Paul Revere & the Raiders’ Revolutionary Anti-Drug Song ‘Kicks’

‘200 Greatest 60s Rock Songs’ Book Excerpt

Frank Mastropolo
The Riff


Edsel Records

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As drug use became more prevalent in the 1960s, pop music reflected the times. Songs that glamorized getting high flooded the airwaves. The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” and “Purple Haze” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience had some of the more obvious references to drugs; others, like the Association’s “Along Comes Mary,” were more oblique.

But one hit stood out for its anti-drug message: “Kicks” by Paul Revere & the Raiders.

Hit-making couple Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil wrote “Kicks” to motivate their friend, songwriter Gerry Goffin, to get clean. Goffin’s drug addiction affected his career and relationship with then-wife and writing partner Carole King. “I started taking LSD and mescaline,” Goffin told Vanity Fair.

“And Carole and I began to grow apart because she felt that she had to say things herself. She had to be her own lyricist.”

“Kicks” was first offered to the Animals, who had just had success with another Mann-Weil composition, “We Gotta Get out of This Place,” but Animals’ lead Eric Burdon turned it down.

“Kicks” by Paul Revere & the Raiders

Raiders’ producer Terry Melcher didn’t make the same mistake when he was offered “Kicks.” Lead singer Mark Lindsay delivered a powerhouse vocal; the track turned out to be a huge hit and has been called one of the best examples of the garage band sound.

Not everyone was impressed. In Crosby, Stills & Nash: The Biography, David Crosby of the Byrds — whose “Eight Miles High” was banned by some radio stations — called the tune “a dumb anti-drug song” that took “a falsely adopted stance. With ‘Eight Miles High,’ we were talking about something very near and dear to our hearts.”

“Eight Miles High” by the Byrds

“Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil were pretty crafty writers,” Lindsay told Sundazed. “With the melody and the lyrics and the message, and all the great riffs that were laid into the song, it was just kind of a natural, a real easy production to do.”

“Kicks” remains one of the most popular of the Raiders’ catalogue, reaching №4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in May 1966. Weil told Songwriter Universe she’s surprised by its continued popularity.

“In 2004, we did an off-Broadway show (called They Wrote That? The Songs Of Mann & Weil). When Barry performed ‘Kicks,’ we were amazed at the response. It turns out to be the ultimate high school garage band song. Everyone who had ever been in a band in their teens had played it.”



Frank Mastropolo
The Riff

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