Monday, July 26, 2010

The Turtles - "Save the Turtles"

The Turtles
Save the Turtles: The Turtles Greatest Hits
FloEdCo (2009)
Full Disclosure: All the hits are here but truth be told, I really bought this collection solely for the Chevy Camero commercial at the end, which remains my favorite Turtles recording of all time - and as hard to find outside of this compilation as...well...a 1960s Chevy Camero!

OK, everyone knows The Turtles, the Southern California folk-pop icons fronted by singer Howard Kaylan (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Andy Kaufman's alter ego, Tony Clifton) and singer-guitarist Mark Volman (think Jonah Hill with an Afro) who had all those radio-friendly Top 40 hits in the '60s like "So Happy Together," "She'd Rather Be With Me," "It Ain't Me Babe," "You Baby," and "Elenore," etc. They liked to say that they were only three letters removed from being The Beatles and, like the Byrds, had fashioned one of those "pet" animal species monikers (they even spelled it "Tyrtles" for a spell).

Flo & Eddie - or Jo & Tony?

In truth, they were musical chameleons, able to change their spots to mimic virtually any style, from folk (the Dylan cover "It Ain't Me Babe") and hotrod-surf (the spot-on Jan & Dean imitation "Surfer Dan") to down-and-dirty garage grunge (Warren Zevon's "Outside Chance," Kaylan's "Always There") and the innumerable tunes that captured the soaring harmonies and melodic perfection of the Beach Boys. Heck, they even imitated themselves on "Elenore," though few noticed the self-mockery (least of all their record label, which was more than content with a #6 hit).

Flo & Eddie today

But for the longest time Alpha Turtles Volman and Kaylan were merely Phlorescent Leech and Eddie, or Flo and Eddie for short, as the rights to their name and music were tied up by men in suits with law degrees wrangling over money. With the Suits unwilling to let Volman and Kayman be themselves, much less sing "Let Me Be," they turned to various ventures, including radio broadcasting (they were on K-ROCK, Howard Stern's NYC station, for a while), joining Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention, and at one point in the '80s even resorting to recording background music for kiddie TV shows like The Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake (wowie zowie - from Zappa to kid shows, that's quite an aesthetic 360 turn!).

Flo & Eddie: Bear-ing their souls for the kids!

It wasn't until 1984 - after years of recording/touring with Zappa and as solo artists Flo & Eddie (speaking of which, I'm eagerly awaiting my twofer-on-one CD reissue of their brilliant Illegal, Immoral & Fattening/Moving Targets albums from FloEdCo) - that founding braintrust Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman legally regained the use of The Turtles name, and began touring as The Turtles... Featuring Flo and Eddie. (The "featuring" tag was probably added to their moniker because, instead of trying to reunite with their earlier bandmates, they began featuring all-star sidemen who had played with different groups - like Greg Hawkes of the Cars, who most recently appeared with them at the 2010 Dundalk Heritage Fair).

Flo & Eddie win the case!

But it wasn't until 2009 that they regained rights to their recorded music; they had always wanted to clean up the original recordings they made while under contract at White Whale Records in the '60s and the result is this greatest hits compilation CD that was was issued in 2009 on their own FloEdCo label and distributed by Manifesto Records. And clean it up they did, with all 20 of the selections here remastered under the personal direction of Flo and Eddie from the original master tapes.

One thing I noticed right off was the wide range of songwriting (the early Turtles recorded a score of songs by Gary Bonner and Alan Gordon of the East Coast band The Magicians, not to mention tunes by P. F. Sloan, Harry Nilsson, and their buddy Warren Zevon) and turnover of band members through the years. Other than mainstays Kaylan, Volman, and founding guitarists Al Nichols and Jim Tucker, the Turtles line-up changed quite a bit over the years - especially the rhythm section. The Great Turtles Diaspora saw bassist Jim Pons replace Chip Douglas (no, he wasn't featured on My Three Sons, but Douglas was a talented bass and keyboard player who went into record production, producing hits for The Monkees - "Daydream Believer" and "Pleasant Valley Sunday" among them - before returning to produce Turtles records like "You Showed Me"); Pons would later join Flo and Eddie in Zappa's Mothers of Invention before leaving to start his second career as a film and video director for the NFL (he currently works for the Jaguars); veteran session drummer Johnny Barbata - himself a replacement for Joel Larson (who replaced Don Murray) - left to play with Crosby, Stills & Nash.

That said, if there's one Turtles collection you should shell out the bucks for, it's this modestly-priced greatest hits comp, proceeds from which actually go towards saving turtles at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, FL. Following are some of my track-by-Turtle-track observations.

1. "Happy Together" (Gary Bonner/Alan Gordon)
Their biggest ever hit and most remembered song, included here in the Numero Uno lead-off spot, as befits a #1 record. Written by the prolific songwriting team behind the NY band The Magicians, Gary Bonner and Alan Gordon, who also gave The Turtles the 1967 hits "She'd Rather Be With Me" (#3) and "She's My Girl" (#14), as well as the singles "Me About You" and "You Know What I Mean."

2. It Ain't Me Babe (Bob Dylan)
The Turtles debut single from the summer of 1965 rose as high as #8 on the charts during the Dylan-Folk Rock Craze Phase. Hey, it worked wonders for the Byrds' careers, as well. I still prefer Sebastian Cabot's version (available on Rhino's Golden Throats CD) better - but he sure couldn't hit the high notes like Flo and Eddie!

Mr. French hits a low note

4. "You Baby" (P.F. Sloan/Steve Barri)
Despite the opening jingly-jangly riff, the third Turtles single (#20, 1966) is noted for its new direction, moving away from that Folk Rock experiment and more toward high-octave harmony-laden pop in the vein of Frank Valli and The Four Seasons.

