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Music / The Turtles

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"Me and you and you and me
No matter how they tossed the dice, it had to be
The only one for me is you, and you for me
So happy together

The Turtles are a pop-rock and folk-rock band from Los Angeles that formed in 1963 as a surf-rock band called The Crossfires, switched to their familiar sound and name in 1965, and originally ran through 1970. They were headed by vocalists Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman and are best known for their hit songs including "Happy Together", "She'd Rather Be With Me", "You Showed Me", "Elenore", and a Cover of Bob Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe".

Kaylan and Volman maintained a long working partnership after the breakup as Flo & Eddie (taking aliases partly because of legal issues with their former label), starting with a stint in Frank Zappa's entourage and continuing in a wide variety of other projects. Kaylan (Shell-Shocked) and Volman (Happy Forever) have both written memoirs.

Principal Members (Founding members in bold):

  • John Barbata - drums (1966–69)
  • Chip Douglas - bass, vocals (1966–67)
  • Howard Kaylan - keyboards, percussion, vocals (1965–70)
  • Joel Larson - drums (1966)
  • Don Murray - drums (1965–66; died 1996)
  • Al Nichol - guitar, bass, keyboards, vocals (1965–70)
  • Jim Pons - bass, vocals (1967–70)
  • Chuck Portz - bass (1965–66)
  • John Seiter - drums (1969–70)
  • Jim Tucker - guitar, vocals (1965–67; died 2020)
  • Mark Volman - guitar, percussion, special effects, vocals (1965–70)

Album Discography:

  • 1965 - It Ain't Me Babe
  • 1966 - You Baby
  • 1967 - Happy Together
  • 1968 - The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands
  • 1969 - Turtle Soup
  • 1970 - Wooden Head (a collection of previously-unreleased stray tracks from earlier in their career)

The Turtles are the Trope Namer for:

"When you're with me baby the tropes will be blue for all my life":

