Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Mamas and the Papas Revisited

WAY, way back in 2003 ... before many of you were even born ... Forgotten Hits did a piece on The Mamas and the Papas.

After putting together my piece on Jan Berry yesterday, I was inspired to resurrect this one again (for probably the third or fourth time) as I have always been such a huge fan of their music.

At the time, I tried to put together one of those "Ten Things You Probably Didn't Know About" pieces, similar, in fact, to our Jimi Hendrix piece that ran a few years later.

I had just read the (then) new book "Go Where You Wanna Go", an excellent compilation that told the story of the group in their own words through a series of interviews they had each done over the years.  Using only their quotations without any narrative ... and being OF the time rather than a hindsight review ... I found the book fascinating.

So now, in typical '60's FLASHBACK fashion ... let's revisit our piece on The Mamas and the Papas.

'60's FLASHBACK:   
(before reading our Forgotten Hits piece in 2003) 

There is no question that THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS were one of the most successful recording acts of the mid-'60's.  In the short span of just two years, they placed TEN songs in The National Top 40, including Top Ten Hits like CALIFORNIA DREAMIN', MONDAY MONDAY, I SAW HER AGAIN, WORDS OF LOVE, DEDICATED TO THE ONE I LOVE and CREEQUE ALLEY.  ALL of these were across-the-boards smashes.

1.)  Folk-club pal BARRY McGUIRE (hot on the heels of his own Number One Hit "Eve Of Destruction") got THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS their first audition with producer LOU ADLER and DUNHILL RECORDS.  That fateful day, they performed three songs:  GO WHERE YOU WANNA GO, MONDAY MONDAY and CALIFORNIA DREAMIN' (ironically, these songs would become their first three singles!)  LOU ADLER had never seen or heard ANYTHING like them before.  (He literally could not believe his eyes and ears ... hence the title of their first album.)  He immediately knew that he needed to sign them right away before any other label in town had the chance.  Although the final details still needed to be worked out, he asked group leader JOHN PHILLIPS what he wanted in order to sign and JOHN replied, "I want a steady stream of money coming from your office to my house."  The truth was, THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS were broke ... down to their last ten dollars.  ADLER said that he would hire them to sing backup vocals on BARRY McGUIRE's new album, THIS PRECIOUS TIME, as a means to earn some money until they were ready to start their own recording sessions.  As more of a favor to earn him some songwriting royalties, McGUIRE agreed to cut one of JOHN PHILLIPS' own compositions at these sessions ... a little tune called CALIFORNIA DREAMIN'.  The arrangement and backing track were identical to the one eventually released as THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS' version.  In fact, they simply removed BARRY McGUIRE's vocals, inserted their own, and replaced what was once a harmonica solo with the flute solo we all know and love.  PHILLIPS supposedly begged McGUIRE not to release his version as a single so that HIS band could have a chance at the song.  McGUIRE agreed, stating that, after all, it was JOHN's song in the first place.  It turned out to be a career-making decision for both artists involved.  Truth was, BARRY McGUIRE was having a hard time getting airplay after EVE OF DESTRUCTION ... the song was controversial and banned by many radio stations around the country...yet still sold well enough to hit the top spot on the charts.  McGUIRE would never have another Top 40 Hit ... but CALIFORNIA DREAMIN' launched the careers of THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS.  (BTW:  BARRY McGUIRE had some pretty impressive help on his first few solo recordings.  Not only did THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS sing background on his THIS PRECIOUS TIME album, but the backing group on his hit single EVE OF DESTRUCTION was none other than fellow Dunhill group THE GRASS ROOTS!)  

DIDJAKNOW?:  If you're able to cleanly separate your stereo channels, turn up the volume and listen VERY carefully ... you'll hear Barry McGuire's original vocal "leaking" into the new Mamas and Papas vocals laid on top of the original backing track!

