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Rewinding the Charts: 50 Years Ago, The Turtles Were ‘Happy’ at No. 1

Today, the band's best-known hit, a 1967 Hot 100 leader, figures in a music copyright suit.

OFTEN COVERED, BUT NEVER BETTERED, The Turtles‘ “Happy Together” is known not just for its ebullient horn-brightened chorus and “Bah-buh-buh-buh!” coda, but also for its place in music copyright law.

When songwriters Alan Gordon and Gary Bonner (who were not members of the band) penned the song more than 50 years ago, the Los Angeles-based pop rockers already had charted five entries on the Billboard Hot 100, the most successful a cover of Bob Dylan‘s “It Ain’t Me Babe” that peaked at No. 8 in 1965. But “Happy Together” — the lead single from the band’s identically titled third album — took The Turtles all the way to the top of the chart for three weeks beginning March 25, 1967.

After hitting No. 1, the song, which pairs a sunny sound with lyrics about unrequited love, became a popular cover. In 1999, performing rights organization BMI ranked “Happy Together” as the 44th most-played track on U.S. radio in the 20th century.

In 2013, the song was back in the news after founding members Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman — who own The Turtles’ master recordings — became the lead plaintiffs in a class-action suit filed in courts in New York, California and Florida that contested SiriusXM’s right to play any song recorded before Feb. 15, 1972, without explicit permission from the songs’ owners and commensurate compensation. (From that date forward, sound recordings receive federal copyright protection.)

Volman and Kaylan, who continued to tour as The Turtles Featuring Flo & Eddie (stage names that the duo adopted from two Turtles roadies nicknamed Phlorescent Leech and Eddie) when the group’s original lineup dissolved, have won the case in California, lost on appeal in New York and are waiting for a decision on their appeal in Florida. Depending on that decision, the plaintiffs will receive $25 million to $40 million.