  • Battle of the Bands: Their fourth studio album, released in 1968, was titled The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands which was a Concept Album where they pretended to be 11 different bands.
  • The Big Guy: Mark Volman.
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor: "Elenore." Their initial follow-up singles to "Happy Together" flopped, and the record company told them that they needed another hit of that magnitude, so Kaylan reversed "Happy Together"'s chord progression and added joke lyrics such as "You're my pride and joy, et cetera."
  • Cover Version: While they wrote a lot of their own material, "Elenore" was their only self-composed major hit.
    • "You Showed Me" was a cover of a Byrds song.
    • Their first hit was a cover of "It Ain't Me Babe" by Bob Dylan.
    • They also covered "We'll Meet Again", best known as a Vera Lynn song.
    • Inverted with "Eve of Destruction". While Barry McGuire's version was a bigger hit and is much better known now, the Turtles actually recorded and released the song first. (Its songwriter, P.F. Sloan, penned several other songs for them, including the hits "You Baby" and "Let Me Be", the former with longtime writing partner Steve Barri. Amusingly, "You Baby" is itself a cover. It was originally first recorded as an unreleased track by The Vogues, before The Mamas & the Papas and The Grass Roots recorded it as an album track on their respective debut albums, both groups using the original instrumental track and recording a new vocal track over The Vogues.)
  • Broken Pedestal: According to Howard Kaylan, Jim Tucker left the group after they had an unpleasant encounter with John Lennon, who he idolized, at a London nightclub in 1967. Amusingly, however, Tucker himself actually denied this and claimed that he simply left due to burnout from constantly touring and recording new material.
  • "Days of the Week" Song: "Somewhere Friday Night"
  • Double Entendre: "I'm Chief Kamanawanalea (We're The Royal Macadamia Nuts)" from the Battle of the Bands album.
  • Electronic Music: "Elenore" was the first Top 10 hit to feature a Moog synthesizer (most prominently in the second verse), and it also appears on the followup hit "You Showed Me".
  • Everyone Went to School Together: Original members Howard Kaylan, Al Nichol, and Chuck Portz all graduated from Westchester High School's class of 1964. Mark Volman attended the same school but graduated a year later. Meanwhile, Jim Tucker and Don Murray studied at nearby Torrance and Inglewood, respectively. Their long relationship with Rhino Records for reissues happened in part because Rhino co-chief Harold Bronson was also a Westchester alum, and his older brother went to school with the band members.
  • Fat and Skinny: Volman (fat) and Kaylan (skinny), especially after they became Flo and Eddie.
  • Genre Shift: They started out as a Garage Rock/Surf Rock band called The Crossfires, before going into the folk rock/pop direction that made them famous.
  • Groupie Brigade: In his autobiography Howard Kaylan makes clear that even though he and Volman didn't possess teen idol looks, they still attracted plenty of groupies in the band's heyday.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Kaylan and Volman first met in chorus class in high school, and over 50 years later still maintain a professional music partnership.
  • Longest Song Goes Last:
    • "Like a Rolling Stone" on It Ain't Me Babe (3:10)
    • "Rugs of Woods and Flowers" on Happy Together (3:00)
    • "Earth Anthem" on The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands (3:53)
  • Money Song: "Gas Money," which is actually a cover of a Jan & Arnie original.
  • My Nayme Is: A very literal case when Howard Kaplan decided to change his last name to Kaylan.
  • Nerd Glasses: Favored by Volman, which combined with his frizzy hair gave him a strong Jewish and Nerdy vibe (he easily could've passed for Allan Sherman's son in The '60s).
  • One-Woman Song: "Elenore," "Rebecca"
  • Protest Song: "Eve of Destruction", "Let Me Be"
  • Rearrange the Song: In their later career as Flo & Eddie, Volman and Kaylan recorded a faster, punchier rendition of "Elenore" and a Reggae version of "Happy Together".
  • Record Producer:
    • The Turtles' first two albums, It Ain't Me Babe and You, Baby, were the first major producing efforts of Bones Howe, who had already gained some recognition in the music industry for engineering several hits by artists such as The Mamas & the Papas, Jan and Dean, Johnny Rivers, and Gary Lewis & the Playboys. Howe would later reap greater success producing for The Association and The 5th Dimension. (Technically, on It Ain't Me Babe, Howe was credited for "studio direction", with the actual producer credits going to Ted Feigin and Lee Lasseff, the label heads of White Whale Records, The Turtles' record label. Howe would finally get full producer credit on You, Baby, again sharing producer credits with Feigin and Lasseff.)
    • Bassist Chip Douglas left in 1967 to become one of these for The Monkees, although he'd return to produce The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands.
    • Ray Davies of The Kinks produced Turtle Soup.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Volman (red) would run around the stage doing antics while Kaylan (blue) would stay at the mic doing his lead vocal and act like he didn't notice.
  • Revolving Door Band: Kaylan, Volman and Nichol were there from beginning to end, but there was a lot of turnover among the other musicians.
  • Self-Plagiarism: "You Don't Have to Walk in the Rain" is an obvious musical rewrite of "Elenore".
  • Silly Love Songs: "You Showed Me," "She'd Rather Be With Me". "Happy Together" brings the trope into conscious self-parody, "Elenore" even more so.
  • The Something Song: "The Walking Song"
  • Springtime for Hitler: Following the success of "Happy Together", the band's label, White Whale Records, placed the band under serious pressure to record a similar-sounding follow-up. As a result, the band wrote "Elenore", a "skewed version" with intentionally cringeworthy lyrics such as, "Elenore, gee I think you're swell, and you really do me well, you're my pride and joy, et cetera..." in hopes that the label would leave them alone. Instead, the label released it as a single, and it became a Top Ten hit. Kaylan blamed the song's success on the production, saying "Truthfully, though, the production on "Elenore" WAS so damn good. Lyrically or not, the sound of the thing was so positive that it worked."
  • Sudden Name Change:
    • After building a following in Southern California as The Crossfires, when they signed a record contract their manager told them to become The Turtles, since it was close to The Beatles and would make people think they were British instead of American, which certainly didn't hurt if you were an aspiring rock band in 1965.
    • When they were with Zappa, Kaylan was The Phlorescent Leech and Volman was Eddie. When they released The Phlorescent Leech & Eddie in 1972, the cover photo had Volman on the left and Kaylan on the right, making it look like Volman should be The Phlorescent Leech, so they went ahead and switched identities.
  • Surfer Dude: "Surfer Dan"
  • Uncommon Time: "Grim Reaper of Love" has verses in 5/4 time.
  • Ur-Example: They sued De La Soul for Sampling "You Showed Me" on "Transmitting Live From Mars," and won a large settlement, making them the first act to respond to sampling in that way and setting a legal precedent for the industry.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Essentially why Murray and Portz claimed they left the band in their 1991 documentary, Happy Together — they felt they were drifting apart from the rest of the guys, especially when offstage.
    • Howard Kaylan claimed in his autobiography, Shell Shocked, that Murray abruptly left in the middle of a show because he was convinced his bandmates were conspiring to fire him, while Portz sensed the "impending end of the band" and left rock 'n' roll soon after to become a fisherman.
  • Xtreme Kool Letterz: In response to The Beatles and The Byrds, they briefly renamed themselves the "Tyrtles", but it didn't take.
  • Younger Than They Look: When "Happy Together" hit #1, Kaylan and Volman were both 19, but Kaylan could've passed for 30 and Volman for mid-20s. Also, Kaylan in his later years due to his receding hairline and prematurely graying hair.