Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Turtles - Shell Shock

The Turtles – Shell Shock
(soniclovenoize reconstruction)

Side A:
1.  Goodbye Surprise
2.  Like It or Not
3.  There You Sit Lonely
4.  We Ain’t Gonna Party No More
5.  Lady-O

Side B:
6.  Gas Money
7.  Can I Go On
8.  You Want To Be A Woman
9.  If We Only Had The Time
10.  Who Would Ever Think That I Would Marry Margaret
11.  Teardrops

This is a reconstruction of what was intended to be The Turtles final album Shell Shock.  Produced by Jerry Yester for a 1970 release, the band envisioned Shell Shock as their masterpiece and career coda but it remained unfinished due to extreme meddling from their record label.  White Whale Records went back on their word to fund the album and entrapped frontmen Flo and Eddie to bend to their corporate wishes.  After dissolving the band, White Whale trickled out the Shell Shock material, in various forms of completeness, on various compilation releases until the label themselves dissolved as well.  This reconstruction attempts to cull all the material originally recorded and meant to be a part of the Shell Shock project into a finished, cohesive album, utilizing the best possible masters of each track. 

An extreme example of the commercial world destroying the artistic, quite simply: The Turtles are martyrs.  Locked into a record contract so rigid that frontmen Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman were not even allowed to use their actual names after the break-up of The Turtles, much of their career in the 60s were spent fighting the industry that restrained them.  Miraculously, many of their successes were embodiments of this—most notably their hit song “Elenore”, a sarcastic response to their label’s request to write an assembly-line pop hit in the fashion of their signature hit “Happy Together”.  That friction climaxed in 1969 as the band began winding down after years of biting the hands that barely fed them as well as the commercial let-down of their previous album, the Ray Davies-produced Turtle Soup. 

In an attempt for a final bravado, the quintet assembled at Sunset Sound studios in late 1969 and began recording their usual mix of originals and outside-written tracks.  Produced by Jerry Yester, the band again sought to record another intelligent and musically diverse album as Turtle Soup, this time a bit more commercial.  Songs known to have been recorded during these sessions include: original songs “Can I Go On”, “If We Only Had The Time”, “There You Sit Lonely”, “We Ain’t Gonna Party No More” and guitarist Al Nichol’s “You Want To Be A Woman”; the Bonner/Gordon leftovers “Goodbye Surprise” and “Like It Or Not”; an authentic cover of Jan & Arnie’s “Gas Money”; and a cover of the band's live staple, Lee Andrews & The Hearts’ “Teardrops”.  But midway through the sessions, White Whale wished The Turtles to have a hit single, and suggested that Kaylan and Volman fly to Memphis and record vocal overdubs on a pre-recorded backing track for the ridiculously corny song “Who Would Ever Thought That I Would Marry Margaret”, penned by professional songwriters Dino and Sembello.  Kaylan and Volman refused, claiming this transgression would reduce their rock band into transparent pop idols.  In retaliation for their refusal to turn their band into a pair of fake pop singers, White Whale chained the doors to their studio at Sunset Sound and even posted guards outside the door, not allowing The Turtles to even retrieve their own gear, let alone finish the album!

In a desperate attempt to save the Shell Shock recordings and the hope to somehow finish the album, Kaylan and Volman agreed to record “Margaret”, although they refused to add anything other than their necessary lead and backing vocals.  This ‘unfinished’ mix was released to dismal critical and commercial attention—just as the pair had predicted—and the single was a flop.  Despite Kaylan and Volman’s participation, White Whale still refused to let The Turtles finish Shell Shock and both parties sued each other: White Whale sued The Turtles for a breach of contract and The Turtles sued White Whale for a missing $2,500,000 that was owed to them. The band soon called it quits amidst litigation.  In one final plea to salvage the band’s reputation, White Whale allowed Kaylan, Volman and Nichol to record vocals for a final Turtles single, the beautiful “Lady-O”.  Written and performed acoustically by Judee Sill, it was a gentle goodbye to the band. 

