‘I still don’t regret it’: The Turtles were determined to help launch Warren Zevon’s career

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The Turtles, already huge fans of a young Warren Zevon, put their version of one of his earliest songs on the B-side of what they thought was a sure-fire hit — hoping to help him break into the music business.

“He was so brilliant, so talented, such a nice guy,” the Turtles’ Howard Kaylan tells Media Funhouse, “that we sort of took him under our wing.”

The gambit failed miserably. “That record [1966’s a-side ‘Can I Get to Know You Better?’] stalled,” Kaylan adds, “and we thought — not so much for ourselves, but for him: ‘Aw, what a bummer.’ We felt so badly that we put the same song [called ‘Like the Seasons’] on the b-side of ‘Happy Together.'”

Yes, the Turtles actually released their version of the same Zevon demo twice. And, as the fates would have it, “Happy Together” went on to become the group’s signature hit, replacing the Beatles’ “Penny Lane” at the top of the charts in early 1967.

“What we did was give away hundreds of thousands of dollars in mechanical royalties for every fucking 45 sold of ‘Happy Together,'” Kaylan says, laughing. “Where we could have made writers and publishing money, we gave it to Warren and the crooks at the label who owned his publishing! I’m glad the Warren got rich off of it, or rich enough at least to hold out until he signed the record deal that made him a wealthy man until the end. I still don’t regret it, even thought I threw away thousands and thousands of dollars — because, in Warren’s case, with him … I enjoyed every sandwich.”

Zevon, who died of cancer in 2003, also wrote the earlier Turtles’ b-side “Outside Chance” before going on to his own fame. Kaylan would later work with the Mothers and with Flo and Eddie — the last of which also featured Turtles bandmade Mark Volman.

Kaylan’s new autobiography, called Shell Shocked, is out now via Backbeat Books.

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