The Turtles on ‘Happy Together’: “Everybody needs a big hit”

Mark Volman, Howard Kaylan and co recall the creation of their enduring classic

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Originally published in Uncut’s Take 233 issue

“We wanted it,” says Howard Kaylan of The Turtles’ drive for success. “We really wanted it. We were a singles band. And we enjoyed it, because there was nothing better than watching our records go up the singles chart!”

The Turtles’ search for stardom began when Kaylan and co-vocalist Mark Volman formed surf group The Crossfires at high school in Los Angeles, in the early ’60s. After trying out R’n’B, the pair heard The Beatles and swapped their saxophones for microphones. “All of a sudden the girls got closer to the stage, and people weren’t dancing so much as listening.”

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Reluctantly christened The Turtles, the band were passed off as part of the British Invasion. “For the first six months of our career, we spoke in English accents,” remembers Kaylan, “we asked for white tea and finger sandwiches. But we were living it.”

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When they heard The Byrds, they moved into folk-rock and scored a Top 10 hit with Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” in 1965, before hearing The Lovin’ Spoonful and heading in search of the purest sunshine pop. They found it in late 1966, when they heard a worn acetate of a song called “Happy Together”, which had been passed over by countless groups.

“You could immediately hear that it was a good song, though,” says Mark Volman. “It was just two guys sitting in a room, with a guitar, yet the song was intact.”

“Happy Together” knocked “Penny Lane” off the top of the US charts in March 1967, apparently angering John Lennon. Although The Turtles would score other hits, including sarcastic answer song “Elenore”, and Volman and Kaylan would go on to work with Frank Zappa and Marc Bolan as Flo & Eddie, “Happy Together” remains their best-loved song.

“I went back to college in the ’90s,” says Volman, “and when I graduated, I gave the valedictorian speech and the student body actually stood up and sang ‘Happy Together’.”

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