Friday, August 12, 2016

A Quick Look At The New Singles Compilation From The Turtles

You know these songs. And if you don't, it's gonna feel like you do. All The Singles by The Turtles, out in about a week via Manifesto Records, is the most concise part of an impressive Turtles reissue project by the label that also encompasses a reissue of the complete albums from the band. Still, if you're not ready to grab that many releases yet, you'd be wise to get this collection of the band's A- and B-sides. And, for you oldies nerds out there, it's worth noting that The Turtles sometimes released their singles in mono and their albums in stereo -- a practice apparently somewhat common in the era -- and that's the way these classic cuts are presented here. So if you want the original, mono mixes of stuff like "It Ain't Me Babe" or "She'd Rather Be With Me", then you've come to the right place. Read on.

What one hears here is the first great flourishing of American power-pop in the wake of the success of The Beatles. Of course, there are moments ("Makin' My Mind Up" and the Warren Zevon-penned "Outside Chance", for instance) where The Turtles sound like they are consciously trying to replicate the sound of Beatles singles and other gems from the British Invasion and yet, over there, The Turtles managed to take those obvious influences and absorb them in the service of something more decidedly American in style (the glorious "Can I Get To Know You Better", for instance).

Elsewhere, on The Beach Boys-like "The Story Of Rock And Roll", or the Beach Boys-parodying "Surfer Dan" one gets the feeling that The Turtles were straining at the bonds of the pop single. Layered vocals, smooth harmonies, and neat little guitar frills mingle in these mid-period cuts and one can only wonder still why some of this stuff wasn't more popular in the era.

Of course all the hits are here, most notably the big ones: "Happy Together" and the sublime "Elenore", written, as the liner notes indicate, almost as a take-off of the sort of sentiments in the earlier big hit. Both staples of Oldies radio still shine with the sound on each being remarkably crisp and nuanced even without the benefit of the stereo mixes as these are, after all, the original mono versions. Those mono mixes, obviously, benefit the early singles -- stuff like the P.F. Sloan classic "You Baby" -- the most.

Elsewhere, the singles from the Ray Davies-produced Turtle Soup (1969) are still fabulous slices of the kind of songwriting this country has rarely produced since. If the band went into the sessions thinking that the guy from The Kinks was gonna make their tunes sound like his, they were wrong as Davies, instead, brought out all the things that made this band so unique while refining slightly the group's approach. There's something soaring and direct about cuts like "You Don't Have To Walk In The Rain" and "Love In The City", even as "Bachelor Mother" does, indeed, sound remarkably like something Davies himself would have written in the late Sixties. While "House On The Hill" is haunting and a bit unlike what one would expect from a song on a Turtles "hits" collection.

By the end of the band's career as hit-makers, The Turtles were struggling to find their place in the music world. Despite their ability to turn a Judee Sill number ("Lady-O") into something approaching a Top 40 single, and an admirable stab at an era staple ("Eve Of Destruction"), the band's efforts in this late era couldn't compete with changing tastes. Still, the attempts collected near the end of this compilation are remarkably well-done pop songs, especially the adventurous "We Ain't Gonna Party No More", a Left Banke-esque anti-war anthem.

If you only know "Happy Together" and 1 or 2 other singles from The Turtles, let All The Singles serve as a crash course into one of the great American pop acts of any era. Bridging the work of The Beach Boys and even The Four Seasons with that of The Beatles, The Turtles blended so many styles and genres that the end result was sometimes dizzying. A listener could be forgiven for taking for granted how easily -- and concisely! -- these guys did this sort of thing. Never once getting bogged down in anything too heavy -- despite the serious nature of some of the tunes here -- the singles of The Turtles are all little lessons in how to craft a pop song. More varied than the singles of The Left Banke, more peppy than those of The Beau Brummels, and certainly more Beatle-esque than the A- and B-sides of The Association, the singles of The Turtles are, in many spots, evidence of the act that was the closest this country ever got to producing a band in the same league as The Kinks, The Zombies, or The Beatles.

All The Singles by The Turtles is out next Friday via Manifesto Records. Nearly 50 classic cuts, plus a few bonus radio commericals, are here. The complete albums from The Turtles will be reissued soon too. Check out the Manifesto Records website for more details.