If you’re a regular reader of SMS, then you know we often find inspiration in simply hearing a song from the greatest decade of music, then the memories and experiences come flooding in! One such moment happened last night while driving thru the Rainey streets of Burbank Calif. In the dim moody twilight, the perfect soundtrack piece came on the radio. It was “She’s My Girl”, a love song about meeting a girl under an apple tree.
The lyrical narrative might have been simple, but that’s where the simplicity ends. It is truly a masterpiece of composition and production values. As the track unfurls you’re awash in a waves of voices, harmony, counterpoint, horns and guitars all woven together with an air of mystery and psychedelia. You could almost mistake it as a lost track from Sgt. Pepper, but it’s not. It was actually the sixth consecutive hit from The Turtles. You might remember them from “Happy Together”, or just be vaguely aware of them as yet another frequent visitor to the Top 40 Pop charts of the Sixties who happened to be named after an animal. Mark Volman ( co founder of the band) might have danced a little bit like a turtle, but he sang like an angel, as you can judge for yourself in the video below.
Although “Happy Together” is the song that everyone will always remember and which will continue to receive the most airplay, for me it’s what The Turtles went onto accomplish afterwards that elevated them to something truly special. I’m talking about tracks such as “She’d Rather Be With Me” or “Outside Chance” with it’s George Harrison-inspired guitar intro. In fact, “Outside Chance” did more than just riff on the Beatles – it also helped launch the career of Warren Zevon, who wrote it.
There are few songs that better show the Turtles’ more mischievous side than “Elenore”. After being inundated by their record label, management and agents to deliver another “Happy Together” smash, The Turtles wanted to move on from their Top 40 pop image, so they came up with “Elenore”. They stole the chords and progression directly from “Happy Together” and deliberately attempted to write a pop song so corny they’d never be asked to play again. Bless their hearts, the boys did try their best, with such lyrical gems as ‘I really think you’re groovy, let’s go to a movie’. Don’t even get me started on the chorus:
Gee I think you’re swell
and you really do me well
you’re my pride and joy et cetera…
Et cetera? Really? And yet somehow, much to their dismay, The Turtles pulled it off, and it’s now considered one of their signature songs. Not bad for a track that Howard Kaylan allegedly busted out in less than an hour. If this sounds too weird to be true, then take it from ‘Eddie’ himself:
Elenore was a parody of “Happy Together.” It was never intended to be a straight-forward song. It was meant as an anti-love letter to White Whale who were constantly on our backs to bring them another “Happy Together.” So I gave them a very skewed version. Not only with the chords changed, but with all these bizarre words. It was my feeling that they would listen to how strange and stupid the song was and leave us alone. But they didn’t get the joke. They thought it sounded good. Truthfully, though, the production on “Elenore” WAS so damn good. Lyrically or not, the sound of the thing was so positive that it worked. It certainly surprised me.
Some folks have called The Turtles “The Rodney Dangerfield of Rock”, in that they never got the respect they so deserve. There’s quite a few other bands or artists that have tried to claim that sobriquet, but I think the Turtles embodied ‘Rodney’ more than anyone else, in terms of their playful and Everyman qualities. And let’s be honest – they probably looked the most like Rodney Dangerfield too, yet they brought a special, self-effacing charm just the same. Not to mention – what other band can claim to have been so devastatingly bullied by none other than John Lennon? In Howard Kaylan’s own words:
Jim in particular had this very Mod, Carnaby Street fake J.C. Penney’s look that was really sad and ill-fitting. His haircut was too short in the front and too long in the back and uneven. It looked like he cut his hair himself. Lennon sort of went nuts on him and busted him for his haircut, “What did you ask for? A Beatle cut? You should get your money back, the guy really screwed you!” Saying stuff like “Look at your clothes, you give rhythm players a bad name! They shouldn’t allow you out in public!”
And it was amazing, Tucker stood there and he was tearing up a little bit but he took it. Then he finally cracked and just went, “I can’t believe what a dick you are! Wow, I thought you were John Lennon, I thought you were The Beatles. I thought you were all enlightened and shit and I find that you’re nothing. You’re phony, you’re bullshit and I’m sorry I met you!”
Lennon spent particular time savoring [Tucker’s words], and then he said menacingly, “You never met me, son.”
Ouch! How can you not love the Turtles after reading that? As it happens, I have another reason for loving the Turtles. A true Sixties Music Story that showed me just how underrated the SoCal Sextet really was.
It happened in the summer of ’66 when our band The Spydres, a group of hopeful young musicians like many others in the Sixties who adopted a rather taxonomic naming convention, were booked into The World Famous Hullabaloo Club in Hollywood Ca. Getting this booking was exciting enough, but we soon learned we would be sharing the stage and opening for The Doors! This was a huge deal and we couldn’t be more excited. However, when we arrived at The Hullabaloo club that afternoon for a sound check, we were surprised to see a half dozen shaggy guys tuning up instead of the Doors! Then we were informed we’d be opening for The Turtles as well.
Sure, The Turtles had already had a hit with Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” in 1965, but they were still a year away from “Happy Together”. At the same time, we were already in awe of the Doors, especially Morrison, the ‘Lizard King’ himself. They were to put it mildly the ‘main attraction’, and I doubt you would have needed both hands to count the people showing up that night for whom the Doors was an afterthought. As for the Turtles…Well. You be the judge:
We made jokes about them! Until recently they were called The Cross Fires, playing “Surf Music” on the beach. Then we got a look at them, specifically their two founders and lead singers Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman and jeeze. These guys didn’t look like beach boys! They looked like two linebackers with bad haircuts who couldn’t get a date for the prom! Not to put it bluntly, but this felt like an opportunity for us to shine.
So we settled into our tiny dressing room making sure our uniforms were freshly pressed and looking sharp, poised and ready to steal the non-Doors part of the show! But then The Turtles took the stage for their sound check, stepped up to the microphones! – None of us had heard live or even seen on TV at that point! Then, Oh my God, Mark and Howard opened their mouth’s and started to sing and they sounded so perfect and so powerful! We watched as The Turtles nailed song after song with Mark and Howard commanding the stage backed by just this rock solid rhythm section with Chip Douglas and Johnny Barbata, on Bass and Drums. They might not have had a #1 hit yet, but I knew right then that they were the real deal. It was a humbling moment for my barely sixteen-year old self.
As The Turtles were wrapping their check of the Mikes and the P.A., Mark Volman looked at me and said ”You guy’s good with the vocal sound?” With a bit of a tongue in cheek smile! Knowing just how great they sounded,That was the Turtles having fun with an even younger band. Afterwards, we hung out with them, and you could have hardly asked to meet a nicer or more generous group of guys. They were a hell of a lot nicer to us than John Lennon was to them.
To this day, I consider it as much of an privilege for our young band to have opened for them as for the Doors.
And with that, let’s take a moment to enjoy the record that inspired this week’s post, “She’s My Girl”: