Saturday, February 26, 2011

February 26: The Turtles, "Happy Together"

Artist: The Turtles
Song: "Happy Together"
Album: Happy Together
Year: 1967

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Though it is often used in a negative, if not demeaning manner, one cannot write-off the idea of "bubblegum pop," as it has fueled the music industry for nearly its entire existence.  Furthermore, there are some of the most amazing songs in music history hidden underneath this classification, and if one closely inspects the style, there is far more diversity therein than one might think.  This was especially true throughout the 1960's, when a wide variety of sounds found there way into the so-called "bubblegum sound," and if can even be argued that it was within this radio-friendly approach that the psychedelic movement was first born.  Though many simply followed the format of "hit" songs, it was the bands that were able to blend new and old styles, whilst retaining the pop appeal, that remain among the greatest songs in history, and the bands in turn have become icons of music.  While there were a number of groups that helped music to progress via the "bubblegum sound," few did so in as impressive and timeless a manner as one finds in the music of The Turtles.  Even the name of the band alone brings to mind their sound, and it is this fact alone that proves their massive impact on the entire world of music.  Though the group went through a number of lineup changes, it was 1967 that found them at their musical peak, and it was this combination of musicians that yielded one of the greatest moments in music history: The Turtles 1967 classic single, "Happy Together."

While at first listen, the song may seem little more than an unassuming pop song, once one delves deeper into the music, there is far more to be found.  Taking the entire construct as a whole, there are so many different genres being blended together throughout "Happy Together," that it is easy to miss the innovations being forged.  The way in which The Turtles take a base of folk music, yet give it a more rock-style edge and mood is the most obvious difference, and the manner with which the chorus sections seem to soar away from the rest of the song is where "Happy Together" truly becomes an unforgettable moment in music history.  Though they are somewhat buried in the mix, the band finds a way to add in a horn section, and there is no question that it becomes one of the most essential aspects of the song, and this is another element that was simply not being used in such a manner within the arena of "bubblegum pop."  The way in which the clarinet seems to dance across the songs' final verse proves to be nothing short of musical genius, and the sound it creates in contrast to the guitars gives "Happy Together" a personality that has never been even remotely matched.  Yet even with all of these amazing sounds filling the song, it is drummer John Barbata that is clearly the key.  His almost military-style rhythm keeps the song in order, and it also lends a unique bounce, adding the final touch to one of the most unmistakably perfect songs ever recorded.

Much in the same manner as the music, the vocal work on "Happy Together" brings in a number of different influences, and while most are caught up in the lyrics, the singing itself is some of the finest in history.  Though many rightfully point to The Beach Boys as providing the greatest vocal harmonies ever recorded, one cannot overlook just how amazing the sound of The Turtles becomes on the bridge and chorus sections of the song, and it is this part of the song that pushes "Happy Together" far beyond the traditional composition of any genre.  Yet it is also the way in which the voice of Howard Kaylan provides such a stark contrast within the verses that makes the shared harmonies sound even more impressive, though there is also much to be said for Kaylan's solo work on the song.  While the song implies an almost forced sense of happiness, one cannot deny the seemingly dejected, almost desperate sound in Kaylan's voice, and this is where the true nature of "Happy Together" becomes clear.  Though many assume the song is one of "true love," after taking a closer look, the song is more accurately about someone trying to convince another that they WILL be happy with one another; implying that at the time of the song, the relationship is not going all that smoothly.  When one takes this reality into account, the first verse of the song reads in a completely different manner, and yet even with this new understanding of the song, the vocals still manage to press the idea that "all is well."

In the forty-plus years since "Happy Together" was first released, one would be hard pressed to find another song that has been covered more often or by as wide a range of artists.  Everyone from Flobots to Donny Osmond to The Leningrad Cowboys have put their touch on the song, and sampled pieces of "Happy Together" also appear all over hip-hop music, as well as in many of the computer-based pop songs of the past two decades.  Taking all of this into account, it is understandable that after the song knocked The Beatles out of the top spot on the charts in 1967, it has gone on to more than six million plays on radio, giving it one of the top spots in the "most played" radio songs of all time.  Even with all of this in mind, one simply cannot write the song off as just another "bubblegum pop" hit, as the songs' continued legendary status makes it far more than that, as well as the massive amount of sonic mastery that can be found within the music itself.  The way in which The Turtles blended together folk, country, and early psychedelia into a pop format places them into a group with very few other performers, and there is no arguing that the harmonies found on "Happy Together" rank among the greatest of all time.  Furthermore, the fact that within the first few notes, nearly anyone can identify the song, is a testament to just how timeless a work of art the band created, and all of this together solidifies the case for The Turtles 1967 single, "Happy Together," reigning as one of the greatest songs ever recorded.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Brilliant piece about the most essential pop sing ever recorded. Pure genius