In a time when the counterculture and musicians alike were protesting the ridiculous Vietnam War, it appeared as though the Raiders were praising war in general. And that did not help their cool status.
But the main reason they were un-hip is because of one little song. "Kicks". "Kicks" killed the Raiders chance at ever being accepted by rock and roll's major players. Because lets face it, in the 60s...if you were hip and cool and in with the counterculture, and if you were a rock star....you embraced the drug culture. And "Kicks" didn't support that lifestyle. Never mind the fact that the Raiders didn't write the song, never mind the fact that they probably weren't keen on recording it, all that mattered to the hip people in L.A is that the Raiders didn't take drugs (or at least they sang about not taking drugs). Rock's elite HATED them for "Kicks." David Crosby of the Byrds, who was a mainstay in the rock community at the time, was on the Dick Clark tour with the Raiders around that time when he was in "The Byrds."
In his auto-biography, he mentions how he hated touring with them, and he and the Byrds would always make fun of the Raiders dancing in their cute little war outfits on the amps by calling them "Paul Revere and the refrigerators" and "Paul Revere and the Retards." He hated their whole stance on drugs. His sentiments were echoed by many in the L.A crowd, who essentially ignored the Raiders existence.
The Raiders however, were probably too busy to care about their place in the rock elite; they were too busy touring, filming their tv show, and recording. But by mid-1967, even some of the Raiders were getting tired of performing the same type of music to the same 15 year old audience. Harpo (who replaced Drake Levin) left to make music by himself. Smitty and Fang soon followed, as did the Raiders days of playing their own instruments. Later in 1967, however, Harpo appeared to have joined the Monkees bandwagon a bit, regularly hanging around their set (and even appearing on an episode playing a harp, though that segment was later cut out.) Also around this time, WTAI was also cancelled, and despite the later Raiders programs "Happening 68 & 69", the Raiders popularity was in swift decline.
So let's back up to assess Fang's claims about the Raiders: "We were a force in the industry for a good three years! We had the biggest concert attendence, the best record sales, the most national television exposure! We were the American group that defied the British Invasion!"- Phil Volk (aka Fang)
Three years? Which years are these? According to the Billboard book of Top 40 Hits, the Raiders success was basically between 1966-67, one year (although their ONLY #1 was in 1971 with Indian Reservation). They definitely didn't have the best record sales, after all, they've only had ONE gold single (Indian Reservation), no number one albums, and no number one singles before 1971. In 1966 (their most successful year) the biggest band was still the Beatles, and even American bands like The Beach Boys, The Byrds, and The Mamas and the Papas had number one albums. Also, they didn't have the most television exposure, The Monkees did. The Monkees had the advantage of being on tv during PRIME TIME and were consistently winning their time slot AND in the top 25. WTAI, however, was on after school and got cancelled after a year or so. And claiming themselves to be the American group that defied the British Invasion is ludicrous.
The Beach Boys, The Mamas and the Papas, The Byrds, and the Lovin Spoonful all came before PRR, all had number one albums and singles in 1965-66 (the Raiders had neither), all have been inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and have more of a legacy. They were the bands that paved the path to topple the British Invasion, but it was really The Monkees that toppled the British Invasion (more about that later..), The Raiders just coasted in on the coat-tails of Dick Clark and his moneymaking-youth-marketing machine.
To sum things up, the Raiders, quite simply, got a raw deal. What began as a hard-working rock and soul band from the Northwest became another one of Dick Clark's puppets. He turned their sound from the raucous punk-pop, to Gary Lewis and the Playboys. In went the stupid outfits, out went their hipness. If they hadn't signed on with Dick Clark, who knows where they might have ended up...perhaps one of the greatest bands from the 1960s....if only....
And while the Raiders represented the establishment, The Monkees represented the new counterculture....the new wave of youth.....the hip, new L.A rock scene....
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