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The Turtles: All The Singles

I could easily state that I don’t just listen to music, I consume it. Music is perhaps the one thing in my life that is closest to an addiction. I listen to incredible amounts of it, buying records makes me happy, and I talk about it a lot. Part of my musical obsessions is one with the music of the 1960s. There are many bands of the ‘60s that are vastly overlooked and underrated--for a number of reasons, mostly generated by “holier than thou” attitudes at rock rags in the ‘70s.

There’s the idea rock music didn’t really come to fore till The Beatles arrived, and/or that music was lame until The Beatles got high. I get where these attitudes come from, but I don’t hold much salt in them. However, attitudes like these are why some really great groups of the era have been regulated to their place in history--by some--based only on the merits of their biggest hit song or songs. There are numerous bands that I feel deserves more cred, praise, and appreciation. One band in particular that is long overdue re-evaluation is The Turtles. 

I’ve been on something of a Turtles kick lately, over Christmas I received this AMAZING two CD set that was released last Summer called “The Turtles: All The Singles.” “All The Singles” is a treasure trove of material. All of the A sides and B sides the band recorded for independant label White Whale, plus rare tracks and planned singles that went unreleased. The set features immaculate liner notes, plus every track has been mastered from the original mono single masters, with the stereo single masters used for tracks from the late ‘60s on--as monaural singles were more or less phased out by the end 1968. 

Over a five year career The Turtles managed to generate eight top twenty singles, with a total of eighteen singles hitting Billboard's Hot 100. If you think you don’t know any songs by The Turtles, you’ve most likely encountered their biggest hit “Happy Together”--which was number one for three weeks. The Turtles began life as a surf band called The Crossfires. The group was formed in Los Angeles by high school friends Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, who were the band’s vocalists, along with Al Nichol, Chuck Portz, Don Murray, and Jim Tucker.

Upon singing to White Whale--and to keep up with musical trends of the time--the band changed their name and shifted to being a folk rock act. Right out of the gate The Turtles showed promise. Their first single, a cover of Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe,” charted at eight on the Billboard Top Ten. Their label was particularly encouraged by the group’s early chart success. As time would pass, The Turtles would become the only hit band on the White Whale label--which led to the owners being very encouraging for the band to turn out more hits, even as The Turtles wanted to explore other styles of music. 

If you only judged The Turtles based on “Happy Together” you’d be missing sight of a well accomplished band. The Turtles cranked out single after single of amazing songs, with a grand sense of humor--there’s a reason why a number of band members joined Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention after The Turtles came to an end in 1970. The best example of the band’s sense of humor is on their concept album “The Turtles Present The Battle of The Bands,” where on each track they take on the role of an entirely different group, posing as each of them in the gatefold sleeve of the record. 

That same record contains “Elenore,” a song the band wrote as a response to White Whale’s constant requests for another “Happy Together.” “Eleanor” is a satire of “Happy Together” and pop tropes of the era, with lyrics that include “you’re my pride and joy, etcetera.” However, the label didn’t get the joke and loved the song. Upon the release of “Elenore” as a single it hit number six on the charts--it may be satire, but it’s also a catchy as hell song. I think it speaks volumes that even when trying to satirize pop music, The Turtles still managed to craft a catchy pop song. 

One of the great delights of listening to “All The Singles,” which is presented in chronological order, is hearing not only the band’s own evolution in sound, but also just how many great B sides and little known A sides they have. There’s all the big hits I’ve not mentioned yet, “Let Me Be,” “You Baby,” “Can I Get To Know You Better,” “She’d Rather Be With Me,” “She’s My Girl,” “You Showed Me,” and so on. A particular favorite discovery was the B side to “Elenore,” a surfing pastiche called “Surfer Dan.” There’s also the very hard to find “Christmas In My Time of Year.” A seasonal song recorded by the band under the name “The Christmas Spirit.” 

When The Turtles broke up, White Whale, angry that they had lost their lone breadwinner, banned Kaylan and Volman from performing under their own names with contract jargon. They adopted the moniker of Flo and Eddie and quickly found work as session singers, and as I mentioned alongside Frank Zappa. Kaylan and Volman would have the last laugh, though. In 1974 when White Whale’s assets went up for auction, they bid and won their Turtles master tapes.  “All The Singles” shows a band that should have more cred than they got. Frankly, it’s some of the best pop of the era. With impeccable liner notes, it’s a treasure trove of material for fans, and a great starting place to look at one of the more deserving bands of the ‘60s.


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