Prepare to be shell-shocked! Manifesto Records and FloEdCo have, at long last, given fans of The Turtles deluxe sets befitting the band’s happy (and happily subversive!) musical legacy. The 6-CD Complete Original Album Collection and 2-CD All the Singles round up, in truly definitive fashion, the original band’s recordings between 1965 and 1970 as first released on White Whale Records. Though The Turtles have long been recognized as top-flight purveyors of classic 45s, a journey through their compact six-album catalogue as presented in The Complete Original Album Collection unearths numerous riches beyond the big hits. With a gleeful sense of abandon, The Turtles epitomized sixties pop while merrily sending it up in gently subversive fashion. Each of the first three albums is presented on CD in both mono and stereo. Albums from The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands on are presented in stereo with rare bonus tracks.
The October 1965 release of It Ain’t Me Babe introduced The Turtles – guitarist/vocalist Mark Volman, keyboardist/vocalist Howard Kaylan, multi-instrumentalist Al Nichol, drummer Don Murray, guitarist Jim Tucker and bassist Chuck Portz – to the LP market with a strong set of potent folk-rockers. The album’s cover photo featuring some rather serious-looking young men was somewhat reflected in its contents. Three songs came from the pen of Bob Dylan – not just the hit title track but also “Love Minus Zero” and “Like a Rolling Stone.” All three of the Dylan songs were given an attractive sheen by the band; Dylan recalled meeting The Turtles during an early trip to California in his memoir Chronicles Volume One. Also tapping into the zeitgeist was P.F. Sloan’s Dylan-aping but no less powerful “Eve of Destruction.” Sloan recurs on the LP with the passionately defiant “Let Me Be,” soon to become The Turtles’ second hit single.
Ervin Drake’s “It Was a Very Good Year,” introduced by The Kingston Trio in 1961 and most memorably recorded by Frank Sinatra (and released on his September of My Years LP just one month before It Ain’t Me Babe) gets a sincere and straightforward reading. The band was also up for the raucous, stomping “Your Maw Said You Cried” (with background vocals recalling those other merry musical pranksters, Jan and Dean) and Brill Building shine of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil’s “Glitter and Gold” (also recorded by The Everly Brothers and duo Danny and Diego). It Ain’t Me Babe wasn’t solely a covers album, though. Howard Kaylan contributed four songs to the album, all demonstrating the work of a fine songwriter: the jangly opener “Wanderin’ Kind,” the taut rockers “A Walk in the Sun” and “Let the Cold Winds Blow” (the latter which is still all too appropriate today with its pleas of unity and rejection of hatred and prejudice) and the baroque harpsichord-tinged breakup song “Last Laugh,” co-written with Kaylan’s then-girlfriend Nita Garfield.
Though The Turtles would more deeply explore their original voices on future projects, It Ain’t Me Babe beautifully captures the period as well as the sound of L.A. folk-rock with prominent 12-string guitar. Engineer/”studio director” Bones Howe knew how to best capture Kaylan and Volman’s commanding voices and rich harmonies, as well as the group’s energy and spirit; Howe (later to sprinkle his magic on The 5th Dimension, The Association and Tom Waits) would stick around to bring his acumen to one more significant album.
“Let Me Be” recurred on The Turtles’ second LP, April 1966’s You Baby, a distinctive, quirkier effort distinguished by tight band interplay and powerful lead vocals from Howard Kaylan. The hit was joined by two more P.F. Sloan tunes, both penned with Steve Barri: the pretty mid-tempo ballad “I Know That You’ll Be There” and the sweet slice of catchy pop that lent the album its title. The infectious “You Baby” justifiably earned the band a Top 20 hit and pointed the way towards the future. (Just try not to sing along!) Bob Lind of “Elusive Butterfly” fame was tapped for the mordant commentary of “Down in Suburbia.”
Kaylan remained The Turtles’ most prolific writer on You Baby with the rocking prison blues “House of Pain” as well as “Pall Bearing, Ball Bearing World” (bearing the influences of both Sloan and Dylan) and the brisk, early Kinks-esque “Almost There.” A pretty revival of the folk standard “All My Trials” as the more modern “All My Problems” returned The Turtles to the milieu of It Ain’t Me Babe. The other band members also chipped in with material. Al Nichol wrote the brash opener “Flyin’ High” and Chuck Portz and Jim Tucker were responsible for the evocative “I Need Someone.” Pals Matt Portz and Ronald Schwartz wrote the eccentrically-titled ballad “Give Love a Trial.” With You Baby, The Turtles were poised for the pop superstardom that was waiting just around the bend.
Following the release of You Baby, The Turtles experienced some personnel changes when Chuck Portz and Don Murray left the group. They were replaced by, respectively, Jim Pons on bass and Johnny Barbata on drums. The Turtles greeted 1967 with their first chart-topping single: Alan Gordon and Garry Bonner’s immortal “Happy Together.” Quite simply one of the most joyful and ebullient singles of the 1960s or any era, the bright and punchy 45 naturally gave its title to The Turtles’ next album, produced by Joe Wissert. Happy Together was no one-trick pony, though, as it took the band to the next level of sunshine pop bliss.
