FMQB Retro-Active: Ken Sharp Revisits the Magic of The Turles With Singer Howard Kaylan
October 10, 2014

From 1965 to 1970, acclaimed pop/rock practitioners The Turtles racked up a heady array of hit records traversing a disparate number of styles and creative sensibilities. The Turtles 45 RPM Vinyl Singles Collection culls eight 7" singles sporting the group's biggest hits, like "Happy Together," "She'd Rather Be with Me," "Elenore" and "You Showed Me" alongside lesser known but equally inventive material numbering "Outside Chance," written by fledgling singer/songwriter Warren Zevon, "Story of Rock and Roll" by Harry Nilsson, and the soaring pop opus "You Don't Have to Walk in the Rain." 

Retro-Active's Ken Sharp sat down with Turtles lead vocalist Howard Kaylan for an up close look at this exciting new release.

What was the idea behind the new Turtles vinyl 45 box set?
Howard Kaylan: Vinyl is always gonna be cool and it’s always gonna be what you want to hear new songs. I appreciate the way Dave Grohl can go in an analog studio and record new product and get it released and it works. Back in the day with vinyl there was so much air on records. Things sounded like you were in the room with the band. You can’t duplicate air; you can’t make a digital recording of air. The reason studios like Gold Star and Sunset Sound and United Western in L.A. got to be famous it they had a distinct sound. You can’t hear that sound on a CD. You’ve gotta listen to it on a vinyl record like Phil Spector intended to really understand  the sound of that room and how important that was to the music. Well, now everybody has heard vinyl once again and the younger generation thinks it’s hip. We have re-released our greatest hits so many times in so many different forms and literally the only thing we haven’t done is put these things out the way they were originally intended to be listened to at 45 RPM with the pops and scratches you put there yourself with your own needle on your own record player. They have custom sleeves with the FloEdCo logo on them with the Turtles logo on surprisingly White Whale looking 45 records. The label is the same color; we matched it entirely. We put our eight biggest hits on the A sides and our eight smaller hits on the B-sides. We didn’t want to do the original B-sides; we wanted to put on the records that charted and except for a legal hassle that disallowed the use of "Lady-O," everything great we ever released as a single is on those records. We even included a little spindle inside which says, "The Turtles on vinyl," just because there are people who have turntables but don’t have 45 spindles and we’re trying to cover all the bases here. So here are all the records, major and minor. They sound as close to the originals as possible.

Are you a big vinyl collector?
My God yes. Up until four and a half years ago, I sold off everything. I just didn’t have room anymore. I couldn’t house my vinyl anymore so my albums went; it was all part of a giant auction.

Did you save anything?
I kept everything that was cool. If it was an album by the Millennium that was hard to find I kept it. I kept the stuff that was important to me and I kept the all the stuff that we had recorded on vinyl. But the other stuff, as my wife put it, is either available in iTunes or you won’t ever listen to it. I mean, what are the odds you’re gonna play Bloodrock? We got rid of 40 giant boxes of LPs but I kept every single 45 I ever bought and there are thousands of 45s. I feel much more of a kinship to those than I do with albums.

Share the back story behind a few key Turtles songs featured on the new vinyl box set, starting with the band’s number one smash, “Happy Together.”

The Turtles
We thought (songwriting team) Bonner and Gordon’s demo sucked but we heard something magical in the chords and in the lyrics. We were looking for the magic when we left Bones Howe as a producer and consciously made the effort despite the screaming and kicking of our label to just stay put and do what we knew how to do. We had gone to see the Lovin’ Spoonful, an unknown band, perform at this New York club called the Night Owl, and we were so impressed by the fun those guys were having on stage and the fun those guys were able to deliver in the music. It was far more than we had ever received with the success of “You Baby.” It was what we wanted to do. We wanted to take the audience now and make them just smile. Forget about all the folk rock stuff and just churn out good, happy pop music. Nobody on the West Coast was doing it but the Lovin’ Spoonful were. So we went to our label and said: "You hear those guys? We like those guys. We want to be the West Coast version of those guys," and to that end we want you to hire Koppelman/Rubin, the production company in New York who owned those guys to produce our records too. Kicking and screaming they reluctantly agreed because we were their only act. So they agreed to entertain the idea of hiring an actual big production company to come in and oversee the career of the Turtles. We were thinking we were gonna receive Eric Jacobsen, the Lovin’ Spoonful’s producer, as part of the deal and we were really looking forward to it and thinking in those terms and writing songs in that vein. And then we were assigned Joe Wissert, this kid who we had never really heard of but they guaranteed us that he was a pro in the field. He had produced without getting credit many of the hits records from Philadelphia on the Cameo/Parkway label; some of the great Orlons and Chubby Checker songs. He was uncredited for this boy genius success. So they brought him into the studio with us after we had already chosen “Happy Together” and after we had already signed a deal with Koppelman/Rubin Associates. We wanted to do the whole thing under their auspices.

