technology and teevee, 2011 edition
what i watched last week

music friday: the turtles, “elenore”

The core of The Turtles consisted of vocalists Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, who knew each other in high school. The band had their first hit with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe,” which made #8 in 1965, when the two singers were only 18 years old:

Over the next year and a half, they released several singles and an album, never getting higher than #20 on the charts. In early 1967, though, a few months before the Summer of Love, they came up with their most popular song, written by Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon, the transcendental pop tune, “Happy Together”:

That video offers a hint of what Kaylan and Volman thought of their huge hit … it’s goofy in a Beatles/Monkees kind of way, as if the song in the background isn’t actually one of the finest pieces of pop music ever recorded. (Perhaps appropriately, when it hit #1, it replaced “Penny Lane.”)

They went back to Bonner and Gordon for their next single, “She’d Rather Be With Me,” which made it to #3.

The record company wanted more of the same, but Kaylan, Volman and the rest of The Turtles wanted to expand their horizons. Yes, their harmonies were angelic, and yes, their hits were pop classics, but it was the 60s, man! Kaylan told the story of what happened next on the liner notes to a later anthology. For once, the band wrote their own song, a parody of “Happy Together” that they were certain was so stupid, the record company would see the light and let the band try something new for a change.

The lyrics were bizarre, most notably in the chorus, which featured the only use of the term “et cetera” as a rhyme in recorded history:

Elenore, gee I think you're swell
And you really do me well
You're my pride and joy, et cetera
Elenore, can I take the time
To ask you to speak your mind
Tell me that you love me better

The musical accompaniment has its own quirks, with an early appearance by a MOOG synthesizer at the beginning of the second verse.

The band must have been pretty proud of their little prank. There was only one problem. Kaylan and Volman were pretty much incapable of making a bad pop song. The soaring vocals of the chorus help make “Elenore” the equal, if not the better, of “Happy Together.” The silliness of the lyrics actually works when you sing along … there is something positively liberating about singing “You’re my pride and joy, et cetera” at the top of your lungs. It’s an accidental gorgeous pop moment, and it made #6 on the charts. The Turtles never charted higher again the rest of their career. They were 21 years old.

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