When The Turtles recorded "Happy Together," in 1967 it looked like it might be the group's last hurrah.
At the time, The Turtles had achieved a measure of popularity with a cover of Bob Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe." The single, released in 1965, right around the time the Byrds were also having success with their chiming pop versions of Dylan songs, became a Top 10 hit for The Turtles and pulled the group members out of high school and into the world of being a touring act.
But the singles that followed failed to build on the success of "It Ain't Me Babe."
"The Turtles were really struggling," singer Mark Volman recalled in a phone interview. "We had put out 'Can I Get To Know You Better,' 'Outside Chance,' 'Grim Reaper of Love,' and we had no luck cracking the Top 50. These records were in [spots] 64, 71 – none of them could get into the Top 50. So when 'Happy Together' came, what was the problem? Let's just make the record. If it does well, [great]. It can't be any worse than what we had just been going through. We were going through such a down time in our career that, if 'Happy Together' had not done well, we probably would have been out of a record deal."
"Happy Together" didn't necessarily have the pedigree of a song destined for success. It had been turned down by numerous other music acts before it got to The Turtles. Even with its sunny, vocally and instrumentally rich arrangement by band member Chip Douglas, Volman said no one was betting the ranch on the song.
"I'm not sure any of us had any idea it would end up doing what it did," he said. "I think we were as nervous about recording it as we were excited about recording it."
Obviously, "Happy Together" did well. It became the Turtles' signature hit. The song also serves as the title for a package tour Volman, 67, and his musical partner since the days of the Turtles, Howard Kaylan, are headlining this summer for the sixth straight year.
This year, The Turtles are joined by the Association, Mark Lindsay (of Paul Revere & the Raiders fame), the Grass Roots, the Buckinghams and the Cowsills. It represents a return to the 1960s pop roots of the Happy Together tour after Vollman and Kaylan had injected a bit of AM early '70s rock dimension into the 2013 and 2014 lineups, booking Chuck Negron of Three Dog Night for 2013 and Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad last summer.
"The first three years were really [mid-'60s] acts like the Association and the Grass Roots and Mark Lindsay (of Paul Revere and the Raiders)," Volman said. In 2013, "we kind of took an opportunity to plug in Chuck Negron, which brings us a little later, '68, '69, moving into '70, '71 and '72. And Mark (Farner), too, Mark has got that same thing. He had a few hits [in the '70s] ... It really was of interest of us to see how far we could kind of lean a little bit more rock."
What hasn't changed is the hit-laden approach to the entire evening.
"Ultimately the goal was to play nothing but hit songs," Volman said. "This is not a tour where you're going to come and hear new material or tracks from albums or B-sides. This is going to be a half-hour of number one and Top 10 records from every artist."
The Turtles ended up having enough hits to fill more than a half hour. After the breakthrough of "Happy Together," the group dented the upper reaches of the charts with "She'd Rather Be with Me," "Elenore" and "You Showed Me."
The group also got more ambitious musically as time went on. Its fourth album The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands was a concept record in which the Turtles assumed the identities of 12 different bands, each with a different style of music and wrote and recorded one song for each of the groups in that particular style.
The album, to say the least, was a risk in the singles-driven era of the '60s, but The Battle of the Bands was a success, turning out a pair of hit singles in the aforementioned "Elenore" and "You Showed Me."
Before long, though, issues with managers and the group's record label, White Whale Records – among other things – pulled the group apart in 1970.
If the Volman/Kaylan story had ended with The Turtles, they would still be a big part of the overall story of pre-Woodstock 1960s pop.
Instead, the duo has gone on to enjoy a multifaceted music career that took them into several different areas of the music business.
Soon after The Turtles ended, Volman and Kaylan were recruited by Frank Zappa to join his Mothers of Invention. The duo gained a special place within the Zappa shows, taking on the characters of the comedy/musical duo Flo (Volman) and Eddie (Kaylan). Zappa was interested in Volman and Kaylan because of the Battle of the Bands album.
"Frank had heard that and really liked the tongue-in-cheek [character of the album]," Volman said. "He just really thought the image of the album and the dressing up as all of the bands and everything we were doing, that was what captivated what he thought of our band. So when we were available to come and sing, it was not a big risk. It was something that Frank knew how to take our humor and utilize that."
Flo & Eddie remained an integral part of Zappa's music through 1972, singing on such key Zappa albums as Live at the Fillmore and Chunga's Revenge, and appearing in his movie 200 Motels. Volman and Kaylan were also in the group when Zappa and the Mothers played its famous concert at a casino in Montreaux Switzerland, during which a fire broke out and leveled the facility. That show was immortalized in the Deep Purple hit "Smoke on the Water."
After the members of the early 1970s Mothers went their separate ways, Volman and Kaylan launched Flo & Eddie as a duo act. They released seven albums that achieved modest success, while doing multiple tours. They continue to bill themselves as Flo & Eddie of the Turtles, even for the Happy Together tours.
In addition to keeping Flo & Eddie active as a recording and touring act through the late 1970s, Volman and Kaylan's vocal work and connections with other music acts also helped open the door to a busy career as background singers in recording sessions.
The duo appears on dozens of notable albums and songs by artists ranging from Alice Cooper to T. Rex (the duo sang and contributed to songwriting on the classic albums by that group led by Marc Bolan) to Bruce Springsteen (that's Volman and Kaylan doing some of the background vocals on the Boss' breakthrough hit, "Hungry Heart").
In more recent years, Volman and Kaylan have ventured into writing kids' music (including tracks for Strawberry Shortcake movies and The Care Bears TV series) while maintaining a steady schedule of headlining concerts to go along with the Happy Together tour, which now looks to be established as an annual outing.
"That was the hope," Volman said. "When we initially set out to do this at all, that was the hope that we would have it so that people would come out no matter who was doing the tour, so they would know that it was going to be a great show no matter who was plugged into the slots."