Thursday, April 25, 2013

7 Songs with Howard Kaylan of The Turtles

[Purchase Shell Shocked]

For rock fans, Shell Shocked is this year's must-read. It's the ultimate insider's tale of the rock and roll revolution. Howard's a funny guy. He'll take you into swinging London nightclubs where you will sit across from Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon. You'll be in Montreux for the infamous Zappa concert that inspired Deep Purple's "Smoke On The Water" and in the Nixon White House for some rock star antics you may not believe. To promote his insane book, Howard talked about seven songs with us.

1. The Turtles IT AIN'T ME BABE (US #8, 1965) from the album It Ain't Me Babe

The first time I heard "It Ain't Me Babe" I didn't understand what Dylan was talking about. So I just put my own spin on it which was basically to steal the entire approach that The Zombies had used to make their hit record "She's Not There" which was to take a soft minor verse and then blast into a really positive major BAM BAM 4/4 chorus like "She's Not There" and I so admired the singing of Colin Blunstone that I really adopted it. That record is an amalgam of everything we could possibly steal from the time and we shoved it out there on one piece of plastic and it worked.

2. The Turtles OUTSIDE CHANCE (1966) a single that failed to chart-- now on Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965–1968

It's an amazingly overlooked record. I really had high hopes for it. It was so Beatlesque.. It was so clever. ("Outside Chance" songwriter and White Whale label mate) Warren Zevon was such a good friend that we really wanted it to work and I was so sad when it didn't but I'm so gratified now to hear other bands do it and to know that it has a second life after us and that it lives on. Yay!

3. The Turtles HAPPY TOGETHER (US#1, 1967) from Happy Together

It was the worst demo I ever heard in my life. Gary Lewis had turned it down. The Vogues had turned it down. The Lettermen--I mean you name it. Every band in the world had turned it down. It was one guy playing an acoustic guitar and the other guy singing, slapping his knees for the beat and it was nightmarish. But there's something eerie about that verse.It's not talking about a relationship its talking about "imagine" a relationship.
     We flew the songwriters ( Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon) out to LA where we lived so we could hear them sing the song in person. We rented them bungalows at The Beverly Hills Hotel at $2500 a night, sent themchampagne and caviar. Then the next morning we came in to hear them in the studio. It was worse than the demo but we heard it and we worked it and we took that song out on the road with us for 8 months and we refined it and when we went into the studio we knew exactly where every single note was going to fall.
     And it was the only time I've ever left a studio going "This is a #1 record. There's no doubt we have a #1 record."

4. The Turtles LOVE IN THE CITY (US#91, 1969) from Turtle Soup

In Shell Shocked Howard relates how the band hated Ray Davies's original, orchestra heavy mix of Turtle Soup. Davies was so shocked and disappointed he did the remix in one run through, dropping the orchestra to nearly nothing. Listen to "Love In The City " at :59 in. That should be the second coming of Love's Forever Changes. Instead it's just this empty, ghost like section. "We were jerks," Howard confessed to me.

"Love in the City" was a song that Al Nichol wrote. It surprised the heck out of me. As our lead guitar player it shouldn't have been that good. Of course it was reminiscent of the Lovin Spoonful and we wanted to play that up.  Anything " the city" is going to be compared  to the Spoonful mega mega hit. but it had its own charm and it had its own mysterious feel to it and it does feel like the city to me. it does feel like Manhattan. When the chorus kicks in I think about my days of early romance among the horse drawn carriages and cherry blossoms and all that stuff as a kid. I see why I fell for it. I never pictured an orchestration that grandiose or spectacular. I really thought it would be more of a group song so to hear it done a la Broadway the way the back of my mind wanted t o be was very gratifying . Still is.

5. T. Rex : GET IT ON (UK#1/US#10, 1971) from Electric Warrior

 Well I loved Mr Bolan. After we sang on "Hot Love" and "Seagull Woman" and the rest of the Electric Warrior album , Marc flew into Los Angeles for the specific purpose of putting our vocals on a new song . my partner (Mark) and I went into a studio on La Cienega Boulevard and  recorded that thing in an hour.  He had done the backing tracks literally the night before. He didn't really have words that he liked yet and he wasn't even sure "Bang a Gong" was going to be what we wound up. but we sang all the vocals there and we loved it from the get go.
      But you have to remember we loved everything he did from the get go . We were such fans that everything sounded like a hit to me. I mean "Jeepster" sounded like it was going to be a giant hit to me and it was abroad. There was something about this country.  And Marc Bolan did it. When he first got popular in the States he made some kind of a satiric remark about "I don't need America, I'm big enough anyway" and the program directors took it to heart and said "OK Pal lets see if you need America" and of course he did he never did have another  giant hit in this country but he was beloved elsewhere and certainly in this house

6. Flo And Eddie : MARMENDY MILL from Flo And Eddie ( 1973)

That was probably the proudest moment of my life recording that song.  In fact we ran so many songs by our producer, Bob Ezrin,   for that album and he was saying "No", "No", "Don't Like That One", "Not rocking enough", "Doesn't have a hook",  and when we got to "Marmendy Mill" it was the last song and I knew it wasn't going to make the record. It was very very long. It had all these sections in it. It was more a little operetta than it was a song and I didn't think my partner (Mark Volman)  was into it very much because it was all about my life and my growing up in Utica, New York and  that kind of thing. And we played it for Ezrin on an acoustic guitar and I'm really a lousy guitar player and the thing ended and he went "That's incredible! I know exactly what to do with it" And his vision was more than I ever hoped. He  made it more theatrical. He had me singing it live in this giant, studio as if we were onstage, on Broadway, and it was a one take thing with Mark standing behind me slightly so he could sing all the "C'mon Howie!" all that back up stuff that he does and the full orchestra. I felt like Sinatra for that experience and I've never had it since.

7. Bruce Springsteen : HUNGRY HEART (US #5, 1980) from The River

We had been recruited to sing with Bruce Springsteen on stage the first day we met him in Cleveland Ohio. He brought  us up to sing with Ronnie Spector and we sang  "Baby I Love You" and "Walking in the Rain" . We had a great time. He remembered that blend--Mark and me --when we sing together have this specific sound. He brought us into the studio with Jon Landau.  We recorded the song "Hungry Heart".  It was the only song on The River that we sang on.  And when we left the studio, Mark and I  looked at each other and went "This is not going to work" This is the most anti-Springsteen song we'd ever heard. There's no Thunder, . There's no Night. There's no Cars. There's no Screen Door Slamming. It doesn't sound like Bruce.  What does he mean "every body's got a hungry heart" What does that even mean?
      And then we heard from Max Weinberg: "I think its going to make the album" and then we heard its definitely on the album.  And then  we heard it was coming out as the first single and we went "Oh no Oh no . We're gonna be responsible for the end of Bruce Springsteen, and then it was a #5 record!
      I still don't hear it  to be quite honest with you compared to every other brilliant thing Bruce has run past these ears. I still listen to that song and I don't hear it. To me its like the #3 hit "She'd Rather Be With Me" for the Turtles. I understand it was a hit.  I understand it was a bigger international hit than "Happy Together" even but i don't hear it.  I didn't hear it when we cut it  and I don't hear it 47 years later I don't hear it and "Hungry Heart" is one of those songs. I will take the gold records. we went on tour with this guy all over the world for the better part of a year trying to get a good live version of it in  Amsterdam and in London and in New York and in LA. So we had a great time but I don't get it

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