5. "Elenore"
Quoth the Turtle: "Elenore." A self-parody of themselves for the album The Battle of the Bands and still the only Top 10 record to contain the expression "et cetera." In fact, the only other "et cetera" song I can think of is The Smiths' "Sweet and Tender Hooligan."

6. "Let Me Be" (P.F. Sloan)
P.F. Sloan came up with the necessary folkie follow-up hit to "It Ain't Me Babe" on The Turtles second White Whale single, which reached #29 in 1965, still primo Top 40 turf. And it clearly adhered to their folk agenda of the time: tambourine, 12-string guitar, and a singer pleading for individuality, babe.

7. "She's My Girl" (Gary Bonner/Alan Gordon)
Another hit (#14, 1967) courtesy of The Magicians Bonner-Gordon team with an ominous opening.

8. "Outside Chance" (Warren Zevon)
Warren Zevon penned this garage rock beauty that starts off with a Beatle-y "Ticket To Ride" guitar lick before getting down-and-dirty, as one would expect from the volatile Z man. It was the first track new drummer Johnny Barbata played on, but its lack of success led to bass player Chuck Portz quitting the band, with Chip Douglas replacing him.

9. "You Showed Me" (Jim McGuinn-Gene Clark)
As a Byrdsmaniac, I naturally loved their emo version that appears on the album Pre-Flyte, but I gotta say, this one might be a tad better because of the spooky vibe and Chip Douglas' masterful production (though I could have done without all those melodramatic strings). But hey, enjoy both flavors - like Doublemint Gum, it can only double your pleasure, double your fun.

10. "Can I Get To Know You Better" (Steve Barri/P.F. Sloan)
White Whale wanted a follow-up to Sloan's "Let Me Be" sound, so they commissioned this, but The Sequel No One Asked For didn't chart. The first recording on which Chip Douglas appears.

11. "The Story of Rock and Roll" (Harry Nilsson)
Quite the studio production epic -think Brian Wilson producing the Raspberries "Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)" - but I don't like history lessons, especially when they include sax riffing like you hear leading into those commercial breaks on Saturday Night Live. But I guess it was appropriate for their concep album, The Battle of the Bands.

The Kinksy lost masterpiece

12. "Love in the City" (The Turtles)
Guitarist Al Nichol, perhaps influenced by The Lovin' Spoonful's current hit "Summer in the City," wrote this in 1967 and shared the credit with the rest of the band (which at this time included Kaylan, Volman, Nichol, bassist Jim Pons, and drummer John Seiter). This is one of two songs (the other is "You Don't have To Walk in the Rain") culled from The Turtles's 1969 release, Turtle Soup, the critically acclaimed record they recorded with Ray Davies of The Kinks that clearly shows the influence of Ray's 1968 concept album The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society. This was also the "democratic" album on which other band members - not just Kaylan and Volman - were allowed to sing their songs and share in the songwriting credits. Another Turtle Soup song, "Hot Little Hands," turns up on Turtle Tracks, the limited edition hits compilation sold only at "The Turtles...Featuring Flo & Eddie" live shows. (It's great - I'm glad Amy bought one at the 2010 Dundalk Heritage Fair show!)

13. "Me About You"
Another Gary Bonner-Alan Gordon tune that was also covered by The Mojo Men and The Lovin' Spoonful, among others.

14. "You Don't Have To Walk in the Rain" (The Turtles)
Great Beach Boys Farfisa-y intro to the strongest single off Turtle Soup.

15. "You Know What I Mean" (Gary Bonner/Alan Gordon)
Mark Volman describes this Bonner-Gordon song as "brilliant" and considers it "probably the best Turtles record ever made." That's really saying something - and it's hard to argue with him! The sophisticated production is Pet Sounds-worthy. The single reached as high as #12 in 1967.

16. "Sound Asleep" (The Turtles)
Issued as a single in early 1968, "Sound Asleep" was credited to the whole group, which at this point included Kaylan, Volman, guitarist Al Nichol, bassist Jim Pons, and Johnny Barbata.

17. "Making My Mind Up" (Ray Roberts/Gary Montgomery)
Gawd, this is SOOOOOO Sixties, like the theme song to a rock dance show that never was! Reminds me of Jay and the Americans singing the Love American Style theme.

18. "Grim Reaper of Love" (Chuck Portz/Al Nichol)
Folk Deathtrip Ennui. Serious-sounding but dated step into The Deep (a la Barry McGuire's Dylan-derivative, P.F. Sloan-penned attempt at social commentary "Eve of Destruction").

19. "Guide for the Married Man" (John Williams/Leslie Bricusse)
Love this song, love this 1967 movie (directed by Gene Kelly and starring Walter Matthau, Robert Morse, Inger Stevens, and Carl Reiner)! Before Star Wars there were frisky married men like Matthau just dying to commit adultery and swing in a suburban galaxy far away, and John Williams was there to play Pied Piper and lead the way. 1967 was also the year Williams earned his first Academy Award nom, but for scoring Valley of the Dolls - not A Guide for Married Man!

Bitchin' Camero

20. "Chevrolet Camero Commercial" (previously unreleased)
Lean and muscular, full mod with rally racing stripes, it's no wonder "the Camero will drive you absolutely wild!" As on "Surfer Dan" (B-side of their single "Elenore"), The Turtles return to their Crossfires surfboards-and-hotrods roots. The last voice you hear is their bud Warren Zevon!

Related Links: (Official Site)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Camaro, yes?

2:16 AM  

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