“Elenore” — The Turtles

As a lyricist, you never know when your lyrics are going to resonate with the record-buying public.

Sometimes, they swoon over your ever-so-clever use of language, unusual rhyming patterns and witty asides … Lorenz Hart’s lyrics for “Manhattan” is a great example of something I swoon over every time I hear it.

On the other hand, repeating “Mahna Mahna” in a succession of silly voices hasn’t done too badly for The Muppets over the years.

So it’s ironic that The Turtles, who were shooting for “Mahna Mahna”, ended up with “Elenore” … a song that so perfectly captured the insouciance of 1968 it became a Top 10 hit around the world because listeners thought it was a shot at something more intellectual than The Turtles had ever intended.

OK, that wasn’t the only reason. “Elenore” also has a really catchy tune, a sing-along chorus and enough of a feel of the Beach Boys about it, that it became a hit anyway, perhaps in spite of, rather than because of, the lyrics.

Although I do rather like this rhyme…

You looks intoxicate me
Even though your folks hate me
There’s no-one like you, Elenore, really

“Elenore” was supposedly written to get the record company off The Turtles’ backs. After their huge 1966 hit “Happy Together”, The Turtles were being pressed to repeat the same trick with another record.

In the end, they got so fed up with their record company they wrote “Elenore” largely as a joke and were astounded when their record company decided it was a brilliant song and rushed it into the record shops.

It’s one of those situations, though, where they were both right.

You can read the lyrics as a satirical take-off of something else. You can also read them as perfectly capturing the devil-may-care “tune in and drop out” ethos of the hippy era.

Possibly the biggest clue that The Turtles were having a laugh with “Elenore” is in the chorus, which contains these masterful lines…

Elenore, gee, I think you’re swell
And you really do me well
You’re my pride and joy, et cetera

Leaving aside that most lyric writers would be slightly embarrassed about rhyming “swell” with “well”, and just at the point most lyricists would launch into a vivid and colourful passage to explain just why Elenore was so swell, The Turtles decided they’d had enough.

In the same way that using “et cetera” is frowned upon in English exams at school, this little Latin phrase is not normally seen as lyric writing gold. In fact I can’t remember it making an appearance in any other popular song. But it worked like magic for The Turtles.

By appearing to be hardly bothered enough to finish off a sentence properly, The Turtles had unwittingly captured what 1968 was all about. And that’s what made “Elenore” into a big hit.

Which just goes to show that you never know what other people will read into your lyrics. Sometimes they see hidden depths you never knew were there yourself. Sometimes a throwaway line resonates in a way you never thought it would.

I don’t recommend you start sprinkling your lyrics with “et ceteras” … I’m pretty sure “Elenore” is a one-off example of how to use that phrase and write a hit record on the back of it.

Because “Elenore” is such a great song…and so evocative of the late 1960s…I’ve given you two videos to choose from today.

I quite like a live performance The Turtles did for a US TV show, which I’ve linked to below. I think it nicely captures the slightly anarchic spirit in which the song was originally written and recorded very well.

Watch out for the very enthusiastic drummer who is technically much more proficient than a journeyman drummer for most pop groups of the time …albeit a little more prominent in the mix than you might think was wise. Regrettably sound recording back in the 1960s wasn’t quite as sophisticated as it is today…

But just in case that’s too much for you, you can find a version with the original studio mix, albeit with a slightly less enthusiastic drum track, here … you can also hear the bongo intro more clearly in this version … something else that hasn’t been used much in popular music since 1968 … https://youtu.be/cDjI015s044

Whichever version you prefer, please enjoy this great song from 1968 … it’s “Elenore” by The Turtles …

The video is below, but if you prefer to listen to this track on Spotify, you can find it here…https://open.spotify.com/track/4DWFSrNnZXow1aB96gByho

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Without words, it’s just a nice tune. Add words — now you’ve got a song. And songs can change your world. I write about some that changed mine.

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