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Mark Lindsay: Arizona

When you look at the carefully trimmed beard of Mark Lindsay on the cover of his 1970 solo album Arizona, you can just feel where it's going: The photogenic facial hair, along with the turtleneck sweater, means it'll be a trip to easy listening land, an effort to reinvent one of the choicest teen garage rock heartthrobs of the '60s into a kind of tad-more-happenin' Glen Campbell. And for a couple of songs, it works.

mark_lindsay.jpgLindsay was still holding down his day job with Paul Revere & the Raiders when this, his first solo effort on Columbia Records, came out. By then, he had pretty much muscled aside Paul Revere Dick (surely one of the greatest names ever in rock history) as the main creative force in the band - Lindsay was no longer merely its voice and prettiest face. Arizona marked the beginning of three-year-or-so period where Lindsay's solo records and the ever-diminishing Raiders output became virtually indistinguishable, as both were now pretty much all about Mark. The proof of that is the nearly identical sound of his two big hits of that period - the title cut from this album (a Mark Lindsay solo song), and the next year's smash, "Indian Reservation," which was the last (and biggest) score for Paul Revere & the Raiders.

On Arizona, Columbia pulled out all the stops to try to give Lindsay some crossover appeal to the grown-up crowd in an effort to extend the career of a truly talented singer and songwriter. The Raiders' fruitful associations in the mid-'60s with producer Terry Melcher on record and Dick Clark on television had helped smooth the edges of raw garage rock into an industry- and family-friendly format, so it probably made sense that they believed they could once again mold Lindsay into something new for the '70s. The new something turned out to be the Carpenters, but doggone if they didn't bring in the big guns to give Mark the ol' over-produced try.

Most of the songs on Arizona were produced by Jerry Fuller, whose '60s chops were impressive. He wrote and recorded two of the most popular lavishly produced rock songs of that decade, Gary Puckett & the Union Gap's "Young Girl" and "Lady Willpower." Several years earlier he had done the same with Ricky Nelson's "Traveling Man." Brought in to arrange the tunes was another legend, Artie Butler. He was the man behind such classics as the Shangri-La's "Leader of the Pack," Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World," and Neil Diamond's first two hits, "Solitary Man" and "Cherry Cherry." The musical firepower assembled for the album was indeed impressive.

But where it went mostly wrong was that Columbia decided to have Lindsay do all covers (except for one unremarkable tune that he wrote himself). It neutered what was best about him with the Raiders - his unique edgy/sexy lyrical phrasing. "Kicks just keep getting harder to find," for instance. That worked because it addressed a contradiction in the hippie lifestyle. Or being "hungry for the good life," which sounded real and from the streets. Instead, here he's drowning in Butler's lush strings while singing "Leaving On a Jet Plane" and overwhelmed by a Vegas-y horn section on a schmaltzy version of George Harrison's "Something." I think this is where Muzak's rock 'n' roll era really started.

The charting singles off the album were also written by others, but weren't really known before Lindsay's turn at them. That unfamiliarity helped. Of course, there's "Arizona," which reached No. 10. It was written by Brill Building veteran Kenny Young (who also wrote "Under the Boardwalk"), and has the memorable lines,

Arizona, take off your rainbow shades
Arizona, have another look at the world, my, my
Arizona, cut off your Indian braids
Arizona, hey won't you go my way?

Could there possibly be a more emphatic rejection of hippie-dom heading into the soft country, easy listening '70s? It's the only song on the album where Lindsay's soaring vocal range is really on display. On the liner notes for the album, Lindsay, after informing readers that he grew up listening to country music, says, "This album does not represent a change in my musical tastes, but rather an extension of them." Yeah, right, Mark. It made perfect sense that you went from "Kicks" to Bobby Goldsboro in one easy move, as the second single from the album, Jimmy Webb's "First Hymn From Grand Terrace," shows so perfectly. If you can tell the difference between this song and "Watching Scotty Grow," I'll eat my three-cornered hat.

Faring a bit better is the third single on the disc, "Miss America," a minor hit that peaked at No. 44 in 1970. This, to me, is the best song on the album. It's got a great chorus wrapped around a typically syrupy strings-and-piano verse structure, in which Mark wails plaintively,

Do you, Miss America?
Miss America, Miss America,
I know I do

What I don't know is what happened to Paul Revere's revolution on this album. I think it got lost in somewhere on the reservation with Bread and John Denver.

Contact Don Jacobson at don@beachwoodreporter.com.

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From Tommy Cash to Blue Öyster Cult, Bin Dive reveals rock's secret history.



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Posted on April 8, 2007


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