We received the demo of “Happy Together” through them and it had been turned down by every band in the world. Nobody heard the magic that we heard. Gary Lewis turned it down; the Vogues turned it down. There wasn’t a pop group in the world that didn’t listen to that scratchy demo and go, “No, that’s terrible, there’s nothing there; we don’t hear it," and yet we heard something. We heard something that was a little outside of the box but it was so mystical in its own way to us on a boy/girl level. We heard something that was a level deeper than that and nobody else heard it. When we did the arrangement of the song for them, then they got it. What they perceived even more than hearing it on a surface level was, “Oh listen, they’re doing a very soft vocal chorus that kind of sounds like Colin Blunstone breaking into: "I can’t see me loving nobody but you" in a major key with a 4/4 drum beat and it’s exactly the same formula that “It Ain’t Me Babe” followed. And that’s how we were able to take their demo and adapt it to our style. So we went into the studio and it was the only time we ever knew that we had recorded a number one record before the horns were on and before anything as mixed. Even while the track was being cut we just looked at each other and knew there was just so much air in the room that day; the arrangement was just so well thought out and Chip Douglas, for the most part, did that. The production was so sparse in places and so “Wall of Sound” in other places that you could tell the Phil Spector influences on Joe Wissert. Recording that song was a pleasure. We listened to it and we just grinned from ear to ear. We didn’t even have to release the thing; we could have left the country and come back knowing that we had already had a number one in our absence.

How about “She’d Rather Be with Me?"
It resonates with me because it’s a hit record but I didn’t hear it in the studio as being anything special. It was one of those songs just like later on in our career when we sang on “Hungry Heart” by Bruce Springsteen, I couldn’t hear it. I couldn’t hear it in the studio and I couldn’t hear it when even when it got played in the radio that it was a hit. I just thought to myself that this is a turkey. This is not going to live up the success formerly held in that case by Bruce and in this case us. We had achieved such magic with “Happy Together” that even Lulu’s review in a UK column “Blind Date” was how disappointed she was with this coming from the Turtles and how she had expected so much more. Well, I think we did too. But knowing we had cast our lot with Koppelman/Rubin and these guys were the ones picking our singles for us and here was yet another Bonner and Gordon song and yet another  Joe Wissert production. And while “She’d Rather Be with Me” didn’t continue the mystique of “Happy Together,” as far as I’m concerned it did have a lot of razzmatazz and I think that’s what the label was looking for and it did broaden our spectrum a little bit. It was much bigger in Europe than “Happy Together” was and it also broke us out of that soft/loud, soft/loud thing. It was a different kind of a song; it was a vaudeville song. So all of a sudden we were doing big television shows like Ed Sullivan or the Smothers Brothers that would never even have booked us. It broadened our audience greatly because it made them understand we weren’t a one trick pony and that we were around for the long haul band that we were really doing show biz kind of stuff.

"You Showed Me" was written by Gene Clark and Roger McGuinn of the Byrds.
Our producer Chip Douglas hated the idea of slowing it down. He thought it was the stupidest thing he’d ever heard of in his life. He wanted us to do it the way it was originally done by the Byrds. It was recorded as a very Merseybeat kind of song. It had a really Beatles feel and had a fast tempo. That’s the song that Chip wanted to play for us at his house. When we got to his house he had loaned out his piano to a studio for a Monkees session and the only thing he had to play the song for us was this pump organ and the organ was a beautiful sounding instruments but it only had one of two bellows working so he couldn’t perform the song fast enough. So he kept saying, “It’s not like this, it’s faster.” So he played us the song at this slow speed and Mark and I did not have to say a word to each other. We looked at each other and knew instantly what we were thinking. We said, “Chip, you’re wrong, this is not a fast song, this is a gorgeous ballad. Listen to that melody. Think about it with strings at that tempo.” And he went nuts. We imported that very pump organ, broken as it was, and brought it to the studio and that’s the very organ on the song “You Showed Me."

Retro-Active is written by Ken Sharp, who can be reached directly at or 818-986-9715. © 2014. All rights reserved.

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