In the 1960’s, The Ed Sullivan Show served as a platform for one of the most important music revolutions of the 20th century…The British Invasion. The invasion fully took off with The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show U.S. television debut performance in 1964.
The British led this new wave of music. However, it became a so-called “rock n’ roll revolution” when dozens of American artists successfully broke into the music scene during this movement and challenged the British bands on the charts. One of these bands was The Turtles.
The Turtles, led by Mark Volman (vocals, saxophone, guitar) and Howard Kaylan (vocals), started off as a surf group named The Crossfires in Westchester, California in 1963. After the British Invasion hit in 1964, the pair switched to a more folk-rock style, following the steps of the growing L.A. folk-rock scene, which for the most part was ruled by The Byrds. Soon, the group had renamed itself the Tyrtles, intentionally misspelled in tribute to The Byrds and The Beatles, but the trendy spelling did not last too long and they soon after changed their name to The Turtles.
The band scored their first hit with a Bob Dylan cover of “It Ain’t Me Babe” in 1965. After going through some band member changes, the band decided to change direction again to a more psychedelic sound which resulted in their first #1 hit, the catchy “Happy Together” in 1967, followed by a series of hits “She’d Rather Be With Me,” “You Know What I Mean” and “She’s My Girl.”
On May 14th, 1967 The Turtles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time. That night, Ed introduced them by saying “And now for all the youngsters watching all over the country, here is a group of youngsters playing their hit ‘Happy Together,’ here are The Turtles!”
The stage had a colorful psychedelic background with the word Turtles written in funky, wavy style. The band, consisting of Kaylan (vocals), Volman (guitar, saxophone, vocals), Al Nichol (guitar), Ronald Gostel (guitar), Jim Pons (bass) and John Barbata (drums), started off their performance with high-energy as they sang “Happy Together.” After, the group finished their act that night with “She’d Rather Be With Me.”
The Turtles came back to The Ed Sullivan Show that same year on November 12th, 1967, where they performed “Happy Together” once again as well as their hit “She’s My Girl.” Throughout both acts, the connection between all band members was visibly a good one. For example, Mark and Howard made several funny expressions, which gave their performances a sense of levity. Although 1967 proved to be the Turtles’ most prosperous year on the music charts, the band continued to have successful hits in subsequent years.
In 1970, the group broke up due to various dissatisfactions with their label. Volman and Kaylan put their own act together known as Flo and Eddie and went on to join Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention. The duo later resurrected the band, calling it The Turtles featuring Flo and Eddie, and toured the U.S.
To this day, The Turtles’ performances on The Ed Sullivan Show remain memorable. Just recently, The Turtles’ first appearance on Sullivan was featured on an NBA bobblehead commercial that included the heads of several basketball stars covering “Happy Together” on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Over the past few decades, Turtles’ hits especially Happy Together have been used in motion pictures (e.g. Adaptation-2002, Freaky Friday-2003, Pirate Radio-2009), TV series, video games, and commercials. The band and their unique sound still resonate with audiences today.