The Mamas and the Papas



I am a huge fan of the Stones, and I have explored the John Phillips solo album that Keith and Mick did with him, Pay Pack And Follow, and was saddened over John’s fate as described in Keith’s book. I also saw Michelle Phillips in the Altamont movie, briefly, and the Mamas and the Papas are of course all over the Monterey Pop Festival DVD. I still need to read his autobiography some day. It’s pure love.

This collection of their four albums of the 1960s (indeed, they only released one more after that, in the 1970s, a contractual obligation record given that they had already broken up). A complicated band in terms of the four personalities, three of whom are long-gone, this collection is a fantastic harkening back to that incredible era that is nearly ABBA-esque! Most of the songs are originals, but some are covers (these are not the band’s most famous songs except, arguably, “Dream A Little Dream Of Me”, which was a showpiece for Mama Cass). And all of them are short – only four of the 49 songs are over four minutes long, and most are under three (and a few are under one minute long). The songs are pretty evenly divided between those dominated by a male vocal (from Denny Doherty or John Phillips) and those dominated by a female vocalist (Cass Elliott or Michelle Phillips).

“Monday, Monday” is probably their second-most famous song, and it makes a great opener to this collection (their third single after “Go Where You Wanna Go” and “California Dreaming”, it won several Grammies and was also their only US number one – amazing, “California Dreaming” never topped the charts!!). “Straight Shooter” is cool little thing with great riffing, and irresistible melodies. Wow! “Got A Feelin’” is a slow harmonizer that’s good fun, “I Call Your Name”, the Beatles song, is something similar but a bit more upbeat and with a Broadway musical revue feel to it, maybe even a bit country and vaudeville, do-wop, while “Do You Wanna Dance” is a famous cover version of the Bobby Freeman song, slowed down and hammed up. “Go Where You Wanna Go” is one of those wonderfully Sixties-sounding trippy pop anthems, with soaring Mama Cass vocals. “California Dreaming” is, of course, the song by the Mamas And The Papas that everybody knows, set in the context of the album order finally. Following up on this, their version of “Spanish Harlem” comes off as pretty sappy, overpowered by the vocals, but with a bit of drumming, bass, orchestration… bombastic! “Somebody Groovy” is… very! Lots of sass, beat, and “yeah!!” “Hey Girl” is a vampy boogie number with mainly male vocals; the female vocals come in later, but this is mainly a song for the guys. “You Baby” is sort of a bubblegum nursery rhyme-type of song, not so fantastic. “The In Crowd” is a very cool Billy Page song, with fantastic Mama Cass vocals. Xow!!!! “No Salt On Her Tail” is yet another beautiful Sixties pop song dominated by wonderful vocal harmonies. “Trip, Stumble, And Fall” is a sassy rocker that gets in your face, man! “Dancing Bear” is the first “long” song – it is just over four minutes – starting off with haunting flute sounds, it goes off into progressive medieval rock opera folk stuff, with weird french horn sounds making it all a bit arcane, especially with the full orchestra outdo. “Words Of Love” is some sort of vaudeville song, with tinkling piano and goofy percussion. “My Heart Stood Still” is a short little Simon And Garfunkel thing, a bit of a madrigal, actually… with full drum and band later on. “Dancing In The Street” is a very cool version of the Motown classic, in full funk and with plenty of ragin’ mojo! Sadly it gets silly at the end, as Cass and Denny start chit-chatting about towns around the world, some sort of cutesy-jokey stuff that’s pretty sill. “I Saw Her Again” is a full-on pop song, with hooks and haunting melodies. A beautiful sony that has a cool “I saw her… I saw here again, last night” near the end (2:42) that was the result of a studio mistake. Apparently, Paul McCartney told the band “That has to be a mistake: nobody’s that clever.” Still, as wonderful as the song is, I do find it a bit creepy that Denny Doherty and John Phillips wrote this about Doherty’s affair with John’s wife Michelle. Yow!! “Strange Young Girls” is a somber, autumn-y song, gloomy, somewhat gothic, dark folk, that is very very nice indeed!! “I Can’t Wait” is a sassy girl-’n'-guy song that really grooves. “Even If I Could” is a big-feeling pop song. “That Kind Of Girl” is another big, sassy pop song, with some cool fuzz guitar at the end – huge sound, lots of fun. “Once Was A Time I Thought (Edit)” is a folky tune, highly focused on vocals, male and female in unison and with some harmonies, although there’s a bit of guitar in there too. Very short and very sweet! “Dedicated To The One I Love” is a tender ’50s love song that Michelle sings, which breaks out into big ABBA bombast! “My Girl” has a long vocal ba-ba-ba-ba-baaaaaa-buildup, then gets into a nice sugary-sweet version of the Motown classic. The album finishes with the classic “Creeque Alley”, a shouting folk song which tells the story of the band in the sassiest terms imaginable, and has the classic line “and no one’s getting fat except for Mama Cass.” Probably their best song!

