From: Los Angeles, CA, USA
The brainchild of former folkie John Phillips (vocals, guitar), the Mamas & The Papas was rock's first "hippie band". The group featured Phillips, his wife Michelle (vocals), Denny Doherty (vocal) and last but not least "Mama" Cass Elliot (vocals).
During the folk revival of the 1960s, Phillips had recorded three excellent albums with the Journeymen (which also featured Scott Mckenzie and Dick Weissman) and then formed the New Journeymen in 1964 with his new wife, former model Michelle Gilliam Phillips. During the same period, Doherty was the leader of the folk group the Halifax Three, while Elliot fronted the Big Three. Both groups dissolved and Doherty and Elliot formed the Mugwumps in 1964 with Jim Hendricks and Zal Yanovsky, later of the Lovin' Spoonful. They became a part of the Greenwich Village folk scene just prior to the folk-rock boom of 1965. Their tenure was short lived and, like the New Journeymen, quickly disbanded. The folk scene was fading fast thanks to Beatlemania, so Phillips quickly decided to venture into a fresh new musical direction.
Phillips approached Doherty about forming a new band, which he accepted and then set out for the Virgin Islands with Phillips and his wife to vacation, party and rehearse. Elliot tagged along, although Phillips had not envisioned her as a member of the group because of her voice being two tones too low for his arrangements; however, her pitch would miraculously change after receiving a concussion from a smack on the head by a copper pipe. After three days in the hospital, she emerged with a slightly higher tone that fit well with the group's sound. The quartet honed its sound as Phillips' songs were the perfect foil for the groups soaring harmonies.
Moving to L.A., they found studio work as background singers on Barry McGuire's first album. Producer Lou Adler immediately saw their potential and quickly signed them as The Mamas & The Papas. Their first single ('California Dreamin'') proved to be evocative and original and easily on par with the current work at the time of The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkle and the Lovin' Spoonful. Their first LP (If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears), released in 1966, is a solid effort due to the many strong Phillips compositions such as the #1 hit 'Monday, Monday', the ethereal 'Got A Feelin'' and the anthem 'Go Where You Wanna Go'.
Denny Doherty's smooth tenor and Cass Elliott's powerful voice combined for some of the loveliest vocals in any band, and Phillips quickly became recognized as one of the 60s best songwriters. Visually, Cass' strong presence was balanced perfectly by Michelle's sexy blond hair and good looks. Their sound was original, bright and instantly recognizable, quickly making them the darlings of pop music. John and Michelle Phillips bought the Jeanette MacDonald mansion in Bel Air and began hosting legendary parties attended by the pop music and Hollywood elite.
Internal problems with the group began to surface as the Phillips' marriage started to crumble. Michelle and Denny had an affair that drove a deeper wedge between John and Michelle. This also shook up the close friendship between Michelle and Cass, who was in love with Denny. In an effort to keep the band focused, John shook things up dramatically by officially firing Michelle from the group. Her place was quickly taken by another stunning blonde, Jill Gibson, who was producer Lou Adler's girlfriend. They went so far as to airbrush Michelle out of the photo of their self-titled second album before cooler heads prevailed, which saw a reinstatement of Michelle and the original album art restored.
Despite the soap opera like drama, their self-titled second LP, released in late 1966, is another fascinating collection of Phillips songs that are some of the best he would ever write. The hit single 'I Saw Her Again (Last Night)', is an ode to Denny's and Michelle's affair while 'Words Of Love' spotlights Cass at her dance hall best. The songs 'Dancing Bear' and the LSD-inspired 'Strange Young Girls' show Phillips adept at psychedelia, and the near A cappella 'Once Was A Thought' is another daring vocal arrangement that few bands could compete with.
By the spring of 1967, John Phillips began organizing (with the help of Lou Adler, Paul Simon and others) the seminal Monterey Pop Festival, which kicked off the Summer of Love. Turning his attention away from the Mamas & The Papas, he started to groom former Journeymen Scott Mckenzie for stardom. 'San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair)' became a huge hit for MacKenzie and also one of the 60s biggest anthems. Why Phillips did not record this with his own group is unknown, for it would have probably become their biggest single at a time when they really needed a hit. After the success of Monterey Pop, the band reconvened for their next LP (Deliver) released in late '67. Singles 'Dedicated To The One I Love' and the autobiographical 'Creeque Alley' both charted high but it was their weakest album to date as lack luster cover songs 'Twist And Shout' and 'My Girl' filled out the album. Although other Phillips originals 'Look Through My Window' and the Latin-tinged 'Boys And Girls' showed there was still gas left in the tank, the Mamas & The Papas began to lose ground to many exciting newer groups like Big Brother & The Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane and the Doors.
1968's LP The Papas & The Mamas saw Phillips briefly get back on track with excellent singles 'Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon)', 'Safe In My Garden', and the marijuana-inspired 'For The Love Of Ivy'. 'Dream A Little Dream Of Me', though on the album, was released as a Cass Elliot single, suggesting an imminent break up, which indeed soon happened as members quickly went their separate ways. John Phillips recorded the excellent LP John, The Wolfking Of L.A. in 1970 and Cass began hosting television shows and performing solo. They reunited for a fifth studio album titled People Like Us, but this was merely to fulfill a contractual obligation as it clearly lacks the optimism and originality of their earlier material, with only the title track, 'Pearl' and 'Grasshopper' showing any chemistry at all. They soon resumed their solo projects as Michelle embarked on an acting career, while Denny recorded sporadically. Heroin addiction temporarily stalled John Phillips career, recording a legendary album with fellow heroin addict and Rolling Stones member Keith Richards (the album was finally released in the late 1990s). Cass Elliot died tragically of cardiac arrest in 1974 making a legitimate reunion impossible. Phillips and Doherty however did end up recruiting Elaine "Spanky" McFarlane from Spanky And Our Gang and Mackenzie Phillips (John Phillips' daughter and former star of the TV sitcom One Day At A Time) and toured as the Mamas & The Papas in the mid 80s. John Phillips died in 2001 and Doherty in early 2007 leaving behind a legacy of great pop music.
If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears
Original LP/EP Label: Dunhill DS-50006
Released: February, 1966
Songs from this album played on TWOS:
(Original 45 Label: Dunhill 4020, A - November, 1965)
(Original 45 Label: Dunhill 4026, B - March, 1966)
(Original 45 Label: Dunhill 4026, A - March, 1966)