This will shock you: I’ve managed to post something on a significant anniversary! Fifty years ago today, on 1 November 1968, The Turtles released their magnum opus, The Turtles Present The Battle Of The Bands, in the US. I don’t know when it came out in the UK, though since its lead single (more of which anon) was riding high in the hit parade at the time, I imagine it wasn’t greatly delayed.
The Turtles suffered a lot of ups and downs to get to this point. To begin with, there was The Crossfires, an instrumental group playing surf music. By 1965, that style was falling out of fashion, and the group was ready for a new direction and a new name. They signed with the recently-formed independent label White Whale Records, took the name The Turtles, and aligned themselves with the folk-rock trend then being spearheaded by Bob Dylan and The Byrds. They had a top ten hit first time out with a version of Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe”, but successive singles charted lower and lower, and the tide was not turned by experiments like the self-penned proto-psychedelia of “Grim Reaper Of Love” and a breezy, cheesy rendition of the British wartime standard “We’ll Meet Again”, posted here a few months ago. They also started shedding members, losing both drummer Don Murray and bassist Chuck Portz.
But then, as if by magic, everything started coming together. A demo acetate by songwriters Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon yielded the song “Happy Together”, and new bassist Chip Douglas devised a suitably radio-friendly arrangement, which duly went to number one in the States and was also a hit elsewhere (including the UK, where it was their first chart entry). Gordon and Bonner proved to be an excellent match for The Turtles, providing a string of further singles including their biggest British hit “She’d Rather Be With Me”.
You’d think that White Whale would be delighted with The Turtles’ newfound success, and indeed they were. But their plan to keep the hits coming was to reduce The Turtles to a duo of singers Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, fronting records played by session musicians. This proposal did not go down well. In fact, so keen were Kaylan and Volman to avoid such a fate, that they deliberately went in the opposite direction, all but abandoning the use of outside songwriters, and henceforth listing their original material as group compositions, the credit and profit split five ways. And with this new policy in place, The Turtles delivered their fourth album, Battle of the Bands, parodying various popular music styles, from surf to psychedelia, from country to… themselves.
And so we get to that hit single. Take the floor, Howard Kaylan…
It was never intended to be a straight-forward song. It was meant as an anti-love letter to White Whale, who were constantly on our backs to bring them another “Happy Together.” So I gave them a very skewed version. Not only with the chords changed, but with all these bizarre words. It was my feeling that they would listen to how strange and stupid the song was and leave us alone. But they didn’t get the joke. They thought it sounded good. Truthfully, though, the production on “Elenore” WAS so damn good. Lyrically or not, the sound of the thing was so positive that it worked.
There are some who insist that “Elenore” needs to be heard in its mono single mix, but to be honest I think the stereo separation of the album version adds an extra layer to the parody, and I love the moment the drums come crashing in…
Interestingly, “Elenore” was in the UK top 20 at the very same time as both “Eloise” by Barry Ryan and “Jessamine” by The Casuals. And “Lily the Pink” by the Scaffold, for that matter. I’m guessing there may be an unusually high number of women with those names celebrating their fiftieth birthdays right about now.
There’s at least one other well-known song on Battle of the Bands. Before joining the Turtles, Chip Douglas had toured as a member of Gene Clark‘s backing group, and one of the numbers they played was “You Showed Me”, an unreleased song Clark and Roger McGuinn had written for The Byrds. Douglas tried playing it for The Turtles on a harmonium with a broken bellows, and had to slow the tempo right down, thereby accidentally creating the basis for The Turtles’ arrangement, which became the first available recording of the song (and I suppose likely prompted the 1969 release of The Byrds’ early demos, including “You Showed Me”, as the album Preflyte).
