When Mark Lindsay was living in Los Angeles in the late 1960s, he shared a home with producer Terry Melcher (The Byrds, The Beach Boys) that exemplified serenity. “It was like slow motion liquid sunshine,” Lindsay eloquently recalls. At the time, Lindsay would relax at the house in between his busy touring schedule as the vocalist for Paul Revere & the Raiders, known for hits like “Kicks” and being stalwarts on variety shows such as Happening ’68 and Where the Action Is.
“I remember one day we were home and Terry said, ‘I bet if we try, we can write a hit single.’ We had just had (the Billboard Hot 100 top 10 hit) ‘Hungry’ out and it contained the lyric ‘I’m hungry for those good things.’ So we sat down at the piano at the house (to write a follow-up song) called ‘Good Thing.’” That, too, became a hit and life was good for rock star Lindsay and buzzy producer Melcher, the only son of Doris Day who was then enjoying a blossoming relationship with the actress Candice Bergen.
“I remember that at the house, the living room was on the left and the kitchen and dining room were on the right,” remembers Lindsay. “As I walked in, I could see (Beach Boy) Dennis Wilson was there, as was Terry and some suits who were attorneys who I knew. I figured there was a big meeting going on and I didn’t want to disturb that. So I walk into the kitchen to get a drink and squatting against the refrigerator was this little guy in a blue shirt, jeans, long hair and a beard. And he was like a doorstop against the fridge. He won’t move so I said, ‘Excuse me!’ and he still wouldn’t budge. So I walk into the living room and say, ‘What’s with the weird guy in the kitchen?’ And someone says, ‘That’s just Charlie Manson, he’s okay.’ It may have been Charlie, but he wasn’t okay.”
Lindsay and Melcher soon moved out of 10050 Cielo Drive so Melcher and Bergen could live together; replacing them was director Roman Polanski and his wife, actress Sharon Tate. Tate, four other adults and her unborn child would be slain at the residence on Aug. 9, 1969 by members of the Manson cult.
It’s that extreme juxtaposition between what Lindsay described as “slow motion liquid sunshine” and the horrifying murders of Tate, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger and Wojciech Frykowski that forms the basis of Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt as the fictional actor Rick Dalton and his stunt double Cliff Booth, respectively, the movie is a love letter to the era and demonstrates the dichotomy of groovy times and changing forces, both in the characters’ lives and in late ’60s culture at large.
So it stands to reason that when Tarantino and his music supervisor Mary Ramos were concocting the musical tableau for the saga, they would zero in on Lindsay’s Paul Revere and the Raiders. Not only can the aforementioned “Good Thing” be heard in the film’s trailer, but the band appears on its official soundtrack three times. A physical album of theirs is even featured prominently on screen as Tate, played in the film by Margot Robbie, spins a Revere record while at her Cielo Drive home. “I’m just really grateful,” says Lindsay of the recognition for the band throughout the movie. “I’m, obviously, extremely honored that he would include three of our songs. I’m a big fan of Tarantino’s. It’s a good feeling and I’ve been getting a lot of calls about it.” Lindsay, who spoke to Billboard from his home in Maine, is also thrilled that an entirely new generation is being introduced to his band’s music.
The band began as a lark between him and Revere (real name: Paul Revere Dick) when they teamed up in 1958. “Two kids from Idaho had this dream and it turned into much more than we ever thought it’d be,” says Lindsay, who saw the act through its sometimes tumultuous evolution. Their success kicked off in earnest thanks to the 1961 instrumental track “Like, Long Hair” (which peaked at No. 38 on the Billboard Hot 100) but was almost derailed when Revere was drafted into military service. Lindsay was adamant about keeping the act afloat in the interim. “When he got drafted, Paul said, ‘It’s all over now, because in two years no one will know who we are,’” he remembers. “But I was a very determined person at that time and said to him, ‘Listen, it’s not over. I’ll tell you what, do your thing in Oregon and I’ll go down to California.’”
Lindsay managed to keep interest in the band alive and by the time Revere departed the ranks of the military (a conscientious objector, he wound up serving his time as a cook at Oregon’s Dammasch State Hospital), they soon picked up right where they left off. “I made a deal with myself that every night that we played I’d do something different, whether it was hanging from the rafters and singing upside down or walking to the men’s room and singing while relieving myself at the same time,” Lindsay notes of the importance of setting his act apart from the early ’60s avalanche of garage bands. “Whatever it was, I wanted to create a buzz and get this talk going that we were the craziest, wildest band that ever happened. And it worked.” The act soon caught the attention of Columbia Records, becoming the first rock band signed to the label. There was only one problem. “Mitch Miller, the head of A&R at Columbia at the time, despised rock n’ roll and thought that if he waited a couple years, the fad would pass and he’d get back to what he’d call ‘real music,’” recalls Lindsay with a laugh. “He was pressured to sign a rock band, but still controlled what was promoted and what wasn’t.”
As a result, Miller sometimes meddled in the band’s success. Most famously, both The Raiders and a band of high schoolers dubbed The Kingsmen recorded a cover of soul singer Richard Berry’s “Louie Louie” the same week in the same Portland, Oregon studio, but Miller stifled the Raiders’ version when he saw it was an emerging hit on the west coast. Regardless, by the late ’60s the band fully embraced their Revolutionary War moniker, regularly wearing outfits from the era and collecting a variety of hits including “Kicks” (complete with an anti-drug message) and their 1971 Hot 100 No. 1 “Indian Reservation,” which opined about the plight of the Cherokee tribe.
It was “Mr. Sun, Mr. Moon,” as well as the aforementioned “Hungry” and “Good Thing,” that Tarantino included in his film, which blends fact and fiction about the era, with the latter song grimly tied to the tragedy of the Manson murders. “We wrote ‘Good Thing’ under the beam where the rope was apparently thrown over Sharon and Jay’s necks,” says Lindsay, still astounded by the extreme violence. “When we heard about what occurred, it was the biggest shock of my life because that was the last place that I could ever think something bad could have happened.” As a result of the murders, Lindsay notes the mood in Los Angeles was altered both drastically and permanently. “It was a pretty freaky time. Everybody was locking their doors, hiring bodyguards and getting guard dogs. It just changed the atmosphere overnight.”
While rumors abounded whether Manson had intended to target the house with the goal of killing Melcher as payback, it’s subsequently been reported that Manson had other motives and knew the producer had moved out of 10050 Cielo Drive. Still, Lindsay notes that he was informed by the police following the murders that his and Melcher’s names were on a Manson death list. “At the time, I had a .44 Magnum under my pillow because I had some weird fan messages from the year before and I slept with it for years as a protective device,” says Lindsay. “I always wondered what had happened if Terry and I had still been living there and I had that .44. Things might have been different.”
Revere and Lindsay had a falling out in 1975, which led Lindsay to find success in ventures outside The Raiders, from concocting commercial jingles to movie scores, including for the cult hit 1980 film Shogun Assassin. (Coincidentally, Tarantino used a portion of that score in Kill Bill 2). He’s also occasionally toured (recently going the road with a bevy of other ’60s-era bands in 2016) and couldn’t help but reflect on his eventful life in music when his band’s namesake passed away in 2014. “When I heard Paul had gotten a brain tumor I reassessed our relationship,” he says. “I called him and said, ‘Let’s sit down and have a beer or a cup of coffee,’ but it never came together. I wanted to talk about how great it was that our dreams became much more magnified than we ever thought they could be and celebrate our luck.”