The other day I did something I haven’t done in a while. A long, long while. After taking a break to gulp down my standard late-afternoon frothy chocolate shake, a friend decided to drive us spur-of-the-moment clear cross-town to… a record store. Yes, a record store. Remember those?
And there, displayed with obvious care up behind the cash register (remember those?) I spied a most colorful array of big pre-Xmas boxed items which seemed to all have one thing in common. Besides the triple-digit price tags, that is. Each of these lavish items – several looking far more like the luxury limited-edition volumes bound for the Museum of Modern Art Book Store – appeared to be celebrating 50th Anniversaries of each boomer’s fave raves from A.D.19 hundred and 68. Yep, there was that Band’s Music From Big Pink Super Deluxe Blu-ray audio CD/2-LP/7-inch Box Set, The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society Super Deluxe 2018 Remaster, The White Beatles’ 6CD+1Blu-ray Digital Audio Collection (Vandor Limited Edition White Album Ceramic Coin Bank or Large Tin Tote not included), not to be outdone John & Yoko Imagine Super Deluxe Ultimate Collection, my personal choice Electric Ladyland 3CD & 1Blu-ray Deluxe Edition – with Jimi’s intended front cover art intact at last and, of course, Volume 14 of the Bootleg Series which started this all: Dylan’s More Blood, More Tracks. Literally!
Impressive, I suppose in a way, as this may sound (after all, what’s left of the recorded music business does need some way to squeeze the last remaining blood from their deep catalog tracks before its intended audience quit listening – perhaps even breathing – altogether) I did notice one iconic 1968 long-player most conspicuously absent. Though it probably got no closer than the Village Green to sales charts a half-century ago, nevertheless it is a beyond-remarkable, wholly Anniversary Box Set-worthy collection of songs which, to what’s left of my ears at least, sound every single note the equal of “Caledonia Mission,” “Gimme Some Truth,” or even “What’s The New Mary Jane.”
I mean, just take a look at the inner cover of the Turtles’ stunning 1968 Battle Of The Bands: Therein stand not one, not two, but TWELVE different mock-“Turtles” (one for each song), each posed in an absolutely flawless visual parody of – or was it a tribute to? – one dozen different rock-and-pop pigeonholes.
While this delightful ruse may have provided a hearty premise for [gulp!] another Concept Album (albeit one which greatly out-surpassed the Fab Four’s comparatively meek Pepper-grinding), beneath all the dress-up fun and games lay a more than telling element of ironic, bitter truth. For the real Turtles truly spent their entire career struggling to establish a single, all-encompassing identity in the eyes of not only their audiences the world over, but with their long-suffering bosses at White Whale Records, radio programmers everywhere, and perhaps even amongst the actual band members themselves.
In fact, the group’s very origins seem mucho-schizo to say the least: Springing to life in Los Angeles circa 1961 as a rough ‘n’ ready instrumental combo (The Nightriders), they soon transformed into a real-life surf band (The Crossfires), later tried their hand at folk music (as the Crosswind Singers, would you believe), were also known to show up at local bowling alleys pretending to be Gerry & the Pacemakers, then finally settled on the hallowed Turtles moniker (though almost The Tyrtles) upon signing with White Whale in 1965. Their first hit, a Top 40-friendly cover of the above-mentioned B. Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe,” was quickly followed by a P.F. Sloan-scribed sound-alike (“Let Me Be”) and then the incredible, edible “You Baby.”
The latter, also from the pedantic pen of P.F., was an absolute stick-to-the-roof-of-your-ears candy-rock delight, and its cheery combination one-handed keyboard licks atop “Hang On Sloopy” thump-and-strum was soon heard reverberating throughout all the biggest and best hits of the Ohio Express, 1910 Fruitgum Co., Rock And Roll Dubble Bubble Trading Card Co. Of Philadelphia 19141, et al et al. But by this time (1967-68), the Turtles had already turned to New York songsmiths Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon for their next two mega-smashes, “Happy Together” and “She’d Rather Be With Me.”
It was right about now that the Turtles – always a super-slick and hard-hitting live act – began defiantly expressing more of their road-tested (and quite often FAR-out-there) chops on vinyl as well. Despite the fact their producer Joe Wissert was reportedly spending an inordinate amount of time reciting poetry and eating gingerbread bats when he should’ve been knob-twiddling, “She’s My Girl,” “Sound Asleep” and even the infamous “Umbassa The Dragon” were worthy enough to earn the respect of such highly-coveted peers as Frank Zappa (who later employed several post-Turtles in his most popular incarnation of the Mothers of Invention) and Ray Davies (who accepted a rare non-Kink production assignment when offered the chance to record the Turtles’ final album).
Yet White Whale, a small label solely dependent upon the Turtles for their financial bread and butter, just wanted loads more “She’d Rather Be Happy”-sounding smashes. Oh, Yeah? So leading lights Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, butts against the wall (but with tongues very firmly in cheek) simply responded one night by writing the million-selling, frighteningly unapologetically-AM-worthy “Elenore”: a hit so insidiously innocuous that it landed the band a chance soon afterwards to perform at no less than the Nixon White House.
This being the late Sixties however, gigs at Tricia Nixon’s prom were not the kind of doings any well-respecting band wore on their denim-tattered sleeves. So as the Turtles’ hair and beards – to say nothing of their songs – grew ever longer and less manageable, and while hundreds of thousands of dollars in royalties due from White Whale still seemed lost in the ether, the boys finally tired of bucking the system and bitterly disbanded in 1970. It was a dark day indeed for not only rock and roll, but for mankind in general.
Always able to toss off cheerful Top Ten hits at the drop of a Nehru hat, then reply with such intricate, multi-layered gems as “Grim Reaper Of Love,” the Turtles certainly did then, and without a doubt still can stand loud and proudly alongside any of their supposedly hipper ’68-calibre music makers. I mean, Waiting for the Sun and even Crown of Creation, to cite but the obvious two, couldn’t ever have held a chance in a West Coast Battle of the Bands against our heroes, now could they?! So let’s all get back to our sonic senses, put down those too-big-budget 2018 Santa-busters when out shopping for past masters after your next milkshake, and grab instead, once and for us all, the real thing
…before it’s too late: