The Turtles are an American rock group led by vocalists Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman. The band became notable for several Top 40 hits beginning with its cover version of Bob Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe" in 1965. The group scored its biggest and best-known hit in 1967 with the song "Happy Together".
The band, originally a surf-rock group called the Crossfires from the Planet Mars, was formed in 1965 in Westchester, California, (a neighborhood in west Los Angeles) by Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman. With the help of DJ and club owner Reb Foster, the Crossfires signed to the newly formed White Whale Records and adhering to the prevailing musical trend, re-branded themselves as a folk rock group under the name "the Tyrtles," the intentional misspelling inspired by the Byrds and the Beatles. However, the trendy spelling did not survive long.
As with the Byrds, the Turtles achieved breakthrough success with a Bob Dylan cover. "It Ain't Me Babe" reached the Billboard Top Ten in the late summer of 1965, and was the title track to the band’s first album. Their second single, "Let Me Be," reached the top 30, while their third hit, "You Baby," charted in the top 20 in early 1966. The band's second album, You Baby, failed to reach Billboard's Top LPs chart, and of several singles released in 1966, "Grim Reaper of Love" and "Can I Get to Know You Better" barely entered the Billboard Hot 100 (one single, the tough "Outside Chance," didn't chart at all). In 1966, the Turtles made an appearance in Universal's beach party spy spoof film Out of Sight, singing "She'll Come Back" onscreen.
At the start of 1966 drummer Don Murray and bassist Chuck Portz quit the group. They were replaced by Joel Larson and then John Barbata on drums, and by Chip Douglas on bass (October 1966). In 1967, rhythm guitarist Jim Tucker left the band, allegedly after being publicly insulted by John Lennon when the group were in England on a promotional tour. Tucker, a Beatles fan, apparently never got over the experience and quit the group and the music business. The first of several key Turtles singles co-written by Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon, "Happy Together", seemed almost a parody of itself, and had already been rejected by countless performers. "Happy Together", both their biggest hit and their signature song, signaled a turning point for the Turtles and for Chip Douglas, who provided the arrangement. The single replaced the Beatles' "Penny Lane" at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in the spring of 1967. The Turtles' only No. 1 remained there for three weeks. An album of the same name followed and peaked at No. 25. "Happy Together" reached # 12 on the UK singles chart. This same year saw the Turtles performing the title song for the Twentieth Century-Fox bedroom farce, A Guide for the Married Man.
Impressed by Chip Douglas's studio arrangements, Monkee Michael Nesmith approached him after a Turtles show at the Whisky a Go Go and invited him to become the Monkees' new producer, as that band wanted to break out of their "manufactured" studio mold. Douglas accepted and left the Turtles. Meanwhile, Laramy Smith was invited to join the group as bassist, but after several months he decided not to join and was replaced by bassist and singer Jim Pons. The year 1967 proved to be the Turtles' most successful on the charts. "She'd Rather Be With Me" reached number 3 on the US charts in late spring and actually out-charted "Happy Together" overseas, reaching # 4 in the UK. Two successive top-15 songs followed: "You Know What I Mean" and "She's My Girl." Both 45s signaled a certain shift in the band’s style. Golden Hits was released later that year, charting in the top 10. The similar album covers for The Turtles! Golden Hits and its follow up More Golden Hits were designed by Dean Torrence of Jan & Dean.
The first two singles in 1968, "Sound Asleep" and "The Story of Rock and Roll", stalled somewhere in the middle of the top 100. The band's fortunes changed when Chip Douglas returned to work with them in the studio. Late in 1968 the band released a concept album called The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, in which the group pretended to be 11 different bands (with names including 'The Bigg Brothers', 'Nature's Children', 'the US Teens featuring Raoul', and 'the Fabulous Dawgs'), each with a song in a different genre. The album yielded two singles: "Elenore" and "You Showed Me" (both peaking at No. 6). As of 2011 "Elenore" is the only Hot 100 single which ever rhymed the phrase et cetera in its lyrics, though with an AACBBC rhyming pattern it doesn't actually rhyme very well with the word "better" in the sixth line. It also reached #7 in the UK chart. The 1969 hit "You Showed Me" had been written by Byrds Gene Clark and Roger (then Jim) McGuinn in 1964. Television appearances in 1968 include a Feb. 26 visit to The Mike Douglas Show, to which they returned in April 1969.
Towards the end of 1969, the group released its next album, Turtle Soup, a critically well-received LP produced by Ray Davies of the Kinks. Inspired by the revered 1968 concept album The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, this was Davies’s only production work for another band. Notable tracks include "Somewhere Friday Nite" and "Love in the City". In spite of Turtle Soup's positive reception from the music press, its commercial success was marginal and the band soon began to disintegrate.
Long disillusioned with their record label and its growing financial problems by this time, Kaylan and Volman resisted White Whale's efforts to turn the Turtles into something approaching an assembly-line pop act. The label apparently encouraged Kaylan and Volman to fire the rest of the band, tour with hired musicians and make records by adding their vocals to backing tracks recorded by Memphis session players. Such pressure did convince the band to record a single called "Who Would Ever Think That I Would Ever Marry Margaret?", which they disowned after its release.
The Turtles wound down their career in 1970 with a second compilation album, More Golden Hits, and a B-sides and rarities album, Wooden Head. With the demise of the Turtles, White Whale Records was left with few, if any, commercially viable bands, and ceased operation