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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HOWARD KAYLAN (lead vocals, keyboards): Everybody needs a big hit. If you’re gonna be in a rock’n’roll band, even if you’re successful, your average lifespan is 18 months. So when “It Ain’t Me Babe” hit, and we were just six months out of high school, that was the biggest shock of our career. We played that night with a sign behind us saying ‘Farewell The Crossfires’. And the next week we were back there in the club with a sign saying, ‘Welcome The Turtles’, and we played the same damn set. Except we had on green shirts.

MARK VOLMAN (vocals): We were quickly very popular in America as a touring band, but that touring commitment didn’t give us the time to spend writing and producing records the way that we would’ve wanted to.

KAYLAN: We weren’t a band that wrote our own songs. We weren’t a band that sold albums. It was a challenge to find material that was good enough to record.


JOHNY BARBATA (drums): Before I joined, The Turtles had their first three hits, “It Ain’t Me Babe”, then “You Baby” and “Let Me Be”, but then the others after weren’t that big.

VOLMAN: In 1966 we released three records that did not get into the Top 10, so that next record was really an important record for us.

KAYLAN: We went through stacks and stacks and stacks of records to find the next one to record, to bring us into that good-time arena.

VOLMAN: “Happy Together” came to us as an acetate. Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon had a group, and they actually had recorded under the name The Magicians. We played with them in Long Island, and they asked us if they could send us some material. “Happy Together” was one of the songs that they sent.

BARBATA: That was the first time we heard it. It was pretty basic, but you could tell by the melody line it was gonna be strong.

VOLMAN: We did “Happy Together” with slight trepidation, because it had been turned down by three other groups, American pop singing bands like The Vogues and The Happenings.


KAYLAN: They didn’t hear it, they didn’t understand it, but we heard it and went, “Oh my God, this is gonna change everything.” So we took it on the road with us for about eight months and we worked on those arrangements, and where the horns were gonna go, and every little detail, so that when we finally got our two weeks at home in between tours, and went into the studio, we knew what we were gonna do. The first time we heard it on tape, even before all the orchestration had been added, everybody was like, “Oh my God, this is a No 1 record.” I’ve never had that feeling before or since, but we all knew it then.


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