There are many reasons why you should want to buy the wonderful new two-CD compilation by The Turtles, the often overlooked Southern California rock band which rode up the charts in the mid 1960s. Alongside The Byrds, The Doors, The Beach Boys, Frank Zappa, The Mamas & The Papas, The Monkees, Love and so many others, The Turtles were one of that original wave of baby-boomer rock bands that defined the sound of a generation.
The Turtles was the birth place of two tremendous singers, Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, who -- after their 1965-70 run -- went on to work with the likes of T-Rex, Bruce Springsteen, Alice Cooper and Frank Zappa. In fact, with bassist Jim Pons, Volman and Kaylan (aka Flo & Eddie) became the core of the 1970-71 era Mothers of Invention, appearing appeared on legendary Zappa records such as Chunga's Revenge, 200 Motels, Just Another Band From LA and Fillmore East - June 1971.
If you are a fan of the next waves of pop bands in the 70s and 80s -- from Big Star to REM -- you'll probably want to know about The Turtles. Heck, if you like more current bands like Weezer or even Ra Ra Riot you should know about The Turtles.
But the primary reason for buying this set -- called All The Singles -- is the music : for the first time all the A- and B-sides of their singles and numerous unreleased rarities from all across the band's career have been carefully and thoughtfully compiled. These recordings have not appeared before in a collection like this taken off the master tapes. All the recordings are in original and hard to find (ie. in pristine condition vinyl) Mono mixes unique to those singles.
There have been many compilations over the years but even the best of them -- a 20 song hits collection put out by Rhino Records in the early 80s -- have been mostly unsatisfying. Most of the collections I've come across are in stereo -- not the hit mixes that made these guys legends. Mono copies of The Turtles two volumes of Greatest Hits from the 1960s on the old White Whale Records label are rare as hens teeth in any sort of listenable condition.
But lets get to the music first before we go down that path of high fidelity. There are some amazing songs here. Unless you've been hiding in your shell, you probably know The Turtle's biggest hit, the #1 smash "Happy Together" from 1967. If you are a fan of 60s rock and pop, you probably know some of their other big hits like "It Ain't Me Babe" (one of the earliest folk-rock hybrid interpretations of Bob Dylan's music). "You Baby" and "Can I Get To Know You Better" are super fine power pop gems while tracks like "She'd Rather Be With Me" and "She's My Girl" are feel-good, Summer of Love psychedelic sunshine pop nuggets. And then there are the other hits like "Elenore" and "You Don't Have To Walk In The Rain" (which was produced by Ray Davies of The Kinks!)
So many great tunes you know...
And then there are some amazing tunes which even I had overlooked such as "You Know What I Mean" (which sounds like a grandiose cross between Phil Spector, Brian Wilson and Richard Rodgers' "Slaughter on 10th Avenue"). One of Warren Zevon's earliest published songs was recorded by The Turtles, the oh-so-rockin' "Outside Chance" (which feels like a cross between mid-60s "Day Tripper"- period Beatles and The Mamas and The Papas). There are some cool unreleased tunes like the folk-rocky "How You Love Me."
And there are even two pure Doo Wop flavored tunes ("Teardrops" and "Gas Money") issued only as an obscure promo single under the alter-ego band name The Distractions -- this single must have appealed to Zappa (a huge Doo Wop fan who even put out an entire album dedicated to the genre in 1967 called Cruising With Ruben & The Jets),
If you ever had trouble making the mental leap from The Turtles to Zappa, it all makes much more sense as you listen to this collection.
Indeed, there are the B-sides which are like lost puzzle pieces that will help you make the mental jump as to how two singers who sang so sugar sweet on "Happy Together" could switch gears to deliver monumentally brilliant absurd weirdness with Frank Zappa such as "This Town Is A Sealed Tuna Sandwich."
Those stepping stones are all here in those B-Sides.
"Rugs of Woods and Flowers" sounds like one of Zappa's 200 Motels tracks. I would love to hear Les Claypool and Sean Lennon cover their song "Chicken Little Was Right" ... it's a sort of psychedelic hoe-down faux country rocker... think Claypool's South Park theme song but with a stronger melody, dense harmonies and an Electric Sitar plucking away Banjo-like phrases... add in trippy sped-up vocals copping phrases from Prokoviev's Peter & The Wolf and you've got a B-side for the ages.
"Umbassas The Dragon" is flipped out piece that feels like a cross between Zappa, The Bonzo Dog Band and the Beatles' equally goofy-fun-weird "You Know My Name, Look Up The Number" (B-side of "Let It Be").
Man oh man oh man... The Swingin' '60s... You really had to be there to understand, I'm sure...
But I dig it... and you might just dig it too!
In general, All The Singles sounds quite fabulous as CDs go.... and as these singles go. White Whale Records wasn't a major label so finding really clean perfectly pressed copies of those singles isn't easy (assuming you enjoy messing around with stacks of old 45s -- not everyone's cuppa tea).
Take it from a collector who has been looking for these singles for years.
There is a great booklet in the set with song by song commentary from band members as well as photos of the (again, not easy to find and some downright rare) 45 picture sleeves.
Oh, so you are probably wondering what are the "50 Ways" I mentioned in the headline of this review: this set is jam packed with tunes, there are 25 songs per disc! But only 48 are listed on the cover and I'm not gonna tell you what the hidden bonus tracks are.
You'll have to get the set for yourselves to find out.
I don't want to spoil the party...