The Turtles: Present The Battle Of The Bands (1968)

While the Byrds are rightfully recognized as one of the most influential American bands of the 60s, and the Monkees have been belatedly acknowledged as contributing far more to the classic rock canon than their initial pre-fabricated image and fictitious roots had suggested, the other American band with an animal kingdom moniker long overdue for a critical resurgence is the Turtles.  While perhaps not in the same league as the Byrds in terms of pushing boundaries in the psychedelic and Americana genres, the Turtles had a gift for pure pop mastery, a slew of great singles as well as several albums full of underappreciated gems.

Their 1968 Battle of the Bands album is a minor classic of the era, standing alongside The Who Sell Out as demonstrating how rock bands could simultaneously celebrate and subvert the pop music genre, playing with pop's strictures without straying far from them.  The album sees the Turtles taking on the role of a dozen different make-believe bands, each with a different style; some of the songs are intentionally silly, and some are simply great.  All sound like the Turtles, just with a lot of playful tweaks.

The best-known track here is "Elenore," with the band (as "Howie, Mark, Johnny, Jim & Al") essentially mocking their own squeaky-clean image, responding to the record label's demand for another "Happy Together"-style hit with a cloyingly straight AM-friendly pop tune -- and while it was supposedly intended as a sarcastic poke at lame pop music, they managed to come up with another perfect pop song, intentionally vapid or otherwise.

Other standouts include "The Last Thing I Remember," a faux psychedelic nugget (performed as "The Atomic Enchilada"); a fairly straight cover of the Byrds' "You Showed Me" (adding some radio-friendly sheen to the folkier original); and the beautiful ballad closing the album, "Earth Anthem."  Elsewhere they put on their silly hats, like the percussive luau of "I'm Chief Kamanawanalea" (a favorite among hip-hop bands seeking distinctive percussion samples), the mock surf rock of "Surfer Dan" (this one performed as "The Cross Fires," the band's original name in their pre-pop surf rock days), and the scuzzy garage rock riffage of "Buzzsaw"  (courtesy of "The Fabulous Dawgs").

It's all good fun, with the band skating through the psychedelic era without resorting to self-indulgence and never taking themselves too seriously.  I wouldn't say it's their "best" album from an artistic standpoint (I'm partial to the following year's Turtle Soup, produced by Ray Davies), but it's certainly their most entertaining and playful.

Here's the band lip-syncing "Elenore" on tv:
...and another lip-sync, this time for "You Showed Me":