A less famous but ultimately quite profitable track is this one-and-a-half minute throwaway:
And yes, the title is “Chief” even though the lyric says “King”. This one had to wait for the sampling revolution before it came into its own, but since the mid-80s its drums have been sampled on a lot of records… such as these:
Shall we have one more? This is The Turtles’ bluegrass parody. The song first appeared as the B-side to the 1967 single “She’s My Girl” (top twenty in the States, but did nothing in the UK), before being heavily reworked and twanged-up for Battle of the Bands:
I don’t update this blog very often anymore, but in case you’ve surfed in from the link on The New Vinyl Villain today, I’ve hastily thrown together some bonus Pizzicato Five stuff that was in the running for the Imaginary Compilation Album but didn’t make it for one reason or another.
This is one of the P5 songs that’s turned up as background music for TV and film, and might therefore elicit a vague sense of recognition. I considered throwing it in for that reason, but ultimately decided to avoid anything that appeared in the same form on “Made In USA”, so it was disqualified on those grounds.
I flip-flopped for a long time over whether to use this or the standard version of “Triste” on the ICA. I think the standard version is the right choice, but you might still like to hear this one.
A bright, catchy tune but in the end a bit too similar in style to “Happy Sad”.
This “big beat”-ish instrumental mix of “Playboy Playgirl” nearly replaced “Darlin’ Of Discotheque” in the “overly long instrumental” slot, but simply wasn’t overly long enough.
And if you like “The Night Is Still Young”, there’s also a previous post here that features thirteen versions of it.
Sharing thirteen versions of this song, is definitely overkill. I had planned to share a three-track single and then got carried away and started gathering all the versions I have. I will highlight my favourites as we go along…
The song in question is “Tokyo Wa Yoru No Shichiji” (literally “7pm in Tokyo”, but known in English as “The Night Is Still Young”), a 1993 single which was the first major release by Japanese alt-dance oddments Pizzicato Five after they’d slimmed down to a duo of Maki Nomiya and Yasuharu Konishi. It’s one of their straighter club dance tracks, rather than one of their quirky “modern retro” things like “Twiggy Twiggy” or “Baby Love Child”. At this stage they were still unknown in the West but the single would eventually appear on Matador’s second P5 compilation, The Sound Of Music, where I first heard it. The original version is still a favourite…
Link: Pizzicato Five – The Night Is Still Young (single version) – recommended pick!
The original single also featured an instrumental version (which I don’t have) and this mellower remix by Yukihiro Fukutomi:
Then in 1994, they revisited it in two very different versions. On the EP “A Television’s Workshop”, they did it in a more disco arrangement with rhythm guitar and strings. Nice! I suspect that if P5 themselves had to choose a definitive version, this might be the one. Probably the most immediately likeable version as well.
Link: Pizzicato Five – The Night Is Still Young (MFSB Readymade Mix) – recommended pick!
The other 1994 version was this remix (by Fukutomi again) which appeared on their album Overdose:
In 1995, during a promotional tour for The Sound Of Music, the duo did this live acoustic version for KCRW Los Angeles.
Link: Pizzicato Five – The Night Is Still Young (KCRW acoustic session) – recommended pick!
And when P5 finally split in 2001, their farewell compilation Pizzicato Five RIP (on their Japanese label Nippon Columbia, not Matador) featured yet another remix.
Since the split, both halves of the duo have revisited the song solo. Yasuharu was first, producing this 2006 version for his protege Karia Nomoto, aka Karly. “The First Cut” is the album version (the album being Dance Music, which I will share at some point), and is somewhere between the original and the Readymade MFSB arrangements:
Maki Nomiya waited a bit longer, and then put versions of “The Night Is Still Young” on four consecutive albums! The deluge started in 2012 when she marked 30 years in the business we call show by recording an album of “self covers”, including this:
I’m not sure that really adds anything to the previous versions. However, Nomiya’s more recent takes on the song, actually do something different with it. First is the swing arrangement on her 2014 live album Miss Maki Nomiya Sings Shibuya-kei Standards:
Link: Maki Nomiya – The Night Is Still Young (live) – recommended pick!
…which she also did a studio recording of for her 2015 album What The World Needs Now Is Love.
And her most recent re-invention of the song is this distinctively Japanese “bon odori” version, tacked on as a bonus track to her 2016 album Un Homme Et Une Femme. It’s a little bit cheesy, but an interesting twist all the same.