Yes, these West Coast rock 'n rollers have been frequently anthologized, but there's no denying the greatness of their classic singles.
Though sometimes obscured by the Revolutionary War get-ups, frequent line-up changes and a late-career, non-representative No. 1 hit, Paul Revere and the Raiders were, from 1963-1967, one of the top rock acts on either side of the Atlantic -- a half-step behind the Holy Foursome of the Beatles, Stones, Beach Boys and Who, but easily on par with the Kinks, Animals and Dave Clark Five (and boy, when those are an era's second tier acts, that's one helluva fertile music scene). The Raiders' career trajectory also provides a textbook case for how quickly the cultural sand was shifting beneath the feet of '60s bands. With frequent appearances on the Billboard charts in the early-to-mid '60s, not to mention daily national television gigs as the house band for ABC's Where The Action Is!, the Raiders were the top-selling rock band on Columbia by 1967. (They had been signed on the strength of their version of "Louie, Louie" -- which, incidentally was recorded within weeks of the Kingsmen's definitive take, at the very same studio in Portland, OR: Northwestern, Inc., Motion Pictures and Recording, a strong contender for Garage Rock Ground Zero.) Their peak-era singles -- "Steppin' Out", "Just Like Me", "Kicks", "Hungry", "Him or Me - What's It Gonna Be?" -- are songs that any band would kill for, and its because of the very capable hands of Paul Revere (yes, that's his real name) and Mark Lindsay (and a whole bunch of other worthy musicians cycling through the ranks) that we're talking about -- and reveling in -- Paul Revere and the Raiders' work 40-plus years later.
This generous two-disc set, with 36 tracks in all, does a fine job updating 2005's Kicks: The Anthology as Essential boasts 11 tracks not found on Kicks, while the latter has only four not on the former (notably the Boyce/Hart-penned "I'm Not Your Stepping Stone"). And the songs themselves sound great, offered in their original mono or stereo. If you're looking to replace your old copy of Kicks, Essential is worth the upgrade. Hell, if you're just curious about the Raiders, this is a great place to start. (If you're serious about the band, though, you've probably already shelled out for Sundazed's pristine reissues of the band's key albums.)
Disc 1 chronicles the band's fast rise, capturing all the aforementioned classic singles and reminds listeners how truly kick-ass these guys in goofy get-ups could be. Guitarist Drake Levin (1963-67) never quite got his recognition as a West Coast Dave Davies, but the swaggering tone on "Steppin' Out", the double-tracked solo on "Just Like Me" and the truly freaked-out-as-all-hell lead slithering underneath "Kicks" certainly make a very strong case for that title. And speaking of "Kicks", Domenic Priore's liner notes mention that the song was about Gerry Goffin's (of the Goffin/Carole King songwriting team) burgeoning drug habit, a fact I'm embarrassed I didn't already know. Fun fact (not provided by Priore): "Kicks" fell into the Raiders' laps only when Eric Burdon and the Animals turned it down. Peaking at No. 4, it deservedly became the Raiders' second-highest charting single. Elsewhere on disc one, a few lesser-known jangly singles -- '66's "The Great Airplane Strike" and '67's "Ups and Downs" -- firmly place the band as neighbors to fellow-Angelos the Byrds; and the pleading "Him or Me - What's It Gonna Be?" gets my vote for the Raiders' best song -- seriously, they just knock it out of the park. Meanwhile, a few "originally unissued" party jams prove that the band knew their way around hard-edged white-boy R&B better than anyone save the early Stones.
One of the most fun games to play with these '60s band compilations is determining what a band's first release was following the nuclear bomb that went off on June 1, 1967 -- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. For the Raiders, that explosion manifested itself in "I Had a Dream", recorded a scant six weeks after the Beatles dropped Pepper. It's a solic song with sympathetic production from Terry Melcher, but from the oneiric title to the fanfare of horns, it's the sound of the Raiders playing catch-up in a game that didn't celebrate their rock 'n roll strengths. By '68, anyways, the Raiders were on the downturn. Their TV show, costumes and the anti-drug stance of "Kicks" had unfairly pegged the band as working for The Man -- the heads were clearly just not hearing how great the Raiders' songs were: they weren't rebellious, but they weren't "square" either.
Disc 2 finds the band cycling through members and identities in Richard Nixon's America. While the Raiders may not have been cracking the charts between '68 and '72 with the regularity they once had, they were still producing quality tunes. "Do Unto Others" may be some hippy-dippy foofaraw, but, tellingly, the bass line is that of "Louie, Louie". "Cinderella Sunshine" is tougher than its name suggests and "Mr. Sun, Mr. Moon" (which actually did hit No. 18 on the Billboard charts) finds the band exploring psych pop in manner similar to that other TV-saturated L.A. band, the Monkees. Meanwhile, the country-fried "Freeborn Man" and the Pontiac commercial jingle "GTO Judge Breakaway" are hidden treasures in plain sight from the overlooked Alias Pink Puzz album (so named because the band tried releasing a handful of singles to radio under that moniker to distance themselves from the "tainted" Raider brand). In fact, disc 2's chief success is shining a light on Alias and 1970's Collage: the tracks collected here suggest a strong attempt to be taken seriously by the critical community who had unfortunately already made their mind up about the band. Collage's triumphant, defiant "Gone - Movin' On", especially, deserves a larger audience. (It looks like Sundazed reissued Alias Pink Puzz in 2000, but haven't gotten around to Collage yet.)
And yes, "Indian Reservation (The Lament Of The Cherokee Reservation Indian)" is here, and there's no denying it's a well-produced slice of circa-'70 pop. Fun fact No. 2: the tune was captured during a Mark Lindsay solo session and was Columbia's biggest selling single for nearly a decade, selling over six million units. Still, in a fine case of what have you done for me lately?, Columbia pushed aside the Raiders, focusing on nascent '70s arena rock acts instead, and the band was relegated to the oldies/state fair circuit. And really, the band's joyous rock & roll had no place in an era soon to be dominated by capital-C, capital-R Corporate Rock. An ignominious end, but as they say, the music lasts forever, and the 36 tracks collected here make a strong case for the continued historical relevance of one of the best bands of the 1960s.