The Turtles was an American rock band led by vocalists Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman. The band had several Top 40 hits beginning with their cover version of Bob Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe" in 1965. They scored their biggest and best-known hit in 1967 with the song "Happy Together".
The band broke up in 1970. Kaylan and Volman later found long-lasting success as session musicians, billed as the comedic vocal duo Flo & Eddie. In 2010, a reconstituted version of the band, the Turtles Featuring Flo & Eddie, began performing live shows again.
The band, originally a surf-rock group called the Crossfires, was formed in 1965 in Westchester, Los Angeles, by high school friends Kaylan, Volman, Al Nichol, Chuck Portz, Don Murray, and Jim Tucker. With the help of KRLA and KFWB DJ and club owner Reb Foster (b. James Dennis Bruton 1936), the Crossfires signed to the newly formed White Whale Records. Adhering to the prevailing musical trend, they rebranded themselves as a folk rock group under the name the Tyrtles, an intentionally stylized misspelling inspired by the Byrds and the Beatles. However, the trendy spelling did not survive long.
As with the Byrds, the Turtles achieved breakthrough success with a cover of a Bob Dylan song. "It Ain't Me Babe" reached the Billboard Top Ten in the late summer of 1965, and was the title track to the band’s first album. Their second single, "Let Me Be," reached the top 30, while their third hit, "You Baby," charted in the top 20 in early 1966. The band's second album, You Baby, failed to reach Billboard's Top LPs chart, and of several singles released in 1966, "Grim Reaper of Love" and "Can I Get to Know You Better" barely entered the Billboard Hot 100. One single, the tough "Outside Chance", written by Warren Zevon and featuring guitar work in the style of the Beatles' "Taxman", didn't chart at all. In 1966, the Turtles made an appearance in Universal's beach party spy spoof film Out of Sight, singing "She'll Come Back" on screen.
The first of several key Turtles singles co-written by Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon, "Happy Together", had already been rejected by countless performers. "Happy Together", both their biggest hit and their signature song, signaled a turning point for both the Turtles and for Chip Douglas, who provided the arrangement. The single replaced the Beatles' "Penny Lane" at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in the spring of 1967. The Turtles' only No. 1 remained there for three weeks. An album of the same name followed and peaked at No. 25. "Happy Together" reached #12 on the UK singles chart. This same year saw the Turtles performing the title song (composed by John Williams with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse) for the Twentieth Century-Fox bedroom farce A Guide for the Married Man.
Impressed by Chip Douglas's studio arrangements, 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 and left the Turtles. He was replaced by Jim Pons on bass.
1967 proved to be the Turtles' most successful year on the music charts. "She'd Rather Be with Me" reached number 3 on the US charts in late spring and actually out-charted "Happy Together" overseas, reaching #4 in the UK. Two successive Top 15 songs followed: "You Know What I Mean" and "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 similar album covers for The Turtles! Golden Hits and its follow up More Golden Hits were designed by Dean Torrence of Jan & Dean.
In 1968, rhythm guitarist Jim Tucker left the band citing the pressure of touring and recording new material. He moved to Grass Valley where he became an electrical contractor. He has denied that he left the band because John Lennon was rude to him as suggested by the Turtles' lead singer Howard Kaylan.
The first two singles in 1968, "Sound Asleep" and "The Story of Rock and Roll", stalled somewhere in the middle of the top 100. The band's fortunes changed when Chip Douglas returned to work with them in the studio. Late in 1968 the band released a concept album called The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, in which the group pretended to be 11 different bands (with fanciful names including '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 singles: "Elenore" and "You Showed Me" (both peaking at No. 6). "Elenore" also reached No. 7 in the UK chart. The 1969 hit "You Showed Me" had been written by the Byrds' Gene Clark and Roger (then Jim) McGuinn in 1964. Television appearances included a February 1968 spot on The Mike Douglas Show, to which they returned in April 1969.
Towards the end of 1969, the group released its next album, 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 released production work for another band (although Davies had previously produced demo recordings for The Iveys). Notable tracks include "Somewhere Friday Nite" and "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 to disintegrate.
