The Turtles – All the Singles (review)

Turtles – All the Singles (FloEdCo) review

Two discs of “shell-aciously” good hits and misses

The Turtles are best remembered for their 1967 hit, “Happy Together.”  That three-minute piece of pop perfection was the band’s lone number one hit, and the only one that still gets used in films and commercials.  Yet, as a new, two-disc collection, All The Singles, reveals, there was a lot of depth to this under-appreciated band.

This is the first comprehensive set to include all the band’s singles (both “A” and “B” sides). It also marks the first time that the original, mono single versions have been used – these were the way these songs sounded on AM Radio back in the day, and many are making their digital debut.

The band began as a folk-rock outfit in the same vein as the Byrds.  Their electrified Dylan cover, “It Ain’t Me Babe,” lodged its way up to #8 in the Fall of 1965.  Yet, other attempts at that style proved less fruitful: “Let Me Be” was a virtual copy, while “You Baby” was more straight-ahead pop (both were penned by PF Sloan). The fact that their record company allowed a song called “Grim Reaper of Love” to be issued as a 45 single perhaps says more about the times than anything.  The Turtles went a long time without a bona fide hit, despite releasing great tracks like “Outside Chance” that didn’t hit the mark.

The group’s reprieve came in the form of “Happy Together,” which sounds absolutely glorious in mono. There was always so much going on in that track and the mono mix brings everything to the forefront, with the bass more prominent and elements of an oboe that aren’t present in the more-familiar stereo version.  Their followup,”She’d Rather Be With Me,” sounds equally impressive, with the drums way up in the mix, while “She’s My Girl” was a sonic masterpiece, yet was downright scandalous for the day, and got banned on several stations.

Beneath this sugary sweet combo was a much more sophisticated group of musicians, and this element began showing up on their flipsides, with heavily-produced tracks like “The Walking Song” and “Think I’ll Run Away.”  They also had a bent sense of humor, made apparent on tracks like “Rugs of Woods and Flowers,” and “Chicken Little Was Right.”

Disc two shows the band starting to grow tired of the confines of the pop world.  “Sound Asleep,” with it’s sitar and sound effects, was their attempt at Pet Sounds’ legitimacy, yet it was not a hit with record buyers, while it’s flip, “Umbassa the Dragon,” complete with grunting and chanting, is completely off the rails – you can see why Frank Zappa was attracted to these guys.  They returned to the Top Ten with “Elenore,” a pop parody, complete with ridiculous lyrics like “you’re my pride and joy etcetera,” while their haunting Byrds’ cover, “You Showed Me,” gave them their last hit single.

There’s plenty of surprises here too.  Most people were unaware that the band teamed with Kinks’ frontman Ray Davies to produce several singles, surprisingly none of which actually became hits (“You Don’t Have to Walk in the Rain” is especially fine).  “Lady-O” was gorgeously orchestrated, but criminally ignored.  There’s also a little-heard holiday single (“Christmas is My Time of Year”), a pair of songs where they’re billed as the Dedications, faithfully reproducing the sounds of the Fifties, as well as band-led commercials for both Pepsi and Chevrolet.

Two discs of the Turtles’ music may initially seem like overkill, but All the Singles proves that the band was full of great ideas and oddities, all making for an interesting profile of one of the great pop bands of the 1960’s. —Tony Peters