Columbia – 1966
Paul Revere & The Raiders unexpectedly found themselves – and American garage rock – in the spotlight on 1966’s Midnight Ride; fortunately, the band didn’t squander this newfound opportunity, delivering what was easily their strongest record to date.
Perhaps I should get this one, minor gripe out of the way first: the back cover of 1966’s Midnight Ride claims that “It may be presumptuous to say that this album is [the] ‘American Rubber Soul,’ but then again, it may not.”
Not presumptuous, but preposterous…
Okay, that’s the last negative thing that I’m going to say about Midnight Ride: a legitimately excellent album from the Los Angeles by way of Portland (by way of Boise) Paul Revere & The Raiders.
We covered The Raiders earlier this year, in our introductory feature on Pacific Northwest garage rock – specifically highlighting their classic 1965 single, “Just Like Me.” However, well before that track reached #11 on the American charts, The Raiders had departed the Northwest for the sunnier confines of Southern California – bolstered by a potentially lucrative deal with Columbia Records.
By the time of Midnight Ride‘s spring 1966 release, The Raiders were fixtures on American television – most notably Dick Clark’s Where the Action Is, where they served as the de facto house band – but despite their newfound commercial pull, Midnight Ride largely adheres to the garage rock ethic that the group had picked up on the Pacific Northwest scene. While the production is far cleaner than anything coming out on Northwest labels in the mid-sixties, there’s a reasonable amount of grit embedded within these eleven tracks.
In fact, Midnight Ride is a surprisingly riff-based record. Whether it’s the 12-string figure that introduces the opening “Kicks,” the twelve-bar shuffling that underpins the Dylan-esque “There’s Always Tomorrow,” or the vaguely psychedelic breakdowns of “Louie, Go Home,” Midnight Ride is as much a feature for lead guitarist Drake Levin as it was for vocalist Mark Lindsay: the overnight “teen idol” whose name had been singled out on the cover for the group’s 1965 reset, Here They Come!
Levin also contributed three songs to Midnight Ride, co-writing one each with drummer Mike Smith and bassist Phil Volk, and penning “Ballad of a Useless Man” on his own. But despite his increasing prominence in the band, the release of Midnight Ride would coincide with an increasingly tumultuous role in the group for the guitarist; Levin entered the National Guard in late 1966 to fulfill his military obligation, and would ultimately depart The Raiders – alongside Smith and Volk – in 1967.
Elsewhere, Midnight Ride differs from the band’s previous album, Just Like Us, in another significant way. Of the album’s eleven tracks, nine were original compositions; and of the remaining two, The Raiders were the first group to record and release both, though The Monkees would ultimately be the ones to score a hit with their rendition of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart’s “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone.”
These original songs range from Levin’s folkier contributions, to a pair of tracks seemingly aimed to capitalize on the group’s newfound “teenybopper” audience (including the rather puzzling spoken-word closer, “Melody for an Unknown Girl”), to ones that found the band merging its garage rock roots with subtle hints of the more melodic and “out there” elements found in the burgeoning Los Angeles psych scene that they were now on the periphery of.
Of course, The Raiders’ association with that movement stood potentially compromised by the content of Midnight Ride‘s hit single. Released two months prior to the album, “Kicks” would match its hooky 12-string riff with an anti-drug message that made the already ‘suspect’ Raiders come off as total squares on the Los Angeles scene. The Byrds’ David Crosby – a man who continues to be known for his “hot takes” – singled “Kicks” out as little more than a “dumb anti-drug song” with a “falsely adopted stance.” Not that I’m particularly keen on inserting myself into a decades-old argument between L.A. rock bands, but perhaps The Raiders could’ve countered Crosby by stating that at least Columbia trusted them to play instruments on their own records.
Needless to say, the cautionary tale of “Kicks” did seem to push against the rapidly changing tides of the mid-sixties cultural scene, and ultimately, The Raiders would struggle to assert their ‘authenticity’ to both their peers and discerning rock fans. Success would continue for the band – albeit on a diminishing scale, until the surprise hit of 1971’s “Indian Reservation” – but coupled with increasing instability in their lineup, The Raiders heyday was drawing to a close.
Before their moment in the spotlight was up, the band would release another pair of solid records (1966’s The Spirit of ’67 and 1967’s Revolution!), but Midnight Ride stands as something special in their catalog. It represents a moment in which the American garage scene unexpectedly found itself within the mainstream, and neither shirked its opportunity, nor totally abandoned its principles.