In addition to the title track (which featured Chip Douglas on bass and arranging duties), Bonner and Gordon were represented by the song that followed “Happy Together” up the charts all the way to No. 3: “She’d Rather Be with Me,” another pure pop explosion with an irresistible melody, singalong lyrics and soaring harmonies. Their third and final song on Happy Together, the fine “Me About You,” only suffers when compared to “Happy Together” and “She’d Rather Be with Me.”
“Makin’ My Mind Up,” from the team of Dalton and Montgomery, was revived from a 1966 single with the addition of Tijuana-esque brass to make for a potent opening salvo. The frothy “Guide for the Married Man” (theme to the movie of the same name starring Robert Morse and Walter Matthau) came courtesy of future superstar composer John (then Johnny) Williams and stage and screen lyricist Leslie Bricusse. Eric Eisner’s “Too Young to Be One” and Warren Zevon’s “Like the Seasons” both offer moments of reflective beauty. The latter, one of the famously biting Zevon’s most tender ballads, is graced with a string arrangement. (Note that The Turtles played all their own instruments, only calling on session vets for orchestral embellishments.)
Songs from within the band included Kaylan and Volman’s subtle “Think I’ll Run Away,” boasting an intricate vocal arrangement and atmospheric production. The solo Al Nichol offered up the driving “Person Without a Care,” and Kaylan and Nichol wrote a pair of kooky, offbeat tunes, “The Walking Song” and “Rugs of Woods and Flowers.” The latter concludes the LP on a happily bizarre note – appropriate, considering the band’s very next LP!
Will the real Turtles please stand up? Fans might have been asking themselves that very question after listening to The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands. The bravura LP, issued in November 1968, found Messrs. Kaylan, Volman, Nichol, Pons and Barbata gleefully switching identities (and genres!) from track to track. Chip Douglas, fresh from his work with The Monkees, returned to fold in the role of producer for this most original album.
The concept of The Battle of the Bands was fresh and simple: the group would perform each song on the record as a different band. Douglas and pal Harry Nilsson introduced this wacky concept album with their specially-written, brassy title track. From there, an anything-goes sensibility transformed The Turtles into The Atomic Enchilada (the hazily psychedelic “The Last Thing I Remember”), The Quad City Ramblers (the over-the-top, twangy C&W of “Too Much Heartsick Feeling”), Fats Mallard and the Bluegrass Fireball (“Chicken Little Was Right”) and The Fabulous Dawgs (the organ-drenched R&B garage rocker “Buzz Saw”). The band even reverted to its pre-Turtles identity as surf band The Cross Fires with “Surfer Dan,” and engaged in some comedic punning as Chief Kamanawanalea and his Royal Macadamia Nuts. (Just say the Chief’s name out loud!). Underscoring the vast array of sounds on this record, the haunting and environmentally-conscious “Earth Anthem” closes the album on a stately, orchestral note.
Surely “Howie, Mark, Johny, Jim and Al” would have won the battle, however, with “Elenore.” The gleefully loopy tune, written by Kaylan as a parody of “Happy Together” with the chords changed and intentionally bizarre lyrics (“You’re my pride and joy, et cetera!”) was nonetheless such a polished pop production, performed to the hilt, that it couldn’t help but become a Top 10 hit! Equally delicious was the reinvention of The Byrds’ “You Showed Me.” In their guise as Nature’s Children, The Turtles slowed down the original demo’s jangly, uptempo arrangement, yielding one of the group’s most beguiling ballads as well as another Top 10 smash.
Eleven bonus tracks – stereo mixes of both period singles and outtakes – round out this reissue of Battle. “She’s My Girl” (1967) is another stellar confection from the Bonner/Gordon team which was paired on 45 with an early, harder-rocking version of “Chicken Little Was Right.” The single “Sound Asleep” b/w “Umbassa the Dragon” (1968) showcase the band’s most outré side. Nilsson returns with the “sweet, groovy” single “The Story of Rock and Roll” which was backed by another offbeat B-side, “Can’t You Hear the Cows.” A previously unreleased alternate take of “Earth Anthem” is also included, along with a radio spot for Battle and some studio chatter as the band works on “Food.”
Turtle Soup saw the group once more looking forward. The October 1969 release would prove to be The Turtles’ final original studio album, but what a way to go out: it was produced by Ray Davies (the only full-length rock-and-roll album he has produced to date for an artist other than himself or The Kinks) and featured only songs written by the group members. John Seiter had replaced Johnny Barbata on drums but otherwise the line-up remained consistent…for the most part. Howard Kaylan’s brief departure from the band led to a lesser reliance on his lead vocals than on other Turtles LPs, lending Turtle Soup a unique feel in both music and performance. (A couple of tracks, “Dance This Dance with Me” and “How You Love Me,” are presented in demo form with Howard’s original vocals.)
