Jason Brewerâ€™s fourth album as the Explorers Club finds him relocated to Nashville and fronting friends and studio musicians, rather than a set band. The results show the strength of Brewerâ€™s musical vision as he expands well beyond the Pet Sounds / Smiley Smile stylings of earlier albums with 60s-tinged pop that flows with the airy feel of Boettcher, Bacharach, Usher and others. And he does so without landing hard on any one; there are echoes, such as the piano of â€œRubyâ€ drawing upon Three Dog Nightâ€™s â€œOneâ€ and vocals suggesting the Turtles; but, winningly, the songs never linger on any one influence long enough to be branded imitative. Brewer has so deeply internalized â€˜60s and â€˜70s pop that his creations are inevitably shaped by the eraâ€™s melodic, instrumental, vocal and production style, without overtly copying.
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.
Complete collection of singles – the hits and well beyond!
Although the Turtles had a parallel life as album artists, it was their singles that first reverberated in listenersâ€™ ears. Starting with a 1965 cover of Dylanâ€™s â€œIt Ainâ€™t Me Babe,â€ the group navigated folk-rock and harmony-laden pop to the top of the charts with 1967â€™s â€œHappy Together.â€ They scored nine Top 40 hits and five Top 10â€™s, all of which are included in this more-than-complete recitation of their singles. â€œMore than,â€ because the full slate of commercial 45s is augmented by unissued singles, and sides released under nom de plumes. Tieing it all together is a 20-page booklet decorated with record label and picture sleeve reproductions, and stuffed with encylopedic (and microscopic) notes by Los Angeles music historian Andrew Sandoval.
The hits include titles written by Dylan, P.F. Sloan (â€œLet Me Beâ€ and â€œYou Babyâ€), Gary Bonner and Alan Gordon (â€œHappy Together,â€ â€œSheâ€™d Rather Be With Me,â€ â€œYou Know What I Meanâ€ and â€œSheâ€™s My Girlâ€) and Jim McGuinn and Gene Clark (a radically reimagined version of the Byrdsâ€™ â€œYou Showed Meâ€). But they also wrote their own hits (notably 1968â€™s â€œElenoreâ€), as well as a host of fantastic low-charting singles and B-sides that ranged from folk to sunshine pop to garage rock to psychedelic and progressive rock. The bandâ€™s reach wasnâ€™t always evident on their hits, but their lower-charting singles and flipsides tip the even greater breadth of their albums.
That same inventiveness led the group to reimagine Kenny Dinoâ€™s â€œYour Maw Said You Criedâ€ as a Dave Clark 5-styled rave-up, and Vera Lynnâ€™s WWII-era â€œWeâ€™ll Meet Againâ€ (a song that had been renewed in the mid-60s consciousness by Dr. Strangelove) as Lovinâ€™ Spoonful-styled good-time music. They stretched themselves even further with original material â€œRugs of Woods and Flowers,â€ â€œSound Asleep,â€ and â€œChicken Little Was Right.â€ The latterâ€™s sitar arrangement differs greatly from the album track, making this single version unique. B-sides were often given to artistically rewarding material, such as Warren Zevonâ€™s â€œLike the Seasons,â€ rather than throwaways (though there are the Red Krayola-styled freakout â€œUmbassa the Dragonâ€ and Brian Wilsonish â€œCanâ€™t You Hear the Cows.â€).
While some of their A-sides may have been ill conceived commercially as singles, others simply failed to gain the response they deserved. Sloan & Barriâ€™s deliciously sweet â€œCan I Get to Know You Betterâ€ has all the hallmarks of a Turtlesâ€™ hit, yet struggled to only #89, Nilssonâ€™s â€œThe Story of Rock & Rollâ€ was scooped by a same-week release from the Collage, and three Ray Davies-produced singles from Turtle Soup failed to cracked the Top 40. Ditto for the beautiful â€œLady-O.â€ There are several B-side gems, including Warren Zevonâ€™s â€œOutside Chanceâ€ and the original â€œBuzz Saw,â€ that managed to find their own form of popularity – the former as a favorite of the Beatniks, Sounds Like Us, Bangles and Chesterfield Kings, the latter as a much loved break-beat sample.
