Illustration by Kathryn HyattThe Pacific Northwest during the early-to-mid-'60s hosted some of the most ferocious and timeless rock & roll ever produced, although the scene is all but forgotten today. But from Portland through Tacoma and Seattle, in the years when everything on the radio seemed to be powdered-up with all things adorably fey and British, great American bands like Paul Revere & the Raiders, the Sonics, the Kingsmen, and the Wailers held court with razor-tipped staffs and throbbing gonads. It was a transitional era in rock & roll, a time when the greasers and teen idols of the '50s had become passe but the day of the stinky hippie had yet to dawn. So what were these groups playing?
Punk rock, plain and simple—the very first punk rock, and some might argue the best ever created.
I wouldn't disagree with anyone who proposed that the Wailers' "Louie Louie," the Kingsmen's "Jolly Green Giant," the Raiders' "Just Like Me" and the Sonics' "Strychnine" were louder, tuffer, stoopider and scarier than anything subsequently belted out by the Ramones, Sex Pistols or Clash 15 years hence—not to mention the crop of pathetic horse-beaters still trying to wring some diluted juice from a spent force 40 years after the fact. And when one considers the era and the music that was otherwise piping from the AM airwaves in the early '60s, the efforts of the Pacific Northwest (PNW) crew were so raw and rude as to be heroic.
"Louie Louie" was de rigeur for any regional band worth its salt, popular or obscure, to cover; the tune was the curious zygote of the whole scene. Originally recorded in the '50s by Richard Berry as a calypso-flavored R&B ditty, the song somehow became adopted as the official rock & roll anthem of the PNW.
The Wailers—the original, prototype PNW band—were the first to get gooey with Louie. The Kingsmen followed with an almost note-for-note cop of the Wailers' version but added their own demented spin with a ridiculously overdriven Farfisa organ and a gleefully sloppy performance that suggested the Kingsmen were so shitfaced at the session they were probably wallowing in their own muscatel vomit as the tape rolled. Against all odds, the tune went on to become the best-selling single in America in 1963, and suddenly, the Kingsmen had put the PNW on the rock & roll map in a big way.
It turned out to be Portland's Paul Revere & the Raiders who kept it there, though. In 1965, the group struck double gold as their stinging, snarling single "Steppin' Out" began to climb the charts, and they became the house band on Where the Action Is, a Dick Clark produced rock & roll TV show that aired every weekday afternoon on ABC.
Young America loved what it saw: adorned in garish Revolutionary War costumes that were particularly significant in the face of the burgeoning, Beatles-led British Invasion, the Raiders featured wild, athletic choreography unseen since the heyday of the Treniers to go along with their savage, raw-boned rock & roll. Lead singer/saxophonist Mark Lindsay was a screaming marvel of power, charisma and masculine good looks. Revere was an animated, Jerry Lee Lewis-inspired keyboardist, and the rest of the band—adopting cool, memorable nicknames like "Fang," "Harpo" and "Smitty"—became familiar faces and personalities to American teens.
Over the course of the next few years, Paul Revere and the Raiders unleashed a string of atomic-powered hits that included the psychotic meltdown "Just Like Me"; the leering, lascivious "Hungry"; the proto jangle pop "Kicks"; and the densely layered, hyperspeed "Him or Me—What's It Gonna Be?" Along with a very few select Yank groups such as the Lovin' Spoonful and the Young Rascals, the Raiders were among the only domestics to sustain a successful track record of hit singles in the face of contemporary British dominance of the pop scene.
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Of course, it didn't last. By the end of '67, self-indulgent psychedelic music, flower power and LSD were starting to go mainstream, and suddenly, the Raiders' wacky costumes, three-minute blasts of power and physical shtick were looking foolish and archaic. To this day, it's impossible to forgive the moronic excesses of the hippie movement for clipping the wings of a great American rock & roll scene that could have and should have gone on for several years longer.
The Raiders endured to score one last hit in 1971, but "Indian Reservation," with its ersatz political sensitivity and pussy-fart '70s sound, was a pale echo of the group's past glory. Ironically—if predictably—it was also the best-selling record they ever released.
Now in his 60s, Revere still helms the Raiders, replete with colonial drag. Most of the current band—while not the classic members—have been in the lineup for 20 to 30 years. Perhaps morbid curiosity might be enough to draw me in to see what they're all about now, but I have a depressing suspicion that Paul Revere & the Raiders are Where the Action Isn't these days. Oh, well, pissing all over one's legacy for a few bucks is part and parcel of the rock & roll game—but once upon a time, Paul Revere & the Raiders sounded like a jumbo jet of drunken frat boys landing between Satan's spread asscheeks.
Paul Revere & the Raiders perform at Disneyland's California Adventure, 1313 Harbor Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 781-4565. Mon.-Wed., 3:30 & 5:45 p.m. Free with admission ($45).