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Spotlight Artist - The Turtles 

 

The TurtlesThe band, originally a surf-rock group called the Crossfires from the Planet Mars, was formed in 1965 in Westchester, California (a Los Angeles neighborhood) by Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman. With the help of DJ and club owner Reb Foster, the Crossfires signed to White Whale Records and, adhering to the prevailing musical trend, re-branded themselves as a folk rock group called "The Tyrtles", the intentional misspelling inspired by The Byrds. However, the trendy spelling did not survive long. As with the Byrds, the Turtles achieved breakthrough success with a Bob Dylan cover. "It Ain't Me Babe" reached the Billboard Top Ten in the late summer of 1965 (see 1965 in music) and was the title track to the band’s first album. Their second single, "Let Me Be" (written by P.F. Sloan), cracked the top 30 in the autumn. Their third hit, "You Baby" (P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri), charted in the top 20 in early 1966. However, their second album You Baby never entered Billboard's Top LPs chart, and of several singles released in 1966 only two — the Rolling Stones-like "Grim Reaper of Love" and the adorable "Can I Get to Know You Better" — entered the Billboard Hot 100. The album You Baby includes the frenetic pop-rock nugget "Outside Chance", written by Glenn Crocker and Warren Zevon.


  

At the start of 1967 a heavy touring schedule combined with a lack of recent chart success convinced drummer Don Murray and then bassist Chuck Portz to quit the group. They were replaced by Joel Larson and then John Barbata on drums, and by Chip Douglas on bass. It occurred to the band that for eight months they had been performing a certain song on stage that, while moderately popular with the fans, had yet to be recorded. The first of several key Turtles singles co-written by Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon, "Happy Together" seemed almost a parody of itself, and had already been rejected by countless performers. "Happy Together," both their biggest hit and their signature song, signaled a turning point for the Turtles and for Chip Douglas, who provided the arrangement. With its incessant and infectious guitar riff, addictive chorus and backing vocals, simple drum and organ parts, and even an oboe playing along during the second chorus, "Happy Together" is perhaps the quintessential example of fresh, feel-good 1960s American pop despite its somewhat ironic tone and the fact that its verses are in a minor key. The single replaced the Beatles' "Penny Lane" at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in the spring of 1967. Their only number one, it remained at the top for three weeks. An album of the same name followed and peaked at number 25.

Impressed by Chip Douglas's studio arrangements, Monkee Michael Nesmith approached him after a Turtles show at the Whisky a Go Go and invited him to become the Monkees' new producer, as that band wanted to break out of their "manufactured" studio mold. Douglas accepted, left the Turtles and was replaced by bassist/singer Jim Pons. 1967 proved to be the Turtles' most successful year in the charts. "She'd Rather Be With Me" reached number 3 on the US charts in late spring and actually out-charted "Happy Together" overseas. Two successive top-15 gems followed: the singularly lush and pretty ballad "You Know What I Mean" and the playfully psychedelic and gleefully adolescent "She's My Girl". Both 45s signaled a certain shift in the band’s style. Golden Hits was released later that year, charting in the top 10. (The album covers for Golden Hits and its follow up Golden Hits Vol 2 were designed by Dean Torrence of Jan & Dean fame and his company, Kittyhawk Graphics.)

1968 started without a bang. The first two singles, "Sound Asleep" and "The Story of Rock and Roll", stalled somewhere in the middle of the top 100. The band's fortunes changed when now hugely successful Monkees producer Chip Douglas returned to work with them in the studio. Late in 1968 the Turtles released a concept album called The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, in which the group pretended to be eleven different bands (with names like 'The Bigg Brothers', 'Nature's Children', 'The US Teens featuring Raoul', and 'The Fabulous Dawgs'), each with a song in a different genre. The album yielded two distinctive singles: "Elenore" and "You Showed Me" (both peaking at number six). The blissful-sounding "Elenore" is likely the only Top Ten single to contain the words et cetera in its lyrics, and allegedly was the band's tongue-in-cheek response to White Whale's demands for more songs like "Happy Together". (Howard Kaylan confirmed this account in a live interview on XM Radio's 60s channel on March 3, 2007.) The breathy-trippy 1969 hit "You Showed Me" was written by Byrds members Gene Clark and Roger (then Jim) McGuinn in 1964. Television appearances in 1968 include a February 26 visit to The Mike Douglas Show, to which they returned in April 1969.

