Turtles Albums Expanded: Exclusive Interview With Howard Kaylan

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The Turtles, best known for the 1967 #1 single, “Happy Together,” will have their six albums, originally released on the White Whale label, reissued on vinyl for the first time in more than a decade. The new editions, coming June 26 via Manifesto Records, are digitally remastered from the original tapes. Several feature rare bonus material, including previously unreleased recordings. All will arrive as two-record sets in high-quality gatefold jackets.

Formed in Westchester, Calif., by high school friends Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, along with Don Murray, Al Nichol, Chuck Portz, and Jim Tucker, the Turtles racked up nine Top 40 hits during their original run from 1965-1970.

Best Classic Bands had the opportunity to speak at length with Kaylan, who was born on June 22, 1947, about his favorite moments from many of the albums, sharing revealing and enjoyable anecdotes on these treasures.

Each of their six studio albums offers unique gems and unsung treasures, featuring unforgettable harmonies and sardonic wit. The long out-of-print albums were reissued on CD in 2016.

The band’s first three albums — It Ain’t Me Babe, You Baby and Happy Together — will be issued with both the mono and stereo versions. The later three albums — Battle of the Bands, Turtle Soup, and Wooden Head— will include rare bonus material, including previously unreleased recordings, on a second disc.

It Ain’t Me Babe, the Turtles’ 1965 full-length debut, includes their Top 10 cover of the classic Bob Dylan tune that served as the album’s title track, and renditions of Dylan’s “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” and “Like a Rolling Stone,” as well as a take on P.F. Sloan’s “Eve of Destruction.” The album also features several Kaylan originals that show his evolution as a songwriting force.

Speaking about their debut, Kaylan tells us, “All of a sudden folk-rock—thanks to the Byrds—became a genre unto itself. We were not the first to do it, but we certainly were the second to do it. We went as a group to see the Byrds play for the first time. They introduced their version of ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ and our jaws hit the ground.”

You Baby, the band’s 1966 sophomore set, also features a mix of covers and originals, including the Top 20 title track, penned by Sloan and Steve Barri, whose “Can I Get to Know You Better” closes out the album. Another Sloan cover from the album, “Let Me Be,” was also released as a single and cracked the Top 30 prior to the album’s release.

With 1967’s Happy Together, the Turtles reached their peak, on the chart (#25 Billboard) and artistically. It features the band’s two highest-charting singles: the #1 title track as well as “She’d Rather Be With Me” (#3), both written by the songwriting team of Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon. A third song written by the duo, “You Know What I Mean,” reached #12. Also notable are the Kaylan/Volman co-write “Think I’ll Run Away,” and “Like the Seasons,” composed by a young Warren Zevon.

“By the time ‘Happy Together’ had hit,” says Kaylan, “we had our own plane. We were working out of Chicago in the Astor Tower hotel, where we had two floors of rooms and two 24-hour drivers waiting for us to go wherever we wanted. We thought we were the shit. We were spending so much money; it was certainly more than we were making.”

1968’s The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands was a concept album in which the band adopted the personas of 11 fictitious acts, including the Atomic Enchilada and Chief Kamanawanalea and His Royal Macadamia Nuts. It included the band’s most original material to date, plus the title track, written by Harry Nilsson and producer Chip Douglas, and “You Showed Me,” penned by the Byrds’ Jim [Roger] McGuinn and Gene Clark, which became the Turtles’ final Top 10 single. “Elenore,” credited to Howie, Mark, Johny, Jim and Al on the album, also cracked the Top 10.

1969’s Turtle Soup is notable as the full-album production debut of the Kinks’ Ray Davies, who likely felt a kinship to a group that seemed the American pop cousins of the British band. With 1970’s Wooden Head, the Turtles collected B-sides and other rarities, including an alternate version of “The Wanderin’ Kind,” which goes back full circle, as the original version was the opening track on the band’s first album.

Kaylan has some surprising things to say about working with Ray Davies:

“[It] was such a holy experience—watching him in the studio—we didn’t care what the outcome was. We didn’t care if the album sold. We just wanted to make a record with Ray Davies, and we did. The funny thing is after we recorded it, we left it in Ray’s hands. So when we came back and listened to the mix we absolutely hated it. Ray had made this, for some reason, an orchestral record; he was so pleased with the orchestration. The band wasn’t even there.

“He couldn’t believe that we hated it, but we told him, ‘Ray, you gotta go back and put us back in the mix and make us sound like a group.’ So he put it all back up again, lowered the orchestra so it was barely audible. I feel a lot better about it now than I did when it was released. It was meant to be an orchestral album in Ray’s mind. And I know he’s kind of held that against us.”

Related: Our complete interview with Kaylan

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  1. JoeCkn
    #1 JoeCkn 30 May, 2020, 09:23

    You Showed Me was also one of the first songs to have a synthesizer on it….

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  2. RecordSteve
    #2 RecordSteve 30 May, 2020, 20:49

    Mention the word “Turtles” and I don’t go slow to read on every word. Thanks fer updating us!

    Reply this comment
  3. MadMax
    #3 MadMax 2 June, 2020, 14:47

    Saw Flo and Eddie one time on a bill with Steve Stills. Had no idea who they were until the hits started coming. Knocked me out. Never knew you could get away with the Shit they were doing in 1972. I remember it like it was yesterday

    Reply this comment
  4. Thomas Rednour
    #4 Thomas Rednour 24 June, 2020, 11:04

    It amazed me that the second album “You Baby” did not make a dent in the Billboard Top 150 albums chart. The first hit #98 and the third (Happy Together) was #25. And this despite having the lead single place #20.

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