On the second disc, “Sing For Your Supper” is a nice song, with a beautiful chorus, a not-so-great honky tonkin’ verse. There’s a weird, down-played “Twist And Shout”, with xylophone sounds. Very breathy, and filled with those weird harmonies. “Free Advice” starts off with bleating horn – a first on a Mamas And Papas song, as far as I can recall, and some nifty flute playing! Weird and dramatic and desperate to be different. “Look Through My Window” is a very soft song, gloomy and folky, with some great melodies. “Boys And Girls Together” has sweet vocals, and some cool Sixties funk and some wild mariachi band sounds to spice it up a bit more too!! “String Man” is a sweet song with those wonderful female vocals, lots of theatre dramatics too, and quite doo-wop too! Cool guitar solo here, and some french horn too! “Frustration” has some sort of weird guitar and harpsichord intro, it’s a funky and moving instrumental number that sort of zooms around and around. “Did You Ever Want To Cry” is a beautiful lament of a song, with some banjo accompaniment, a sober and stirring tune. “John’s Music Box” is exactly that – one minute of music box blinging and blogging, with some voices mixed in. “Glad To Be Unhappy” sounds a bit like a Bond theme song, bold and brassy. “The Right Some Day To Love” is a show tune sung a cappella as an intro to “Safe In My Garden”, with its guitar accompaniment and beautiful harmonizing. Zow! “Meditation Mama (Transcendental Woman Travels)” is a very cool, grooving’ country-folk tune, that creeps up with beautiful harmonizing; it’s also the first solo vocal performance by John Phillips, generally not considered a particularly strong singer. “For The Love Of Ivy” is a beautiful that is full of over-the-top vocal harmonies – they’re practically dripping all over the place (if you listen hard enough you may also notice a bit of drum in the background somewhere). Apparently, it took one month just to do the vocals on this song, as an obsessive perfectionist John Phillips was sequestered in his home eight-track studio, getting high and going just a little bit insane… “Dream a Little Dream of Me (With Introduction)” is the nice little song that helped Mama Cass launch her solo career – it’s a beautiful little piece, starting off with some vocal introductions, her warm voice, some simple acoustic guitar, then bass grooviness and the inevitable harmonizing. Fantastic! “Mansions” is one of those dramatic songs that sounds like it should have been used on Broadway or something. A nice, somber piece with great vibes, and while the vocals are harmonized throughout (no solo singing), they are not quite over-done. “Gemini Childe” is probably the coolest song that the band does – starting off with weird nursery rhyme stuff, it quickly goes into sinister hippy overdrive, with weird guitars, and off-kilter doom singing. Love it!! The instrumental bits, with musicians playing off each other, is very, very cool!! “Nothing’s Too Good For My Little Girl” is a nice little folk song, with pleasant male solo vocals, and a humming beat. “Too Late” starts off with some creepy organs, and is a sad little number with solo male vocals, that emerges into a triumphant little number! “Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon)” is a very cool folk song that starts off slow and builds into a killer tune that is full-on ABBA!! “Rooms” is a regular folk rocker with full melodizing, and some Beatles-esque sounds on top of it all. “Midnight Voyage” is a cool little female vocals song, zoom. “I Saw Her Again (Mono Version)” is about 20 seconds shorter than the stereo version. Silly studio chat at the end, with a drunk-sounding Michelle Phillips (or is it Cas Ellioy?)… and then, inexplicably… the song starts again! “Words Of Love (Mono Version)” is nice, so is “Creeque Alley (Mono Version)”. And that’s that!

I was amazed that Denny Doherty, the band’s resident Canadian (from Halifax, Nova Scotia, hence the reference in “Dancing In The Streets”), died in 2007 in Mississauga, the town where I grew up.

Here’s “I Saw Her Again”, a cool video from 1966. Check it at 2:42 for the “mistake” in the chorus – “I saw her… I saw her again last night” to which Paul McCartney said “That has to be a mistake: nobody’s that clever.” Yow!!

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