Kaylan and Volman resisted White Whale's efforts to turn the Turtles into something more like an assembly-line-style pop act -- the label apparently encouraged Kaylan and Volman to fire the rest of the band, tour with hired musicians, and make records by adding their vocals to backing tracks recorded by Memphis session players. Such pressure did convince the band to record a single called "Who Would Ever Think That I Would Ever Marry Margaret" (which they totally disowned after its release). But the duo's adherence to their own vision ultimately resulted in the 1969 release Turtle Soup, a critically well-received LP produced by Ray Davies of The Kinks. Inspired by the revered 1968 concept album The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, this was Davies’s only ever production work for another band. Kaylan and Volman insisted the whole band share in the writing and singing. Notable tracks include the ethereal and introspective "Somewhere Friday Nite" and the rather failed single "Love in the City". In spite of Turtle Soup's positive reception from the music press, its commercial success was marginal and the band soon began disintegrating.

The Turtles wound down their career with a B-sides and rarities album, Wooden Head (1969), and a second compilation album, More Golden Hits (1970). With the demise of The Turtles, White Whale Records was left with few, if any, commercially viable bands, and ceased operation.

Kaylan and Volman (accompanied by Pons) joined the Mothers of Invention as "The Phlorescent Leech & Eddie", since the use of the Turtles name (and even their own names in billings) was prohibited by their contract with White Whale. Frank Zappa claimed that his association with Kaylan and Volman was inspired by a DJ's comment that he could make the Mothers as big as the Turtles. "If you want to be as big as the Turtles, have a few Turtles in your band," Zappa reportedly claimed. The collaboration with Zappa lasted until a jealous fan attacked and seriously injured Zappa when the Mothers were performing at the Rainbow Theatre in December, 1971. Kaylan and Volman also sang back up vocals on several recordings by T.Rex beginning in 1970, including their world-wide hit "Get it On (Bang A Gong)" and albums Electric Warrior and The Slider.

Flo & Eddie, as they soon became known, recorded albums with the Mothers and later released a series of records on their own. They also recorded soundtrack music for children's shows like the Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake, and began hosting their own radio show on KROQ in Los Angeles and WXRK in New York City. Flo & Eddie also are credited with backing vocals on Bruce Springsteen's single, Hungry Heart, from The River.

In 1983, Howard Kaylan appeared in the rock-n-roll comedy film Get Crazy, starring Malcolm McDowell and Daniel Stern. Kaylan played the part of 'Captain Cloud' a spiritual guru type of character, leader of a caravan of time lost gypsy-like hippies.

When White Whale's master recordings were sold at auction, the winning bidders of the Turtles masters were Kaylan and Volman, making them the owners of their own recorded work.( The duo promptly licensed the tracks to Sire Records in 1975, who issued the compilation "Happy Together Again" .) In 1984 (see 1984 in music), they legally regained the use of the Turtles name, and began touring as The Turtles... Featuring Flo and Eddie. Instead of trying to reunite with their earlier bandmates, they began featuring all-star sidemen who had played with different groups.

Also in 1984, they released a new greatest hits CD on Rhino Records, 20 Greatest Hits, and in 1988, released another, Turtle Wax: The Best of The Turtles, Vol. 2, which featured the best of their "album tracks" and previously-neglected single B-sides.

In 1987, 'Kaylan & Volman' appeared in a new music video of their song "Happy Together" promoting the romantic comedy Making Mr. Right, starring John Malkovich.

The 1989 debut album by hip-hop combo De La Soul featured an uncredited sample from the Turtles (specifically, the intro to "You Showed Me"), in the song "Transmitting Live from Mars". Kaylan and Volman sued, winning a large settlement, setting a legal precedent, and causing the music industry to begin carefully crediting (and paying royalties for) sampled works on future rap and other recordings. As they explained, "We don't hate sampling; we like sampling. If we don't get credit, we sue, and all that stuff (a share of the royalties, plus punitive damages) comes back to us!"

In that same year, the romantic-comedy Happy Together based on the musical Cabaret premiered. It starred teen-heart throb Patrick Dempsey and Helen Slater. The Turtles recording of "Happy Together" was featured in the film as well as the soundtrack album.

Music Club Records released a Turtles anthology in the UK in 1991, Happy Together: The Best of the Turtles. Repertoire Records in Germany released their own compilation, titled Elenore, in 1993, as well as re-releasing the original Happy Together album. Rhino Records also presented Captured Live, a greatest-hits-live album of their 1992 tour, that year. Sundazed Records re-released all of The Turtles' original albums in 1994, and in 1999 Varèse Sarabande released Happy Together: The Best of White Whale Records, which included many of the Turtles' singles.

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