2.) THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS' first album (IF YOU CAN BELIEVE YOUR EYES AND EARS) went all the way to #1 ... a pretty amazing feat for an otherwise unknown group.  In hindsight, it's all the more amazing that it did as well as it did.  The photograph of a co-ed group together in a bathtub was considered pretty racy at the time ... even a little erotic, despite the fact that they were all fully clothed.  What REALLY set things off, however, was the fact that the toilet wasn't cropped out of the picture!  (Back in 1966, you didn't DARE acknowledge the fact that toilets really DID exist!  I clearly remember all the controversy in 1971 when ARCHIE BUNKER first flushed his toilet off-screen on ALL IN THE FAMILY ... it caused quite a stir!)  In fact, SEARS, the biggest music retailer at the time, refused to carry the album unless DUNHILL RECORDS slapped a sticker over the offending toilet promoting the hit singles CALIFORNIA DREAMIN' and MONDAY MONDAY ... and that's the way nearly ALL copies exist today.  (If you've got a copy of the rare toilet seat cover, you've got QUITE a collectible on your hands!!!)

3.)  The story behind THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS' hit song I SAW HER AGAIN has been told many, many times over the years.  After the initial success of their first album, MICHELLE PHILLIPS, wife of leader JOHN PHILLIPS, began an affair with lead vocalist DENNY DOHERTY.  When JOHN discovered them together, he was humiliated ... and faced with the task of what to do ... throw out their lead singer (and, most certainly, their careers down the drain) or continue on for the sake of the group ... and all this in the midst of basking in the success of their very first album!  Amazingly, he chose the latter and even composed a song about their sneaking around together.  I SAW HER AGAIN was a Top Five Smash and became DENNY's permanent punishment ... for penance, he had to sing it every night in concert.  However, in the book GO WHERE YOU WANNA GO ... THE ORAL HISTORY OF THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS, (written by MATTHEW GREENWALD), an interesting new fact about this recording came to light:  The line after the instrumental break in the middle of the song where the group sings:  "I Saw Her ... I Saw Her Again Last Night" was actually a mistake.  DENNY came in early during the original recording and the engineer kept going, planning to fix it later.  Producer LOU ADLER liked it so much, he added strings and the other voices to the coincidental error.  In hindsight, he says that it always sounded "spliced-in" to him ... but it was a hook that they NEVER would have thought of on their own, were it not for the mistake!  ADLER explained, "On I SAW HER AGAIN, that's a mistake, by the way ... DENNY coming back in.  I just left it in the mix.  It was just a mistake but when we were mixing, it felt nice to leave it in."  Bass Guitarist JOE OSBORNE, who played on the session recalled:  "Is that the one that sounded like a splice?  Yeah, that's some of BONES HOWE's editing.  He was great with a razor blade.  I think he loved it, too ... he never did like to get a whole take!"  But Recording Engineer BONES HOWE remembers:  "We were laying down the vocals against the track and we got to that break and they came in at the wrong place, and they all came in together and then the track came in ... and they stopped and started again together.  I remember punching in at the spot where the rhythm section came in, right on the downbeat.  Then the voices that had led up to that point were still there.  So we played it back and I played it from before that and of course it went:  'I saw her ... I saw her again ...'  And then I said, "Well, don't worry about that, LOU, I'll clean it up," and he said, "No, no, no ... don't touch it!  I love it!  Make sure that we don't lose that ... I want to use that!"

4.)  At the peak of their soap-opera-like career, THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS fired Mama MICHELLE PHILLIPS and replaced her with an unknown blonde look-alike named JILL GIBSON without any formal announcement to the public!  Fed up with her non-stop dalliances (well-publicized affairs with bandmate DENNY DOHERTY and GENE CLARK of THE BYRDS were just the tip of the iceberg, apparently), band-leaderJOHN PHILLIPS gave the group the ultimatum:  either SHE goes or I do.  In the scheme of things, it really was no contest ... MICHELLE was just a voice ... and an incidental voice at that ... the REAL talent in the band belonged to CASS ELLIOTT and DENNY DOHERTY, who handled all the lead vocals and JOHN PHILLIPS, who wrote and arranged the material.  On June 28, 1996, formal papers were signed and delivered and MICHELLE was out of the group ... 'though STILL MARRIED to JOHN JILL GIBSON was the former girlfriend of JAN BERRY, one half of the pop/surf duo JAN AND DEAN, who was now laying paralyzed in the hospital after his infamous DEAD MAN'S CURVE accident.  JILL moved on (romantically) to record producer LOU ADLER ... who just happened to be the guy in charge of THE MAMAS AND PAPAS recording sessions.  With virtually no previous singing experience (she was a model and an artist), MICHELLE's vocals were stripped off their next LP and Jill's voice was duped in.  They even reshot the album cover!!!  All that mattered was the fact that JILL had the look ... it's said that at her first couple of concert appearances, most of the audience didn't even notice that MICHELLE had been replaced.  Once the word got out, however, JILL never had a chance ... fans booed their appearances and demanded the return of MICHELLE.  She was soon reinstated ... once again, just like the I SAW HER AGAIN incident, for the good of the band.  To this day, she says that she can't say for sure which vocals on their second album, THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS, are hers and which ones are JILL's.  (Is THAT incidental enough for you?!?!?)

