Poking Fun At Pop

The Turtles might be one of rock’s most misunderstood but yet most beloved bands.  In 1947, both Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman were born on opposites coasts of America, but Kaylan moved from New York to Los Angeles as a child and they ended up singing in the same local a cappella choir.  Howard learned saxophone and Mark took up clarinet and in 1961 at a 10th grade dance Mark Volman saw a local band called The Nightriders, with Howard on stage playing saxophone, and other choir members Al Nichol on lead guitar, Don Murray on drums and Chuck Portz on bass.  Mark eventually became an official member of the group and then in 1963 the instrumental surf group changed their name to the Crossfires.  After high school graduation, the Crossfires continued on while its members attended area colleges picking up rhythm guitarist Jim Tucker along the way and securing a residency as the house band at a club called Revelaire in Redondo Beach.  In 1964, Mark and Howard put down their saxes to concentrate more on singing and they grew their hair long.

In 1965, local disc jockey and club owner Reb Foster became their manager and said he would get a couple of music industry people in to check them out.  Two ex-Liberty record staff, Ted Feigan and Lee Laseff who had just started their own White Whale label, turned up were impressed and signed them as the first act to their fledgling label, but they suggested the Crossfires should change their name.  Someone suggested The Tyrtles employing the tactic that the Byrds used.  Everyone agreed on the name, but preferred the traditional spelling Turtles.

The first song they recorded at the suggestion of the label was a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ which was followed by their big hit ‘Happy Together’, a song that two members of The Magicians, Gary Bonner and Alan Gordon, had written and this song was produced by ‎Joe Wissert.  It reached number 12 in the UK and number one in America knocking the Beatles’ Penny Lane off the top.  Rhythm guitarist Jim Tucker left the group and was not replaced, so the Turtles were a group of five.  Don Murray was replaced by drummer John Barbata and Chip Douglas replaced Chuck Portz on bass for a short time, but Jim Pons soon became the bass guitar player.  The Turtles released 18 US Hit Singles between 1965-1970.

While Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman provided heavenly harmonies, the Turtles became a ubiquitous presence on Top 40 radio for much of the ‘60s.  They were making challenging and adventurous records that were getting played on the radio, but were still experimental, and at the same time commercially successful.  The Turtles were a happy group of guys till things started to spoil in 1967, when Dave Krambeck, their first road manager, suggested very strongly that their manager, Bill Utley (who later went on to manage Three Dog Night and Steppenwolf) was “screwing them over.”  An audit of White Whale that showed a $160,000 shortfall while the Turtles were turning out hit records.  Dave Krambeck borrowed $550,000 of the Turtles’ money to pay Bill Utley off, sold his half-interest in the band to a management firm and then disappeared with the proceeds from a Turtles’ tour.  Suits and countersuits were filed, which led to long legal battles.

The record company was desperate to get another big hit and they told the band to come up with something like ‘Happy Together’.  This manifested itself initially when Howard, in a fit of disgust, wrote the mocking ‘Elenore’, that became a huge hit because record buyers responded to the sincerity of his voice rather than really reading into the tongue-in-cheek lyrics. Mark and Howard were not happy about being hounded in this way, so they decided to throw something together, a really cheesy clichéd song in the hope that it would flop, and that song was called ‘Elenore’.  ‘Elenore’ was written as a parody of ‘Happy Together’ and it was never intended to be a straight-forward song.  It was meant as an anti-love letter to their record company White Whale, who were constantly on their backs to bring them another ‘Happy Together’.  The chords were changed, and all these bizarre words were included to make the song sound stupid in hope that the record company would leave them alone, but they didn’t get the joke, they thought it sounded good, so their plan backfired, because it met the record company’s approval.

