The Turtles are a U.S. rock group led by vocalists Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman. The band became notable for several Top 40 hits beginning with its cover version of Bob Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe" in 1965. The group scored its biggest and best-known hit in 1967 with the song "Happy Together".
The band, originally a surf-rock group called the Crossfires from the Planet Mars, was formed in 1965 in Westchester, California (a neighborhood in west Los Angeles) by Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman. With the help of DJ and club owner Reb Foster, the Crossfires signed to the newly formed White Whale Records and adhering to the prevailing musical trend, re-branded themselves as a folk rock group under the name "The Tyrtles," the intentional 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 Bob Dylan cover. "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" 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" onscreen.
At the start of 1966 drummer Don Murray and then bassist Chuck Portz quit the group. They were replaced by Joel Larson and then John Barbata on drums, and by Chip Douglas on bass (October 1966). The first of several key Turtles singles co-written by Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon, "Happy Together", seemed almost a parody of itself, and had already been rejected by countless performers. "Happy Together," both their biggest hit and their signature song, signaled a turning point for 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 for the Twentieth Century-Fox bedroom farce, A Guide for the Married Man.
Impressed by Chip Douglas's studio arrangements, Monkee 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, left the Turtles and Laramy Smith was invited to join the group as a bassist, but after several months he decided not to join and was replaced by bassist and singer Jim Pons. 1967 proved to be the Turtles' most successful year in the 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.
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 Monkees' producer Chip Douglas returned to work with them in the studio. Late in 1968 the Turtles released a concept album called The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, in which the group pretended to be 11 different bands (with 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). To date, "Elenore" is the only Hot 100 single ever to rhyme the phrase et cetera in its lyrics. It also reached # 7 in the UK chart. The 1969 hit "You Showed Me" was written by Byrds members Gene Clark and Roger (then Jim) McGuinn in 1964. Television appearances in 1968 include a Feb. 26 visit to The Mike Douglas Show, to which they returned in April 1969.
Towards the end of 1969, The Turtles released their 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 production work for another band. Notable tracks include the "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 more like an assembly-line-style 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 did convince 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, if any, commercially viable bands, and ceased operation.
Kaylan and Volman (accompanied by 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 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 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. (The duo promptly licensed the tracks to Sire Records, who issued the compilation Happy Together Again.) They also sang backup on Bruce Springsteen's "Hungry Heart", from his album The River. In the 1980s they recorded soundtrack music for children's shows like the Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake, and began hosting their own radio show on KROQ in Los Angeles and WXRK in New York City. In the mid-1970s, they had their own syndicated radio show called Flo & Eddie by the Fireside which originated from KMET in Los Angeles.
1982 saw the re-release of The Turtles' original albums through Rhino Records. The following year, Howard Kaylan appeared in the rock-n-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 gypsy-like hippies.
In 1984, 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 greatest hits 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.
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 is currently involved in another lawsuit against rapper Gucci Mane for an unauthorized sample. The sample of "Keep It Warm" used in "Lemonade" was cleared legitimately prior to the release of the song.
In that same year, the romantic-comedy Happy Together premiered. It starred Patrick Dempsey and Helen Slater. The Turtles recording of "Happy Together" was featured in the film as well as the soundtrack album.
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. Rhino Records also presented Captured Live, a greatest-hits-live album of their 1992 tour, that year. 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 2009, a new Turtles compilation CD was issued titled Save The Turtles: The Turtles Greatest Hits which was issued on their own FloEdCo label and distributed by Manifesto Records.
Albums w/Billboard peak positions
- Out of Control (as The Crossfires) (1963)
- It Ain't Me Babe -- White Whale WW-111 (mono)/WWS-7111 (stereo) -- #98, 11/65
- You Baby -- White Whale WW-112/WWS-7112—Did not chart, 1966
- Happy Together -- White Whale WW-114/WWS-7114 -- #25, 4/67
- The Turtles! Golden Hits -- White Whale WW-115/WWS-7115 -- #7, 11/67
- The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands -- White Whale WWS-7118 -- #128, 11/68
- Turtle Soup -- White Whale WWS-7124 -- #117, 11/69
- Shell Shock -- White Whale (No number issued, unreleased until 1984)
- More Golden Hits -- White Whale WWS-7127 -- #146, 4/70
- Wooden Head -- White Whale WWS-7133—Did not chart, 1970
- Happy Together Again -- Sire SASH-3703-2 -- #194, 12/74
Singles w/Billboard peak positions
- It Ain't Me Babe (#8) / Almost There—White Whale 222—9/65
- Let Me Be (#29) / Your Maw Said You Cried—White Whale 224—11/65
- You Baby (#20) / Wanderin' Kind—White Whale 227—3/66
- Grim Reaper Of Love (#81) / Come Back—White Whale 231—6/66
- Outside Chance / We'll Meet Again—White Whale 234—1966
- Making My Mind Up / Outside Chance—White Whale 237 (test marketed only in the Pacific Northwest region) -- 1966
- Can I Get To Know You Better (#89) / Like The Seasons—White Whale 238—11/66
- Happy Together (#1 for 3 weeks) / Like The Seasons—White Whale 244—3/67
- She'd Rather Be With Me (#3) / The Walking Song—White Whale 249—6/67
- Guide For The Married Man / Think I'll Run Away—White Whale 251—1967
- You Know What I Mean (#12) / Rugs Of Woods And Flowers—White Whale 254—9/67
- She's My Girl (#14) / Chicken Little Was Right—White Whale 260—12/67
- Sound Asleep (#57) / Umbassa The Dragon—White Whale 264—3/68
- The Story Of Rock & Roll (#48) / Can't You Hear The Cows—White Whale 273—7/68
- Elenore (#6) / Surfer Dan—White Whale 276—11/68
- You Showed Me (#6) / Buzz Saw—White Whale 292—3/69
- House On The Hill / Come Over—White Whale 306—1969
- You Don't Have To Walk In The Rain (#51) / Come Over—White Whale 308—7/69
- Love In The City (#91) / Bachelor Mother—White Whale 326—10/69
- Lady-O (#78) / Somewhere Friday Night—White Whale 334—12/69
- Who Would Ever Think That I Would Marry Margaret / We Ain't Gonna Party No More—White Whale 341—3/70
- Is It Any Wonder / Wanderin' Kind—White Whale 350—1970
- Eve of Destruction (#100) / Wanderin' Kind—White Whale 355—6/70
- Me About You (#105) / Think I'll Run Away—White Whale 364—10/70
- THE TURTLES Turtlesized (1982 UK limited edition GREEN turtle-shaped vinyl 7" 33 RPM, featuring 4 singles: Happy Together, Outside Chance, Eve Of Destruction and She'd Rather Be With Me. Rhino Records number RNLP280).