A copy of the actual letter 
(signed by all three of the other band members) 
officially firing MICHELLE PHILLIPS from the group!!!

   The "Michelle Phillips" Cover / The "Jill Gibson" Cover

(Once THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS kissed and made up ... they really WERE the original FLEETWOOD MAC ...
the MICHELLE PHILLIPS photo was reinstated and that's how the album was released to the public!  

5.)  JOHN PHILLIPS started writing TWELVE THIRTY (a #12 Hit for THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS in the Fall of 1967) back in late 1964 / early 1965 when the group was still living in New York City.  There was a church steeple outside JOHN and MICHELLE's apartment that was is the process of being torn down and the clock really WAS stopped at 12:30 ... which meant that every time they passed by, the clock "always read twelve thirty."  The song was finished a couple of years later when THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS were based in Laurel Canyon in California ... hence, the line about the young girls that would "come into the canyon."

6.)  In one of the tales often told by JOHN PHILLIPS as to why he would not, at first, let CASS ELLIOTT join the group, he claimed that there was a certain note that she was unable to hit.  (The truth is that PHILLIPS felt that, despite her great singing voice, CASS's appearance might turn off potential fans.)  The story goes that while out walking one day, CASS was hit in the head by a falling pipe and that, after the accident, she could now hit that elusive note that JOHN was looking for ... and she was then invited to join the band!  Although this was always laughed about and shrugged off as just one of JOHN's quips, in fact CASS WAS hit in the head by a falling pipe during one of their rehearsals!  Although it didn't alter her pitch, it served as the inspiration for this story to be repeated over the years.  (MICHELLE PHILLIPS has said that the story has been told SO many times that she can't even remember if it's true or not!)

7.)  Speaking of MAMA CASS, former HOLLIES member GRAHAM NASH says that, were it not for CASS ELLIOTT, there never would have been a CROSBY, STILLS AND NASH.  She was the one who introduced the then out-of-work NASH to her VERY close friends DAVID CROSBY (of THE BYRDS) and STEPHEN STILLS (of THE BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD).

8.)  And, just for the record, CASS ELLIOTT did NOT die from choking on a ham sandwich, as has been erroneously reported for over 30 years.  The official cause of death was ruled "a heart problem leading to heart failure."  Nothing was found lodged in her throat or trachea.  (In fact, she had very little to eat the day before she died.)  It is now believed that CASS already had a heart condition for quite some time (she had numerous blackouts and fainting spells) and that, coupled with her obesity, along with several "crash diets", (not to mention a MAMMOTH intake of drugs over the years), all simply proved to be too much for her heart to bear.  The official autopsy showed NO drugs in her system.  She died in a London flat owned by HARRY NILSSON ... ironically, the very same room that drummer KEITH MOON of THE WHO would die in four years later.  (The circumstances surrounding the death of CASS ELLIOTT is one of rock's greatest urban legends.  The fact that an uneaten sandwich was found beside the bed caused the press to jump to the conclusion that she choked on the sandwich and then suffocated in her own vomit.  Later, it became a HAM sandwich, I guess, to further exploit her weight problem.  When the REAL autopsy report was released a full week later, the press chose to ignore it.  What's that they always say?  When the truth and the rumor don't match, ALWAYS print the rumor!)