Long disillusioned with their record label and its growing financial problems by this time, Kaylan and Volman resisted White Whale's efforts to turn the Turtles into something approaching an assembly-line 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 convinced the band to record a single called "Who Would Ever Think That I Would Ever Marry Margaret?", which they disowned after its release.
The Turtles wound down their career in 1970 with a second compilation album, More Golden Hits, and a B-sides and rarities album, Wooden Head. With the demise of the Turtles, White Whale Records was left with few commercially viable bands, and soon ceased operation.
Kaylan and Volman (accompanied by Chip Douglas' replacement, bassist Jim 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. Flo & Eddie, as they soon became known, recorded albums with the Mothers, appeared in Frank Zappa's film 200 Motels in 1971 and later released a series of records on their own.
Kaylan and Volman sang backing vocals on several recordings by T. Rex, including their worldwide hit "Get it On (Bang A Gong)" and the albums Electric Warrior and The Slider. When White Whale's master recordings were sold at auction in 1974, the duo won the Turtles' masters, making them the owners of their own recorded work. They promptly licensed the tracks to Sire Records, who issued them as a compilation called Happy Together Again.
In the mid-1970s, Kaylan and Volman started their own syndicated radio show called Flo & Eddie by the Fireside, which originated from KMET in Los Angeles. In the 1980s, they began hosting their own radio show on KROQ-FM in Los Angeles and WXRK in New York City and recorded soundtrack music for children's shows like the Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake.
1982 saw the rerelease of the Turtles' original albums through Rhino Records. The following year, Howard Kaylan appeared in the rock-and-roll comedy film Get Crazy, starring Malcolm McDowell and Daniel Stern. Kaylan played the part of Captain Cloud, a spiritual guru, leader of a caravan of time-lost hippies.
In 1980, Flo and Eddie performed backing vocals on Alice Cooper's Flush The Fashion LP. They also sang backup on Bruce Springsteen's "Hungry Heart", from his album The River, and contributed backing vocals to the debut album from British new wave band Espionage titled Espionage produced by Roy Thomas Baker released in 1983 by A&M records.
In 1983 Kaylan and Volman 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. That year also saw the debut of the previously unreleased Shell Shock album, as well as a new retrospective CD, 20 Greatest Hits, both released by Rhino. The latter compilation was followed up in 1988 with 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 1985 the Turtles embarked on a US "Happy Together" tour with Grassroots, the Buckinghams and Gary Lewis and the Playboys.
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!" It was incorrectly reported in 2009 that Volman was involved in another lawsuit against rapper Gucci Mane for an unauthorized sample; the sample of "Keep It Warm" used in Mane's "Lemonade" was cleared legitimately prior to the release of the song.
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. In that same year, Rhino Records also presented Captured Live, a live album of their 1992 tour. 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.
In 2002 the film Adaptation used "Happy Together" extensively as a device to portray the closeness of the two brothers Kaufman, both played by Nicolas Cage. The film closes with the Turtles' version over the final credit scroll and time lapse photography.
During the summers of 2010 through 2015, the Turtles Featuring Flo & Eddie toured throughout the United States as part of the "Happy Together: 25th Anniversary Tour", an oldies concert series that retained the "Happy Together" moniker in subsequent years. They performed alongside other 1960s and 1970s pop stars including Gary Puckett, Mitch Ryder, Mark Lindsay, Mark Farner, Gary Lewis, and Micky Dolenz. The 2015 tour featured the Buckinghams, the Cowsills, the Grass Roots, and the Association.
|Year||Album||US Top 200||Label|
|1963||Out Of Control (as the Crossfires)||—||(none)|
|1965||It Ain't Me Babe||98||White Whale|
|1968||The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands||128|
Wooden Head was an album composed of unissued recordings, circa 1966. Chalon Road gathered together many unissued and 45-only tracks. Shell Shock was a construction of an album recorded in 1969 that remained unfinished.
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