Shell Shock remained in the vaults and as Kaylan and Volman regrouped as Flo and Eddie and were absorbed into Frank Zappa’s reformed Mothers of Invention, White Whale continued to exploit The Turtles name, the label’s only charting act.  After re-releasing some of their mid-60s singles, White Whale released the more completed Shell Shock material on the compilation More Golden Hits in 1970.  But time would prove the protagonists as victors, as White Whale went bankrupt and their assets auctioned off in 1974.  Who was it that bought The Turtles back-catalog?  Two gentlemen by the name of Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan!

As “Happy Together” proved to be a timeless classic, the legacy of The Turtles seemed profitable enough for re-releases, this time controlled by the actual founders of The Turtles.  Notable from this first reissue campaign on Rhino Records was an official reconstruction of Shell Shock released in 1987, attempting to match what the band might have released in 1970 had the album been finished!  Unfortunately, Flo and Eddie’s own official Shell Shock reconstruction is long out-of-print and is not even mentioned in the band’s own online discography.  Luckily for us, all of the songs trickled out as bonus tracks on The Turtles reissues on the Repertoire and Sundazed labels in the 90s.  The most recent—which features the most superior mastering—is the anthology Solid Zinc, although the left and right channels are mysteriously swapped.   Even though the band’s own take on Shell Shock is long forgotten, we have no trouble replicating it… or rather, making our own take on it, an album that never was!

My reconstruction of Shell Shock begins similarly to The Turtles own out-of-print reconstruction from 1987, with the bombastic rocker “Goodbye Surprise”.  We are using the master from Solid Zinc but with the channels swapped to be correct.  Following is “Like it Or Not” taken from the compilation Let Me Be: 30 Years of Rock n Roll.  “There You Sit Lonely” and “We Ain’t Gonna Party No More” follow, with Side A concluding with the uplifting “Lady-O”, all taken from Solid Zinc but with the channels swapped.  Unlike the band’s official reconstruction, I am excluding “Cat In The Window”.  While apparently produced by Jerry Yester—suggesting it indeed dates from the Shell Shock sessions—the track sounds unfinished and more reminiscent of an outtake from their first album.  Without more information, the song is dropped to make a more concise album. 

Side B deviates a bit from the band’s own reconstruction, as my version opens with the ruckus of “Gas Money”, currently a bonus track from Flo & Eddie's self-released reissue of It Ain’t Me Babe.  Following is “Can I Go On” also from the Let Me Be compilation.  Another deviation from the official Shell Shock is my exclusion of “Dance This Dance”, a track rendered redundant because of the superior version found on the previous album Turtle Soup, as well as the fact that it didn’t even date from the Yester Sessions.  Instead is “You Want To Be a Woman” from the Repertoire reissue of Wooden Head, and then “If We Only Had The Time” from the Repertoire reissue of Turtle Soup.  While many feel that the atrocious “Who Would Ever Think That I Would Marry Margaret” was never truly intended to be on the album, I propose it probably would have been White Whale's condition for the album's release and it is included here as a historical curiosity at the very least.  Note that I am using the extremely rare stereo mix, only released once in 1970 on More Golden Hits; every other release is the mono mix at an incorrect speed  My reconstruction ends with “Teardrops”, taken from the Repertoire You Baby reissue.  

Sources used:
It Ain’t Me Babe (2012 Amazon KYDC on-demand CD)
Let Me Be:  30 Years of Rock ‘n Roll (1995 Laserlight CD)
More Golden Hits (1970 White Whale personal vinyl rip)
Solid Zinc (2002 Rhino CD)
Turtle Soup (Repertoire 1998 CD)
Wooden Head (Repertoire 1992 CD)
You Baby (Repertoire 1993 CD)

flac --> wav --> editing in SONAR, Audacity and Goldwave --> flac encoding via TLH lv8
* md5 files, track notes and artwork included