9.)  In early 1970, MICHELLE PHILLIPS happened across a heretofore unrecorded, unpublished singer / songwriter by the name of KRIS KRISTOFFERSON.  With THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS pretty much kaput at that point (CASS, JOHN and DENNY were all working on solo albums at the time), she approached producer LOU ADLER about recording a solo single of her own.  She picked out two tracks that she wanted to release, played them for LOU, and was promptly turned down, told that the songs were "too country sounding" and that she must be losing touch with her audience to even consider recording them.  As a result of this discussion, MICHELLE's would-be single of HELP ME MAKE IT THROUGH THE NIGHT (backed with ME AND BOBBY McGEE) never saw the light of day ... and she never had a solo hit.  One year later, both of those songs would become #1 hits for SAMMI SMITH (#1 Country) and, ironically, JANIS JOPLIN, an old MONTEREY INTERNATIONAL POP FESTIVAL aquaintence.  (MICHELLE PHILLIPS never had a solo hit record released under her own name!)

10.)  And finally, speaking of THE MONTEREY INTERNATIONAL POP FESTIVAL, it was Papa JOHN PHILLIPS and producer LOU ADLER who became the driving forces behind the first-ever rock festival.  They believed that by 1967, rock music had become enough of an art-form that it justified its own cause.  Using the MONTEREY JAZZ FESTIVAL and the MONTEREY FOLK FESTIVAL as their inspiration, they put together the MONTEREY INTERNATIONAL POP FESTIVAL in June of 1967.  Using their own money, they bought out the original investors .... and, with donations of $10,000 each from JOHNNY RIVERS, SIMON AND GARFUNKEL and TERRY MELCHER, they laid the foundation for this ground-breaking, one-of-a-kind event ... TWO full years before WOODSTOCK JOHN and MICHELLE served on the Board Of Directors Committee (along with such other music industry luminaries as PAUL McCARTNEY, DEREK TAYLOR, PAUL SIMON, ART GARFUNKEL and LOU ADLER.)  The idea was to get a bunch of their favorite artists and friends to perform for free and show the world that rock had its place among the "arts" of our society.  Ironically, original promoters ALAN PRASIER and BENNY SHAPIRO had already signed RAVI SHANKAR to perform and had guaranteed him $5000.  SHANKAR was the ONLY artist to get paid for his performance that day!  Everyone else was flown in and given hotel and meal accommodations, but no cash was ever exchanged for their performance.  As such, there was no record label involvement and THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS were allowed to invite whomever they chose without the usual politics involved in such an endeavor.  The charity foundation continues to this day, nearly 50 years later, earning royalties from CD sales and revenues generated by their documentary film of the event.  All of the artists participating turned over all future claims to any earnings, so the foundation has been able to handle (at their own discression) things like building free health clinics in Los Angeles and San Francisco ... they even paid some of Motown legend MARY WELLS' hospital bills ... made donations to the R&B Foundation in New York and have been involved in music cultural exchanges with Cuba ... pretty much anything that they feel is a good cause (without the need to go to committee to get it done!)  And what a group of musicians they were able to bring together:  long-time friends like THE BYRDS and THE BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD, investors JOHNNY RIVERS and SIMON AND GARFUNKEL ... California favorites like THE GRATEFUL DEAD and THE JEFFERSON AIRPLANE ... popular artists like BOOKER T. AND THE MG's and THE ASSOCIATION (who kicked off the whole shebang) ... British rockers like THE WHO and ERIC BURDON AND THE ANIMALS (who even went on to record a song about the whole event) ... diverse / avant-garde acts such as RAVI SHANKAR, HUGH MASEKELA, QUICKSILVER MESSENGER SERVICE, MOBY GRAPE ... and up-and-coming complete unknowns (and future rock and roll legends) like JIMI HENDRIX (at PAUL McCARTNEY's suggestion), OTIS REDDING and JANIS JOPLIN with BIG BROTHER AND THE HOLDING COMPANY ... many of these artists getting their first real national exposure courtesy of this event.  (By the following week EVERYBODY knew who these artists were!) JOHN PHILLIPS even wrote a special song for his buddy SCOTT McKENZIE to sing ... and the hit SAN FRANCISCO (WEAR FLOWERS IN YOUR HAIR) became the anthem of The Summer Of Love.  (LOU ADLER and JOHN PHILLIPS flew in 150,000 orchids from Hawaii to be distributed at THE MONTEREY INTERNATIONAL POP FESTIVAL.  Original posters promoted MUSIC, LOVE AND FLOWERS and, tied in with McKENZIE's new song (SAN FRANCISCO, WEAR FLOWERS IN YOUR HAIR) it really helped make the Summer of Love happen.  (BTW, LOU ADLER and DUNHILL RECORDS never really forgave JOHN PHILLIPS for giving away what just MIGHT have been the biggest record of THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS' career!)  Incredibly, even with this stellar line-up,THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS were still the biggest name on the bill at that time and had the honor of closing the show.  (JOHN and MICHELLE PHILLIPS were the essence of Pop Royalty at the time.)  Unfortunately, so much of the previous three months had been spent organizing the event that NO time had been spent rehearsing!  (In fact, they sounded AWFUL that night ... and every bad note has been preserved for all eternity on the live album commemorating this event!)  DENNY DOHERTY literally drove eight hours the day of the show to arrive just in time to go on stage (after spending the previous several weeks drinking alone in the Virgin Islands.)  CASS flew in the night before.  Worse yet, imagine the pressure to follow to the stage THE WHO, who had just finished destroying all of their instruments (as they were doing at the time) and JIMI HENDRIX (who had just lit his guitar on fire!) with this little harmony-driven folk / rock band.  But THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS persevered and, in fact, shortly afterwards hired JIMI HENDRIX as their opening act!!!  (He was available, having just jumped off THE MONKEES' tour!!!)  Incidently, some of the biggest names in pop music at the time ... THE BEATLES, THE MONKEES, THE ROLLING STONES and THE BEACH BOYS...were all rumored to be, at one time or another, performing at this historic event.  Of course, that never happened ... but members of each of these bands were very involved behind the scenes (and many even attended some of the concerts.)  In particular, PAUL McCARTNEY, GEORGE HARRISON, MICKY DOLENZ, PETER TORK, and BRIAN JONES all took active roles.  It's been said that, in hindsight, THE BEACH BOYS may have turned their careers around simply by performing at MONTEREY that weekend.

