If you know THE TURTLES only by the sublime “Happy Together” you’re missing out on a lot of late ’60s rock ’n’ roll fun. All the Singles is a 2CD compilation of the group’s original White Whale 45s and it’s a wide ranging collection of sounds ’n’ styles these guys, known for their killer harmonies, put out during their original half decade of success.
This compilation, released on the band’s own FloEdCo imprint (via Manifesto), is a mainly mono affair, in keeping with the “singles” vibe the title conjures. What comes through loud and clear — besides the pristine melodies and harmonies singers Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (aka Flo & Eddie) vocalized – is the driving, sometimes envelope pushing arrangements courtesy of their own rhythm section (bassist Jim Pons and drummer John Barbata, mainly) and the host of different producers they used. Starting with June 1965’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” and encompassing “She’d Rather Be With Me,” “Elenore,” “You Showed Me” and more, the 48 songs here go a long way to demonstrating that these L.A. teenagers (who started out as a surf group called The Crossfires) were more than the sum of their surf ’n’ folk roots. In fact, soon after their first single the guys were determined to move on from folk to something more poppy, hence their latter, aforementioned A-sides. Their B-sides were frequently penned by the band themselves and some of them were quite good – though some were inevitably forgettable. I cite “Buzz Saw,” “Come Over” and “Surfer Dan” among the memorable ones.
Another thing they did was an ingenious exercise called The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, an album in which they took on various then-current pop genres as if they were actually different groups. They went so far as to name the bands for each track (though it was always The Turtles); on this comp you get Nature’s Children (“You Showed Me”), Howie, Mark, Johnie, Jim & Al (“Elenore”), The Fabulous Dawgs and The Cross Fires, but the concept begs further investigation for sure. Later on (early 1970) The Turtles put out a single under the name The Dedications, and both the doo woppy A-side “Teardrops” and the garage/Jan & Deanie flipside “Gas Money” are here.
As for production, the singles here were helmed by a host of producers including the legendary Bones Howe, Joe Wissert, Chip Douglas and even The Kinks’ Ray Davies (yeah, kool!), who oversaw 1969’s Turtle Soup and its attendant singles “House on the Hill,” “You Don’t Have to Walk in the Rain,” and the poignant, cheeky “Bachelor Mother.” Different producers didn’t really change the group’s sound much, though the Davies-produced cuts do have a slightly Kinky feel to them.
Have I mentioned “Can’t You Hear the Cows”? It’s a B-side (to the Nilsson-written “The Story of Rock and Roll”) and has my name written all over it. According to the copious liner notes it “might have had a deeper significance that is now lost to time.” Ahem: “Each and every day / Eatin’ all that hay / Moo baby, moo baby.” The Beach Boys never sounded this swell!
All the Singles represents yet another case – like me discovering The Blues Magoos – of me thinking, how the hell did I let The Turtles escape my complete immersion all of these years?! Sure, I knew the obvious singles. I knew that Flo & Eddie were later members of Frank Zappa’s amazing Mothers and sang on Fillmore East – June 1971 (“Mud sh-sh-shark!”) and even T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong (Get It On),” yet somehow all I had until now was a 14-track cheapie CD comp. Good God, Gooch! What took you so damned long?!