Like its companion singles collection, this album box is a labor of love from the Turtlesâ€™ 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 groupâ€™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 groupâ€™s 1965 debut, It Ainâ€™t Me Babe, is filled with the jangle of West Coast folk-rock, and includes three Dylan covers. The groupâ€™s hit singles often came from the pens of other writers, but their original material, such as the terrific â€œWanderinâ€™ Kind,â€ could be just as good. The album includes a Dave Clark-styled rave-up of Kenny Dinoâ€™s â€œYour Maw Said You Cried Last Nightâ€ and a prematurally anguished take on â€œIt Was a Very Good Year.â€ 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 â€œEve of Destructionâ€ and the single â€œLet Me Be,â€ Mann & Weil offered up the memorable â€œGlitter and Gold,â€ and Kaylinâ€™s hearty â€œLet the Cold Winds Blowâ€ takes the Turtles into Folksmen territory.
The groupâ€™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 Barriâ€™s superb title tune. Kaylan was still writing wayfaring folk-rock like â€œHouse of Painâ€ (with a tortured protagonist living on â€œcrumbs and sternoâ€), but ventures into dystopian social criticism with â€œPall Bearing, Ball Bearing World.â€ Turtles Al Nichol, Chuck Portz and Jim Tucker join in the songwriting with â€œFlying Highâ€ and â€œI Need Someone,â€ Bob Lindâ€™s â€œDown in Suburbiaâ€ highlights the groupâ€™s growing sense of humor, and Steve Duboff and Artie Kornfeldâ€™s “Just a Room” is a real sleeper. The album closes with a superb vocal arrangement of the folk revival standard â€œAll My Trialsâ€ (rewritten here as â€œAll My Problemsâ€) and Kaylanâ€™s Kinks-styled rave-up â€œAlmost There.â€
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, 1967â€™s Happy Together, was the groupâ€™s biggest hit on the album chart, led by the chart-topping, group-defining title song and its follow-up â€œSheâ€™d Rather Be With Me,â€ both written by the team of Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon. Noteworthy album tracks in include the original â€œThink Iâ€™ll Run Away,â€ and sophisticated material from Eric Eisner and Warren Zevon. 1968â€™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 albumâ€™s singles, the last of the Turtlesâ€™ Top 40s, include their first group-written hit, â€œEleanor,â€ and a radically reworked cover of Roger McGuinn and Gene Clarkâ€™s â€œYou Showed Me.â€
Battle of the Bands shows off the bandâ€™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, â€œEleanorâ€ was written as a lampoon of â€œHappy Together,â€ intended to get the bandâ€™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 (â€œSheâ€™s My Girl,â€ â€œSound Asleepâ€ and â€œThe Story of Rock â€˜nâ€™ Rollâ€) that appeared on the 1970 anthology More Golden Hits, and their non-LP B-sides. Outtakes include alternate versions of â€œThe Last Thing I Rememberâ€ and â€œEarth Anthem,â€ a pair of songs (including the superb â€œTo See the Sunâ€) that didnâ€™t make the albumâ€™s final cut, a 3-minute radio spot.
The groupâ€™s final original album, 1969â€™s Turtle Soup, was produced by the Kinksâ€™ Ray Davies in his first and nearly his last producerâ€™s credit outside the Kinks. Two group-written singles, “You Don’t Have to Walk in the Rain” and “Love in the City,â€ scraped into the Top 100, and despite its strong performance and message, â€œHouse on the Hillâ€ missed entirely. The album remains the Turtlesâ€™ most satisfying and musically coherent long player, but with White Whale seeking only cookie-cutter pop that played to the groupâ€™s legacy of chart hits, positive reviews didnâ€™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 groupâ€™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 â€œWanderinâ€™ Kindâ€ and B-side â€œWeâ€™ll Meet Again,â€ 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 Lynnâ€™s WWII classic â€œWeâ€™ll Meet Again.â€ The bonus material includes tracks drawn from Golden Hits and More Golden Hits, highlighted by balanced stereo remixes of â€œYou Baby,â€ â€œLet Me Beâ€ and â€œIt Ainâ€™t Me Babe.â€
From their first single, the group established a vocal sound unlike any other. Kaylanâ€™s leads were sweet, but with an underlying toughness that was bolstered by Volmanâ€™s harmonies. The bandâ€™s instrumental backings were tight and fetchingly melodic, and though the albums didnâ€™t chart well (only 1967â€™s Happy Together made the Top 40), theyâ€™re filled with terrific music that shows off the groupâ€™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 wasnâ€™t until 1967â€™s Happy Together that a full stereo mix was made, and the following yearâ€™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 â€œMaking Up My Mindâ€ that was released before before horns were added, an electric sitar arrangement of â€œChicken Little Was Rightâ€ that stood in for the albumâ€™s bluegrass take, and a faster single take of the album track â€œWeâ€™ll Meet Again.â€ 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 â€˜60s pop. [Â©2016 Hyperbolium]