The lyrics to The Mamas and Papas' 1967 Hit "Creeque Alley" tells their history up to that point.  There are not-so-subtle references to Barry McGuire, Roger McQuinn, The Lovin' Spoonful and others throughout the song ... as is the tale of their trip to The Virgin Islands (and maxing out their American Express Card) ... but perhaps the BIGGEST surprise of all upon first listen was the line "And no one's getting fat 'cept Mama Cass."  Denny and Michelle thought that SURELY this must be some sort of a joke ... John wouldn't REALLY sing that lyric on the record ... but he did ... and Cass LOVED it!

John's inspiration for "California Dreamin'" came in the middle of the night.  He truly HAD stopped by a church earlier that day.  He woke Michelle up to jot down the lyrics and she brushed him off.  Finally he told her he'd give her HALF the song-writing credit (and thus half the royalties) if she'd simply get up out of bed and write down the lyrics before he forgot them.  She did ... and has made more money thanks to that one night of restless sleep than probably any other in her entire life! 

Although "California Dreamin'" was the group's first big breakthrough hit (and, one would think, an obvious one at that!), Dunhill Records released "Go Where You Wanna Go" as their first single.  It only lasted in the market place for a few weeks however.  After it failed to chart, it was quickly withdrawn and "California Dreamin'" was released in its place.  A year later a new group called The Fifth Dimension would release THEIR version of "Go Where You Wanna Go" and it became their first of 21 National Top 40 Hits.  

1966 - California Dreamin'  (#2)
          Monday Monday  (#1)
          I Saw Her Again (#4)
          Look Through My Window  (#14)
1967 - Words Of Love  (#5)
          Dedicated To The One I Love  (#2)
          Creeque Alley  (#4)
          Twelve Thirty  (#12)
          Glad To Be Unhappy  (#19)
          Dancing Bear  (#36)
1968 - Safe In My Garden  (#33)
          Dream A Little Dream Of Me  (#8)  
          released as Mama Cass with The Mamas and the Papas
          For The Love Of Ivy  (#48)
          Do You Wanna Dance  (#43)    

Still my all-time favorite Mamas and Papas recording (and a RARE chance for Michelle to take the lead) ...