Elenore was pretty much the result of Howard Kaylan who wrote this song a half-hour in a hotel room in Chicago saying, “So you want clichéd simplistic pop songs, here is the most clichéd simplistic pop song ever!”  The Turtles sat down and shaped that song into a record that would eventually be produced by Chip Douglas.  In 1968, it became a top 10 hit from the L.A. band’s album The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands.  This album featured a pair of huge hits ‘Elenore’ and ‘You Showed Me’, but there are too many goofy comedy tracks flanking them (the album’s conceit finds the band impersonating various groups in various genres, Sgt. Pepper-style).  Kaylan said that he virtually rewrote the earlier hit as a joke, in order to show the label executives what dicks they were.  He threw in some nonsense like “pride and joy, etcetera” and “I really think you’re groovy” to make the song cheesier.  The “You’re my pride and joy etcetera” line is ingenious and pretty much the key point in recognizing that this song is sarcastic capturing the insouciance of 1968, that devil-may-care “tune in and drop out” ethos of the hippy era.  ‘Elenore’ had brilliant off-kilter lyrics and it reached #6 on the Billboard Hot 100.  The one thing that did annoy Howard was that the band once had an agreement that any song written by any member of the group then the whole band would be credited and ‘Elenore’ was written solely by Howard.

Mark and Howard became increasingly unhappy with the direction their music had taken and were having endless and tedious litigation over financial issues with White Whale and so they decided in 1970 to disband.  Volman and Kaylan remained friends and were both interested in exploring the edgier side of music, so they both joined Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention under the pseudonyms Flo and Eddie.  They later did a lot of session work and provided backing vocals on Alice Cooper’s 1980 album Flush the Fashion and can also be heard on Bruce Springsteen’s 1980 hit Hungry Heart.  Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman also sang backing vocals on a bunch of T. Rex songs.  Drummer Johnny Barbata played with various CSNY folks and he played drums on ‘Ohio’.  Judee Sill was signed to their publishing company and she recorded her song Lady-O.  In the 1980s, the group re-formed hitting the oldies circuit, becoming a popular draw.  The Turtles became a blast from the past touring with five other classic rock legends including Chuck Negron (formerly of Three Dog Night,) The Association, The Cowsills, The Box Tops, and Ron Dante from The Archies.

This song is about a girl named Elenore, who has this thing about her especially at a time in this guy’s life when he wants her near him.  She is able to put life back into his heart, because there is nobody like her.  This guy falls for her, asks her out on a date to go see a movie, then this guy declares his undying love.  There is no heartbreak to be found in Elenore as this song ends happily ever after.  I never knew that Turtles were singing “Elenore really”, as I always thought it was “Eleanor Rigby” that Beetles song, but this is just another example of a modegreen.  A series of words that result from the mishearing or misinterpretation of a statement or song lyric.  For example, ‘lied the pigeons to the flag’ for ‘I pledge allegiance to the flag’, or ‘for Richard Stands’ instead of ‘for which it stands’, in the Pledge of Allegiance.

You got a thing about you
I just can’t live without you
I really want you Elenore near me
Your looks intoxicate me
Even though your folks hate me
There’s no one like you Elenore really

Elenore gee I think you’re swell
And you really do me well
You’re my pride and joy et cetera
Elenore can I take the time
To ask you to speak your mind
Tell me that you love me better

I really think you’re groovy
Let’s go out to a movie
What do ya say now, Elenore can we?
They’ll turn the lights way down low
Maybe we won’t watch the show
I think I love you, Elenore, love me

Elenore, gee I think you’re swell
And you really do me well
You’re my pride and joy, et cetera
Elenore, can I take the time
To ask you to speak your mind?
Tell me that you love me better

One more time!

Elenore, gee I think you’re swell, ah-hah
Elenore, gee I think you’re swell, ah-hah-hah

Written for Daily Addictions prompt – Spoil, for FOWC with Fandango – Draw, for Sheryl’s A New Daily Post Word Prompt – Brilliant, for Ragtag Community – Blast, for Scotts Daily Prompt – Approval and for Word of the Day Challenge Prompt – Conceit.

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