Davies’ production prowess shines on Jim Pons’ evocative portrait of a “House on the Hill,” the country-tinged “Torn Between Temptations” and guitarist Al Nichol’s atmospheric “Love in the City.” Both the majestic and moody “Love in the City” and Kaylan’s wonderful, melodic “You Don’t Have to Walk in the Rain” rank among The Turtles’ most underrated singles and the strongest tracks on Turtle Soup. Kaylan’s original demo of “Somewhere Friday Night” – with a classy feel somewhat redolent of “You Showed Me” – also made the final cut for the album. “She Always Leaves Me Laughing” harkens back to the band’s folk-rock period, while both “Bachelor Mother” and “John and Julie” bear the quirky hallmarks of The Kinks’ leader; the latter also has a fine string chart by Ray Pohlman. “Come Over” and “Hot Little Hands” are straight-ahead rock-and-roll, solid if among the LP’s lesser cuts.
Twelve bonus tracks have been added to Turtle Soup including five demos (two previously unreleased including a raw “Come Over” and “Strange Girl”), a radio spot, and six tracks from the album’s abortive follow-up, Shell Shock. (A version of the LP was assembled in 1987 by Rhino, and while that release is not present in this set, all of its tracks are present between the box set and All the Singles.) Producer Jerry Yester (The Lovin’ Spoonful, Farewell Aldebaran) helmed such tracks as Bonner and Gordon’s hard-rocking “Goodbye Surprise” (later re-recorded by Volman and Kaylan as Flo and Eddie) and “Like It or Not” as well as Kaylan and Volman’s languid “There You Sit Lonely” – all strong selections with a more pronounced commercial edge than the tracks on Turtle Soup.
The Turtles’ White Whale years came to a close in 1970 with Wooden Head. Sporting a whimsical sleeve designed by Dean Torrence, the LP comprised nine previously unreleased sides and two released cuts from the band’s days with producer Bones Howe. Sonically, it fits snugly between You Baby and Happy Together, and actually plays well despite following the audacious likes of Battle of the Bands and Turtle Soup. A few of its folk-pop cuts are known from other renditions: the supercharged opener “I Can’t Stop” by The Roulettes; David Gates’ “Tie Me Down” by Dino, Desi and Billy; “Wrong from the Start” by Peter and Gordon. But The Turtles brought their bright energy to all of the above. Other standouts include Kaylan’s chiming “She’ll Come Back” (performed by the band in the 1966 movie Out of Sight) and dramatic “Come Back” (a different song despite the close title), Nichol’s ballad “On a Summer’s Day,” and a rollicking run through the WWII standard “We’ll Meet Again” complete with barroom piano. (A different, more irreverent alternate of “We’ll Meet Again” premieres in the bonus material!) “I Get Out of Breath” fits nicely into the band’s oeuvre of P.F. Sloan-written songs.
Thirteen bonus tracks make for a more packed Wooden Head than ever. These bonuses encompass most of the band’s 1967 Golden Hits collection which featured new stereo remixes by Bones Howe. Every one of Golden Hits’ eleven tracks is here, in order, except for “She’d Rather Be with Me” and “Happy Together” which can be found elsewhere in the box. Golden treats include a beautiful production of Goffin and King’s “So Goes Love,” Warren Zevon’s “Outside Chance,” and more from Bonner and Gordon (“Can I Get You Know You Better”) and Sloan and Barri (“You Know What I Mean”).
The 2-CD All the Singles serves two purposes – both as one-stop shopping for the more casual Turtles fan, and an essential companion to the box set with the big hits and the deep B-sides alike. Its 48 tracks are chronologically presented in their original (mostly mono) single mixes, and trace the evolution of the band and its many sides. This set also includes some tracks slated for single release but unissued, as well as tracks released by the group under the pseudonyms of The Christmas Spirit (“Christmas is My Time of Year”) and The Dedications (“Teardrops” and “Gas Money”).
The Complete Original Album Collection is housed in a sturdy, attractive box, with each of its six albums in a handsome gatefold digipak. The box includes a 40-page color booklet featuring new, informative liner notes by Andrew Sandoval as well as copious memorabilia images. Among the amazing curios, you’ll find posters of The Turtles’ stands at The Hullabaloo, The Whisky A Go Go, the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and elsewhere, plus advertisements (Turtles 45s at Montgomery Ward!), sheet music covers, and more. (Songwriter credits are unfortunately nowhere to be found in the booklet.) The Complete Singles is also packaged in a digipak, featuring a 20-page booklet with wonderful track-by-track liner notes from Sandoval incorporating insightful comments from the band members.
The stellar sound of both The Complete Original Album Collection and All the Singles, produced by Dan Perloff and Bill Inglot, comes courtesy of co-producer Inglot, remastering from the original tapes with Dave Schultz at d2 Mastering. Inglot and Schultz have captured the original sound of these records with clarity and detail, making for their best sonics ever on compact disc.
Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, a.k.a. Flo and Eddie, are still out on the road spreading music, comedy and Turtle power in their fun, irreverent live appearances. This year’s iteration of the Happy Together tour continues through early September. Volman and Kaylan also continue to fight the good fight with respect to artists’ rights. With the release of The Original Album Collection and All the Singles, Turtles fans now have the collections for which they’ve long been waiting. Gee, you’ll think they’re swell…et cetera!
The six Deluxe Editions are also available as high-resolution digital downloads from HDTracks.com!