The setâ€™s bonuses include two singles that never saw release. First is the original 1966 mono single of Goffin & Kingâ€™s â€œSo Goes Love,â€ and its Al Nichol-penned B-side â€œOn a Summer Day.â€ Though the former was included on 1967â€™s Golden Hits, and the latter on 1970â€™s Wooden Head, the mono single mixes are previously unreleased. The second is an early version of the Ray Davies-produced â€œHow You Love Me,â€ featuring Howard Kaylan on lead vocal. Additional rarities include a horn-free single mix of â€œMaking Up My Mind,â€ the holiday single (as The Christmas Spirit) â€œChristmas is My Time of Year,â€ a cover of Lee Andrews and the Heartsâ€™ â€œTeardropsâ€ (released as the Dedications), its unreleased B-side cover of Jan & Arnieâ€™s â€œGas Money,â€ and the promo-only â€œIs It Any Wonder.â€ Also included are unlisted tracks at the end of each disc featuring period Turtles-sung commercials for Pepsi and Camaro.
The discussion no doubt rages on, as to whether founding member Terry Adams’ reconstituted lineup should be using the NRBQ name. Even Adams wasn’t so sure back in 1989. But with the band’s long-time lineup starting to fray in 1994, and an official hiatus ten years later, a number of interrelated projects took the group members in various directions. Adams, who turned out to have been dealing with throat cancer, returned to full-time music-making with the Terry Adams Rock & Roll Quartet in 2007, and four years later, with the rest of NRBQ still dispersed in other bands and projects, reapplied the NRBQ name to his quartet for the album Keep This Love Goin’.
Keith Allison’s discovery at a taping of Dick Clark’s Where the Action Is is an only-in-Hollywood tale to rival that of Lana Turner’s first sighting at the Top Hat Malt Shop. Allison had been living a relatively anonymous life as a session musician (that’s his harmonica on the Monkees “Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day“) and latter-day band member for his cousin Jerry Allison’s Crickets. Allison’s appearance as an audience member on Where the Action Is quickly led to a featured slot and a recording contract with Columbia. The latter gave Allison an opportunity to work with producer Terry Melcher for a single and Gary Usher for a pop-rock album.
His first Columbia release turned Joey Brooks and the Baroque Folk’s “I Ain’t Blamin’ You” into folk-rock, and featured an excellent, original B-side, “Look at Me” that turned up two years later as a Cher album track. His next single brought him Boyce & Hart’s “Action, Action, Action” and Mann & Weil’s bounch sunshine pop, “Glitter and Gold.” The former, produced by future Scooby Doo theme song vocalist Larry Marks, is offered here in both its stereo album and mono single mixes.
Allison’s full-length album played to his television audience, who knew him for his covers of hits-of-the-day. The album’s lone original is the very fine country rock “Freeborn Man,” co-written with Mark Lindsay; the rest of the track list is filled with tunes from Boyce & Hart, Neil Diamond, Donovan, Ray Charles and Lindsay. As the liner notes highlight, the variety of material provided a showcase for Allison’s versatility, even when the covers don’t add anything radical to the better-known hits. “Louise” and “Good Thing” give an early indication of how easily Allison would later fit into Paul Revere & The Raiders, and the country-rock arrangement of “Colours” adds something vital to Donovan’s original.
More interesting is the discovery of Neil Diamond’s early single “Do It,” the rave-up “Action, Action, Action,” and a take on “Leave My Woman Alone” that adds a psychedelic edge to the Everly Brothers earlier interpretation. Real Gone’s twenty-three track collection pulls together the Columbia album and singles and adds a self-produced one-off single for Amy that backs Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” with the Byrdsian original “I Don’t Want Nobody But You.” The post-LP singles include an emotional cover of “To Know Her is to Love Her,” a rave-up medley of Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis and a lite-psych version of Tommy Roe’s “Everybody.”
This 1970 anthology, reissued on CD for the first time, is a one-of-a-kind time-capsule of the Mamas and the Papas. In addition to their first six Top 10 hits, the track list adds non-charting singles, B-sides and album tracks, carefully selected and ordered to show off the many sides of the group’s talent. In addition to the harmonies that graced the radio, there’s also the tight jazz work of “Once Was a Time I Thought,” thoughtful originals and keenly interpreted covers. Knitting it all together, and elevating this collection above a simple recitation of hits, are interview clips with John Phillips and Cass Elliot interspersed among the tracks. Their dialog reflects on the group, their producer, sessions and songs, and though the spoken words overlap the instrumental lead-ins of a few tracks, they’re surprisingly unobtrusive.
Several of the original tracks are also enhanced with bits of session chatter, vocal outtakes and rehearsals, providing listeners a few moments in the studio. The songs are organized as a musical program, rather a strict chronological run-through, which gives the set a holistic, album-like flow that’s unusual for an anthology. Though released after the group split in 1969, the tracks only cover through 1967’s Deliver; nothing from 1968’s The Papas and the Mamas (and their 1971 contractual obligation release, People Like Us) is included, which leaves out Elliot’s solo-career launching “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” But even without the last chapter and afterward, this set does an excellent job of telling the group’s story.