The Turtles – Present the Battle of the Bands (1968): Forgotten Series

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If any band was qualified to record a stylistically diverse album, it was the Turtles.

Starting life in the early ’60s as the Nightriders, the Los Angeles band specialized in instrumentals before changing their moniker to the Crossfires and switching to surf rock. Spool the tape forward to 1965, and the band – now called the Turtles – were central figures in the explosive folk-rock movement, having scored hits with ace covers of Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” and P.F. Sloan’s “Let Me Be.”

Although the Turtles subsequently tinkered with psychedelia and select album tracks rested on the experimental end of the stick, their main claim to fame arrived in the tone of pure pop songs like “You Baby,” “Happy Together” and “She’d Rather Be With Me.” The Turtles may not have been innovators, yet they were mighty keen interpreters: They possessed great timing and could really sing up a storm, leading the Turtles to become one of the finest bands of the era.

Created as a parody of the mishmash of sounds flooding the scene during the late ’60s, Present the Battle of the Bands” (White Whale Records) not only highlighted the band’s fun factor, but proved how effortlessly adept they were at tackling a wide spectrum of genres. Comprised of a dozen cuts, each entry features a bogus band name, performing a different stripe of music.

From the Bigg Brothers, there’s “Food,” a curious collage of jazz and a capella samplings that recites a brownie recipe spiked with pot, where the Cross Fires hang 10 to the gospel of the Beach Boys on “Surfer Dan,” and the Atomic Enchilada’s “The Last Thing I Remember” keys in as a sleepy-eyed slice of paisley-wrapped whimsy.

Awash with tribal rhythms and kooky chanting, “I’m Chief Kamanawanalea (We’re the Royal Macadamia Nuts)” by Kamanawanalea and His Royal Macadamia Nuts could pass as a proto-rap piece, and the Fabulous Dawgs step forth with “Buzzsaw,” a compelling instrumental sculpted of smoldering soul grooves and wheezing fuzz guitars.

Armed with a banjo and power a plenty, Fat Mallard and the Bluegrass Fireball slap together bluegrass aspirations with acid rock vigor on “Chicken Little Was Right” and the LA Bust’s “Oh Daddy!” blends poppy Beatles-esque touches with a country-fried fragrance. The album also contains a couple of Top 10 nuggets, including “Elenore,” which was basically a tongue-in-cheek rewrite of “Happy Together” and “You Showed Me,” a haunting ballad authored by Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark of the Byrds.

While so many musicians took themselves far too seriously and tried far too hard to produce challenging and ambitious works, the Turtles pulled such an assignment off with natural ease and a bag of belly laughs. A stroke of brilliance, Present The Battle of the Bands catches the Turtles tuned in, turned on and making merry in the process.

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