Album Review: The Turtles – Happy Together (180g vinyl)

In my last entry I covered the new 180-gram vinyl monaural reissue of The Turtles‘ debut LP, It Ain’t Me, Babe. Released in tandem in 2013 on their own FloEdCo imprint was their third album.

Eighteen months after It Ain’t Me, Babe (we’re skipping their 1966 LP You Baby, as it hasn’t been re-released on 180g vinyl as of this writing), The Turtles’ third LP Happy Together hit the shelves. As was the practice of the day (in the USA, at least), the album was built around the group’s most recent hit single, the monster title track, which had bumped The Beatles‘ “Penny Lane” from the charts in February. Though soon the group would begin to chafe at what they saw as a churning-out of mindless pop confections (their oft-misunderstood hit “Elenore” was a skewering of this sort of thing), on Happy Together The Turtles show themselves to be exemplars of that brand of breezy pop. True, some of this was the kind of music your circa-’67 parents might not mind, but that didn’t render it insignificant. No, a cut such as “Makin’ My Mind Up” makes full use of horns and other embellishments, but it’s also a nearly perfect pop song. And even though Howard Kaylan later claimed to dislike it, the movie theme “Guide for the Married Man” is a wonderful three minutes of pop, full of as much melodrama and humor as one could reasonably expect. And their signature “ba ba ba” vocals make it very much of its time and delightful at once. New drummer Johnny Barbata‘s kit is mixed way out-front, and it’s thrilling in its simple precision and jazz-inflected subtleties.

The gentle, string-laden “Think I’ll Run Away” sounds like a synthesis of the group’s abandoned folk-rock sound and the sort of thing they’d go for a few years later with “Lady-O.” Serious fans might not have noticed at the time, but The Turtles were giving The Beach Boys a run for their money in terms of vocal arrangements. Kaylan’s near-whispered vocal on “The Walking Song” is contrasted by the slightly nutty lead vocals turns by the other band members.

The group turned to songwriters Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon for three tunes on this LP: besides the title track, the duo provided The Turtles with the underrated “Me About You” and the perennial horn- and string-centric favorite “She’d Rather Be With Me.” “Happy Together” will forever be the song most associated with the group, and a fine song it is. To these ears, the album mix of the song seems to place certain instruments far more out-front than the single mix. Ba ba ba indeed.

Guitarist Al Nichol even gets an original composition on this record, “Person Without a Care.” It’s no better nor worse than most sunshine pop hits of the era, which is to say it’s a pretty good composition for someone not known as a songwriter. “Like the Seasons” is The Turtles’ second recording of a tune written by the young Warren Zevon (the first was the non-LP single “Outside Chance”). Musically it’s yet another forerunner to the sublime Judee Sill-penned “Lady-O.” The record closes with what would otherwise be an impressive baroque-rock track, “Rugs of Woods and Flowers.” Instead it’s marred by a mannered, over-the-top lead vocals. The vocal melody line strongly recalls the bridge from Allan Sherman‘s 1963 comedy hit, “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh.” Good for a laugh and little more, it regrettably ends an ace album on a bum note. But Happy Together‘s charms remain undeniable nonetheless.

Both 2013 vinyl reissues are straight recreations of the original packages, right down to the misspellings of artists’ names (they do add the web address, though). No bonus tracks nor download card are included; the only concession to modernity is the pressing of the records onto high-quality 180 gram vinyl. Since your original copy is either (a) worn out, (b) nonexistent or worse yet (c ) on compact disc, these two are essential slices of 1960s goodness.

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