Demon Music Group is showing a display of Turtle Power for Record Store Day U.K. this Saturday! On that date, the label will unveil the 6-LP box set The Albums Collection, collecting all of The Turtles’ original White Whale Records albums originally released between 1965 and 1970. Though The Turtles have long been recognized as top-flight purveyors of classic 45s, a journey through their compact yet potent six-album catalogue unearths numerous riches beyond the big hits. With a gleeful sense of abandon, The Turtles epitomized the joyful and brash sound of sixties pop while merrily sending it up in gently subversive fashion. The first two albums, It Ain’t Me Babe and You Baby, are presented in their original mono mixes, while the remaining four albums are all in stereo. These beautiful vinyl remasters make for a true journey to the past – albeit with improved sound!
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Dame Vera Lynn’s WWII standard “We’ll Meet Again” complete with barroom piano. “I Get Out of Breath” fits nicely into the band’s oeuvre of P.F. Sloan-written songs.
The vinyl release of The Albums Collection follows Manifesto Records’ U.S. release last year of The Complete Original Album Collection on CD; that box set presented these six albums with the first three in mono and stereo versions, and the final three with related bonus tracks. These CD editions will be reconfigured for release on Demon’s Edsel label on May 5. In addition, Manifesto released All the Singles, a 2-CD companion collecting the A and B-sides of the band’s White Whale singles. These Manifesto releases are valuable supplements to this vinyl box set.
The Albums Collection is housed in a sturdy box, with each of its six albums in jackets largely replicating the original vinyl releases. (Each record is housed in its own inner sleeve, as well. These are decorated with the logo of each album.) Though there is no enclosed booklet, Andrew Sandoval’s liner notes will be found on the CD reissues due from Edsel next month. The stellar sound here comes courtesy of the remasters prepared by Bill Inglot and Dave Schultz for the Manifesto releases. Inglot and Schultz have captured the original sound of these records with sharp clarity and vivid detail; hearing the remastered versions on pristine, warm vinyl is a treat.
Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman still spread The Turtles’ merry brand of musical mayhem on stage today; this new Record Store Day U.K.-exclusive collection is a trip back to where it all began for the California band. You and this box set will be happy together, indeed. And if you’re in the U.S., there’s a special Turtles release from Manifesto coming on RSD: a reissue of More Golden Hits, the original 1970 compilation featuring “Elenore,” “You Showed Me,” “She’s My Girl,” and more!