GARY Gets SHELL-SHOCKED in 2020
Having just been asked to participate in, and I quote, an "all-star global retrospective referendum virtually saluting the 50th Anniversary of the landmark, game-changing, hugely influential Ginger Baker’s Air Force 2 album" I kid you not, it was high time to apply, in the hallowed words of David St. Hubbins, much fucking perspective on just how, why, and who what’s left of the recorded music industry chooses to pay tribute to by way of squeezing those few remaining droplets of boomer blood from its back catalog.
I mean, To wit: Where in the world, or elsewhere for that matter, is the big box-set global referendum Anniversary edition of that hugely influential (and then some) game-changing masterpiece The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, I ask you?? An album without one single note or sentiment out of place, not to mention lyrics, arrangements, production and especially overall concept and conceit as utterly relevant today, if not more so, as it was precisely 52 Novembers ago?
For starters, just take a look at the inner cover of said stunning 1968 Battle: Therein stand not one, not two, but TWELVE different mock-"Turtles" (one for each song), each posed in an absolutely flawless visual parody of – or was it tribute to? – one dozen different rock-n-pop pigeonholes.
While this delightful ruse may have provided a hearty premise for [gulp!] another Concept Album (albeit one which greatly out-surpassed the Fabs' comparatively meek Pepper-grinding), beneath all the dress-up fun and games lay a more than telling element of ironic, bitter truth. For the real Turtles truly spent their entire career struggling to establish a single, all-encompassing identity in the eyes of not only their audiences the world over, but with their long-suffering bosses at White Whale Records, radio programmers everywhere, and perhaps even amongst the actual band members themselves.
In fact, the group's very origins seem mucho-schizo to say the least: Springing to life in Los Angeles circa 1961 as a rough 'n' ready instrumental combo (The Nightriders), they soon transformed into a real-life surf band (The Crossfires), later tried their hand at folk music (as the Crosswind Singers, would you believe), were also known to show up at local bowling alleys pretending to be Gerry & the Pacemakers, then finally settled on the hallowed Turtles moniker (though almost The Tyrtles) upon signing with White Whale in 1965. Their first hit, a Top 40-friendly cover of Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe," was quickly followed by a P.F. Sloan sound-alike ("Let Me Be") and then the incredible, edible "You Baby."
The latter, also from the pedantic pen of P.F., was an absolute stick-to-the-roof-of-your-ears candy-rock delight, and its cheery combination one-handed keyboard licks atop "Hang On Sloopy" thump-und-strum was soon heard reverberating throughout all the biggest and best hits of the Ohio Express, 1910 Fruitgum Co., Rock And Roll Dubble Bubble Trading Card Co. Of Philadelphia 19141, et al et al. But by this time (1967-68), the Turtles had already turned to New York songsmiths Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon for their next two mega-smashes, "Happy Together" and "She'd Rather Be With Me."
It was right about now that the Turtles – always a super-slick and hard-hitting live act – began defiantly expressing more of their road-tested (and quite often FAR-out-there) chops on vinyl as well. Despite the fact their producer Joe Wissert was reportedly spending an inordinate amount of time reciting poetry and eating gingerbread bats when he should’ve been knob-twiddling, "She's My Girl," "Sound Asleep" and even the infamous "Umbassa The Dragon" were worthy enough to earn the respect of such highly-coveted peers as F. Zappa (who later employed several post-Turtles in his most popular incarnation of the Mothers) and R.D. Davies (who accepted a rare non-Kink production assignment when offered the chance to record the Turtles' final album).
Yet White Whale, a small label solely dependent upon the Turtles for their financial bread and butter, just wanted loads more "She'd Rather Be Happy"-sounding smashes. Oh, yeah? So leading lights Volman and Kaylan, butts against the wall (but with tongues very firmly in cheek) simply responded one night by writing the million-selling, frighteningly unapologetically-AM-worthy "Elenore": a hit so insidiously innocuous that it landed the band a chance soon afterwards to perform at no less than the Nixon White House.
This being the late Sixties however, gigs at Tricia Nixon's prom were not the kind of doings any well-respecting band wore on their denim-tattered sleeves. So as the Turtles' hair and beards – to say nothing of their songs – grew ever longer and less manageable, and while hundreds of thousands of dollars in royalties due from White Whale still seemed lost in the ether, the boys finally tired of bucking the system and bitterly disbanded in 1970. It was a dark day indeed for not only rock and roll, but for mankind in general.
Always able to toss off cheerful Top Ten hits at the drop of a Nehru hat, then reply with such intricate, multi-layered gems as "Grim Reaper Of Love," the Turtles certainly did then, and without a doubt still can stand loud and proudly alongside any of their supposedly hipper '68-calibre music makers. I mean, Waiting for the Sun and even Crown of Creation, to cite but the obvious two, couldn’t ever have held a chance in a West Coast Battle of the Bands against our heroes, now could they?! So let's all get back to our sonic senses, put down those too-big-budget 2020 boxed Anniversary bonanzas, and grab instead, once and for us all, the real thing ...before it's too late.