The Turtles: The Complete Original Album Collection

Turtles_CompleteOriginalAlbumCollectionThe revelatory album riches of the Turtles

Like its companion singles collection, this album box is a labor of love from the Turtles’ founders, songwriters and vocalists Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman. The six CD set includes all six original Turtles albums, the first three in both mono and stereo, and a wealth of impressive bonus tracks. This is an essential partner to the singles collection, not just for the greater reach of its album sides, but for album-specific takes and mixes of songs that had separate lives as singles. Listeners will discover the Turtles as a band, thriving and growing together as their imagination and musical ability stretched beyond the familiar pop of their hits. The group’s albums reveal a treasure trove of original material, deftly selected songs from rising Los Angeles writers, and interesting experiments that flew beyond commercial concerns.

The group’s 1965 debut, It Ain’t Me Babe, is filled with the jangle of West Coast folk-rock, and includes three Dylan covers. The group’s hit singles often came from the pens of other writers, but their original material, such as the terrific “Wanderin’ Kind,” could be just as good. The album includes a Dave Clark-styled rave-up of Kenny Dino’s “Your Maw Said You Cried Last Night” and a prematurally anguished take on “It Was a Very Good Year.” The latter originally entered the folk scene with the Kingston Trio, but was turned into a Grammy-winning signature for Frank Sinatra just a month before the Turtles album dropped. A pair of P.F. Sloan tunes includes an early version of “Eve of Destruction” and the single “Let Me Be,” Mann & Weil offered up the memorable “Glitter and Gold,” and Kaylin’s hearty “Let the Cold Winds Blow” takes the Turtles into Folksmen territory.

The group’s second album, You Baby, expanded beyond chiming 12-string with a mix of garage rock and harmony pop, including P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri’s superb title tune. Kaylan was still writing wayfaring folk-rock like “House of Pain” (with a tortured protagonist living on “crumbs and sterno”), but ventures into dystopian social criticism with “Pall Bearing, Ball Bearing World.” Turtles Al Nichol, Chuck Portz and Jim Tucker join in the songwriting with “Flying High” and “I Need Someone,” Bob Lind’s “Down in Suburbia” highlights the group’s growing sense of humor, and Steve Duboff and Artie Kornfeld’s “Just a Room” is a real sleeper. The album closes with a superb vocal arrangement of the folk revival standard “All My Trials” (rewritten here as “All My Problems”) and Kaylan’s Kinks-styled rave-up “Almost There.”

Lineup changes saw the departure of Portz and Murray, and the arrival of John Barbata, ex-Leaves Jim Pons, and briefly, Chip Douglas. The resulting LP, 1967’s Happy Together, was the group’s biggest hit on the album chart, led by the chart-topping, group-defining title song and its follow-up “She’d Rather Be With Me,” both written by the team of Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon. Noteworthy album tracks in include the original “Think I’ll Run Away,” and sophisticated material from Eric Eisner and Warren Zevon. 1968’s concept album The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, reimagined the group playing soul, psych, pop, country, R&B, surf and even bluegrass. The album’s singles, the last of the Turtles’ Top 40s, include their first group-written hit, “Eleanor,” and a radically reworked cover of Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark’s “You Showed Me.”

Battle of the Bands shows off the band’s imagination and talent in full flight. The soulful opener cues a revue-style album, as the group takes the stage in a variety of guises. Ironically, the song that most sounds like the Turtles, “Eleanor” was written as a lampoon of “Happy Together,” intended to get the band’s label off their backs. Without a mono version of the album to fill this disc, the original stereo album is augmented by bonus tracks, including a trio of singles (“She’s My Girl,” “Sound Asleep” and “The Story of Rock ‘n’ Roll”) that appeared on the 1970 anthology More Golden Hits, and their non-LP B-sides. Outtakes include alternate versions of “The Last Thing I Remember” and “Earth Anthem,” a pair of songs (including the superb “To See the Sun”) that didn’t make the album’s final cut, a 3-minute radio spot.

The group’s final original album, 1969’s Turtle Soup, was produced by the Kinks’ Ray Davies in his first and nearly his last producer’s credit outside the Kinks. Two group-written singles, “You Don’t Have to Walk in the Rain” and “Love in the City,” scraped into the Top 100, and despite its strong performance and message, “House on the Hill” missed entirely. The album remains the Turtles’ most satisfying and musically coherent long player, but with White Whale seeking only cookie-cutter pop that played to the group’s legacy of chart hits, positive reviews didn’t translate into sales. It remains a terrific album that deserves a much higher profile than its original release garnered. The original dozen tracks are supplemented here by a dozen bonuses, including demos, acoustic material from Kaylan and Volman, a period radio spot, and tracks completed for the aborted Shell Shock.

Shell Shock was to be the Turtles sixth and final album for White Whale, but with the group and the label both teetering on the edge of existence, the group’s last release was the 1970 odds and sods album Wooden Head. Reaching back to 1965-66, producer Bones Howe combined nine previously unreleased selections with the album track “Wanderin’ Kind” and B-side “We’ll Meet Again,” to create a surprisingly consistent album of golden age pop. The originals found the group developing their pop hooks alongside material from Peter & Gordon, Sloan & Barri, David Gates and a sprightly cover of Vera Lynn’s WWII classic “We’ll Meet Again.” The bonus material includes tracks drawn from Golden Hits and More Golden Hits, highlighted by balanced stereo remixes of “You Baby,” “Let Me Be” and “It Ain’t Me Babe.”

From their first single, the group established a vocal sound unlike any other. Kaylan’s leads were sweet, but with an underlying toughness that was bolstered by Volman’s harmonies. The band’s instrumental backings were tight and fetchingly melodic, and though the albums didn’t chart well (only 1967’s Happy Together made the Top 40), they’re filled with terrific music that shows off the group’s imagination and ability to respond to changing times. The primitive stereo mixes of the first two albums split the voices left and instruments right, and though great to have in print, the mono mixes are more coherent. It wasn’t until 1967’s Happy Together that a full stereo mix was made, and the following year’s The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands abandoned mono altogether.

Though mono albums were left behind, mono singles were not, making the singles collection a welcome companion to this album box. In addition to singles-only mono mixes, several singles differed significantly from their related album tracks, including an early version of “Making Up My Mind” that was released before before horns were added, an electric sitar arrangement of “Chicken Little Was Right” that stood in for the album’s bluegrass take, and a faster single take of the album track “We’ll Meet Again.” Both sets were prepared from the original tapes, and include extensive liner notes by Los Angeles music historian Andrew Sandoval, photos and reproductions of Turtles ephemera. This six disc box comes with a forty page booklet, and is a must have for Turtles fans and all lovers of ‘60s pop. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

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