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 practitionersThe Turtles racked up a heady array of hit records traversing a disparate number of styles and creative sensibilities. TheTurtles45 RPM VinylSingles Collectionculls eight 7" singlessporting thegroup'sbiggesthits,like "HappyTogether," "She'd Rather Be with Me," "Elenore" and "You Showed Me" alongsidelesser known but equally inventive material numbering "Outside Chance," writtenby fledgling singer/songwriter WarrenZevon, "Storyof Rock and Roll" by HarryNilsson,and thesoaringpopopus"YouDon't Have toWalkin the Rain."
Retro-Active'sKenSharpsatdown withTurtlesleadvocalist HowardKaylanfor an upcloselook atthis excitingnew release.
What was the idea behind the new Turtles vinyl 45 box set? HowardKaylan: Vinyl is alwaysgonnabe cool and it’salwaysgonnabe whatyouwant tohear new songs. I appreciate the way DaveGrohlcan 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’tmake 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’thear that sound on a CD. You’vegottalisten 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’ship. We have re-released our greatest hits so many times in so many different forms and literally the only thing we haven’tdone 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 theFloEdCo 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. Wedidn’twant 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’thave 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 justdidn’thave room anymore. I couldn’thouse 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 iniTunesor you won’tever listen to it. I mean, what are the odds you’regonnaplayBloodrock? We got rid of 40 giant boxes ofLPsbut I kept every single 45 I ever bought and there are thousands of45s. 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’snumber one smash, “Happy Together.”
We thought (songwriting team) Bonnerand Gordon’sdemo 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 theLovin’ 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 theLovin’ 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 hireKoppelman/Rubin, the production company inNew Yorkwho 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 weregonna receive EricJacobsen, theLovin’ Spoonful’sproducer, 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 JoeWissert, 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 greatOrlonsand 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 withKoppelman/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. Therewasn’ta pop group in the world thatdidn’tlisten to that scratchy demo and go, “No, that’sterrible, there’snothing there; we don’thear 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’tsee me loving nobody but you" in a major key with a 4/4 drum beat and it’sexactly the same formula that “It Ain’tMe Babe” followed. And that’show 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 wasjust 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 JoeWissert. Recording that song was a pleasure. We listened to it and we just grinned from ear to ear. Wedidn’teven 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’sa hit record but Ididn’thear 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’thear it. I couldn’thear it in the studio and I couldn’thear it when even when it got played in the radio that it was a hit. I just thought to myself thatthis 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’sreview 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 withKoppelman/Rubin and these guys were the ones picking our singles for us and here was yet anotherBonnerand Gordon song and yet another JoeWissertproduction. And while “She’d Rather Be with Me”didn’tcontinue the mystique of “Happy Together,” as far as I’m concerned it did have a lot of razzmatazz and I think that’swhat the label was looking for and it did broaden our spectrum a little bit. It was much bigger inEuropethan “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’ta one trick pony and that we were around for the long haul band that we were really doing show biz kind of stuff.