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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VOLMAN: Their history in the music business was about making as much money as they could, in as quick a time as they could. But we wanted to be respected for making records that had something to them, substance, and lyrical content.

KAYLAN: While we were in Chicago at a hotel there, we took out the entire first floor, we had two limos waiting downstairs 24 hours a day, a grand piano in the living room, we were living large – too large, in fact – but this was the lifestyle that we wanted, because we still wanted to be the damn Beatles, and we weren’t yet. The record company kept yelling for another “Happy Together”, “Happy Together”, “Happy Together”… So I just got pissed, and I locked myself in my room, and I constructed a song for them that would be so mundane, so teenage, so trite, that they wouldn’t accept it under any terms, and they would leave us alone. So every time the chords in “Happy Together” went down, my chord pattern went up, and every time the melody of that song took a change, mine did the same thing; and I reconstructed “Happy Together” with the most teenaged, sappy, saccharine lyrics that I possibly could muster. And I made a little demo of it, and I played it for the band, and I said, “I gotta send this to White Whale, because these guys are losers, and they’re gonna see when I send this to ’em how stupid they have been.” And our bass player, Chip Douglas, said, “What are you talking about? This is a great, great song. We’ve gotta learn it right now.” So, as he did with “Happy Together”, he began to arrange “Elenore”. We sent our little demo off to the record company and they said, “Oh my God, we’ve got a hit”, and they flew us back to LA, and we recorded it, and damn if they weren’t right. I don’t think they ever got the joke, I don’t they ever understood that “You’re my pride and joy, etcetera” and “Your folks hate me”, things like that, were aimed directly at them to point out their stupidity. But it didn’t work, and to this day, there are people out there that don’t get it, that really think it’s a love song, and just think that it’s cute. So who am I to disappoint them?

VOLMAN: Our next album, Battle Of The Bands, was really a fun record to make, because the concept totally freed us up to do a lot of things that we felt capable of doing. It wasn’t so much a hit record as an album, but it demonstrated the problem a lot of bands at that time were having, which was the transition between the two-minute-and-thirty-second single, and the album marketplace. We were one of those groups that was sort of relegated to the singles marketplace. “Elenore” was an enormous hit record for us, and was our way of satisfying what the record company wanted and needed, but also, without knowing it, it fit very comfortably within the context of our satire of Battle Of The Bands.


BARBATA: I’ve had so many people say to me over the years, “Oh, we used ‘Happy Together’ for our wedding song!” “So happy together…”

VOLMAN: The Turtles get bigger almost every year that we take it out on the road – our last show was in front of over 5,000 people at the Orange County Fair.

KAYLAN: Of course, we close our show today with “Happy Together”, and because we’re on this incredible tour with many other acts, everybody comes out at the end of the concert and we all sing everybody else’s hits together, “Happy Together” of course being the last one. So I’m still having fun out here. We always said, from high school on, that we’ll continue to do it until it gets to be a bummer. It’s not a bummer yet.



Written by: Garry Bonner, Alan Gordon
Produced by: Joe Wissert
Recorded at: Sunset Sound, Hollywood, California
Personnel: Howard Kaylan (lead vocals, keyboards), Mark Volman (vocals), Al Nichol (lead guitar, keyboards, backing vocals), Jim Tucker (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Chip Douglas (bass, arrangement, backing vocals), Johny Barbata (drums)
Released: February 14, 1967
Peak chart position: UK 12; US 1




The Turtles score three big hits – “It Ain’t Me Babe”, “Let Me Be” and “You Baby”

Three more singles chart badly, and the group search around for a strong enough song to record

February 14, 1967
“Happy Together” is released, and on March 25 knocks The Beatles’ “Penny Lane” off the No 1 spot, where it sits for three weeks

September 1968
“Elenore”, effectively a parody of “Happy Together”, reaches No 6 in the US and No 7 in the UK

The June 2019 issue of Uncut is on sale from April 18, and available to order online now – with Pink Floyd on the cover. The issue comes with a unique 15-track CD curated for Uncut by The National, who also speak exclusively to us inside the issue. Elsewhere, you’ll find Scott Walker, Bob Dylan, Primal Scream, JJ Cale, Cate Le Bon, Peter Perrett, Aretha Franklin, Mac DeMarco, Dinosaur Jr, Dylan Carson, Africa Express and much more.



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