Friday, August 15, 2008

The Turtles -- "Happy Together" (1967)

Can this be one of the most perfect pop songs ever written, performed and arranged? I'm thinking it's got to be in my top 10.

The Turtles, formerly the surf band the Crossfires, had a string of "sunshine pop" hits in the mid-60's that make it well worth your while to buy their greatest hits album. Many of their songs were highly slick, west coast groovy, semi-bubblegum tunes -- almost all of them not written by the band, but an artillery of LA's top songwriters. In many ways, they were a musical precursor to the wonderful Grass Roots.

The Turtles, besides the rather un-threatening goofy name, were the home of the infamous Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, better known later as dubbed by Frank Zappa as "the Phlorescent Leach and Eddie" when they joined his Mothers of Invention, and later just shortened to "Flo and Eddie." As you'll see in the videos below, Kaylan was the good looking lead singer, practically standing in for rock and roll's first bar mitzvah boy. His good friend Volman was his comic foil, a heavyset goofball with a kinky hair and nerdy glasses, always looking to make trouble or crack him up mid-song.

The verses of "Happy Together" were based on one of music's perennial chord patterns, the descending from the E minor, to the D, to the C, to the B major (ironically, the same blueprint for The Grass Roots' "I'd Wait A Million Years" verses -- if it ain't broke, don't fix it!). The lyrics are very much like a nursery rhyme, and that is why I feel it is so instantly familiar to any living breathing human being with its cadences and rhymes:

Imagine me and you, I do
I think about you day and night
It's only right
To think about the girl you love
And hold her tight
So happy together.

If I should call you up
Invest a dime
And you say you belong to me
And ease my mind
Imagine how the world could be
So very fine
So happy together.

And then later...

Me and you
And you and me
No matter how they tossed the dice
It had to be
The only one for me is you
And you for me
So happy together.

What brings it to a whole other level is the chorus, where it shifts into E major, straight electric guitar chords on the eighth beats, lots of horn and layered vocals ("pa-paa!"), like a blissful explosion of love, flower power and euphoria.

I can't see me loving nobody but you
For all my life
When you're with me
Baby the skies will be blue
For all my life.

This is akin to when Frankie Valli revs to the next gear on the second part of "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" when he belts out: "I-I love you baby, and if it's quite all right, I need you baby, until the morning light...." You are forced, literally forced to sing along, perhaps loudly, maybe even in a public setting and hypnotically forgetting any embarrassment.

For crying out loud, this is the song that knocked one of my very favorite Beatles songs, "Penny Lane," out of the #1 spot! I remember being at some Queens, NY day camp in the summer of '67, picking up dodgeball throwing tips from some kid named Barry (a two-handed grip on two sides of the ball, making an aggressive circular wind-up and then letting it loose at some poor kid's stomach), and "Happy Together" was rotating constantly on the AM radio. You just could not get it out of your head and everybody sang along to those nursery rhyme lyrics.

Let's just stop and honor these anonymous songwriters of "Happy Together," who never quite became as famous as Lennon and McCartney, or Bacharach and David, but who had the amazing skill to write these classic unforgettable pop songs. "Happy Together" was written by Gary Bonner and Alan Gordon, who also collaborated on Three Dog Night's "Celebrate."

Below, a fun home-movie-type promo video shot in '67 for "Happy Together," followed by their semi-live performance on "The Ed Sullivan Show."

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