The Mamas and the Papas
Bone Thugs 'n' Harmony
The Lineup Card (1966-1971)
John Phillips (vocals)
Denny Doherty (vocals)
'Mama' Cass Elliott (vocals)
Michelle Phillips (vocals)
The Mamas & Papas story is one of those made-for-TV dredging-the-shit-from-the-sewer-pipe kind of only-in-rock-n-roll nightmares that makes Fleetwood Mac seem like the Osmond Family and your own life seem not so damned bad after all. Their movie-of-the-week careers, both during and after the M's and P's (sounds like British toddler euphemisms for toilet activities, doesn't it?) complete with gross infidelity, gross obesity, early death, tying off your teenage daughter and injecting her with smack, Knots Landing, and One Day At A Time, all stored underneath a veneer of glossy, Breck-girl pseudo-counterculture utopianism and endlessly deep harmonies, has mostly been forgotten nowadays outside of a handful of sunny singles played in close rotation on oldies stations. The real honest truth is that, despite all the talk about heavy dudes like Hendrix, Dylan, or the Jefferson Airplane more straight people got their first stealthy taste of mid-Sixties freakdom from this group than anybody but the Beatles themselves. The Parents, made up of an aging folksinger dude who'd been around the block a time or three (leader and chief songwriter John Phillips), a sweet-voiced crooner guy (Denny Doherty), an unmistakably powerful, good-natured land zeppelin of a lead female ('Mama' Cass Elliott. Yes, the one from the Scooby Doo cartoons), and a quacky-voiced counterculture pinup piece-of-ass soprano (Michelle Phillips) were the shepherds of the New Hippie Age for a lot of people, singing about (and living) the sort of all-things-for-free lifestyle that the hippies represented. The trick was that they packaged it all in an easily digestible wrapper of bubblegummy pop music that only the most astute DJ would be able to dig through to get to what they were actually singing about. I mean the chorus of 'Go Where You Wanna Go', from their first album, (of which a heavily edited cover version is now being used to hawk a motherfucking allergy medicine every single goddamn night during my CBS Evening News with Dan 'Hatchet Man' Rather) follows the title with the line 'Do What You Wanna Do' (okay, not necessarily that subversive, but still a bit dangerous to the reactionary squares of the tinderbox Sixties, anyway) and finally 'With Whomever You Choose" (Wowsers! That opens up all kinds of various wormy cans, don't it? I mean, they aren't just talking backgammon here, are they? Much less playing backgammon only with one person of the opposite sex as yourself, for the rest of your natural lives.) This stuff was pure dynamite back in the Sixties, especially considering it was thought of as being 'safe' when, say, the Rolling Stones were 'dangerous'. Even the less obviously subversive material was still great PR for the burgeoning hippie movement. For instance, how many people caught the bug to hop a slow boat to Haight-Asbury after hearing 'California Dreaming' (or, more obviously, Phillips' number one 'Are You Going to San Francisco?', written with and performed by pal Scott McKenzie). The Mamas and Papas were also good at creating 'introductions' to other, freakier groups - Phillips and Cass were an integral part in creating the Monterrey Pop Festival in 1967, and who can forget Cass's wowed reaction at seeing Big Brother and the Holding Company's performance during the film Monterrey Pop?
Still, it's hard to credit these folks with things they don't deserve credit for. Their career was a short one, four original albums between 1966 and 1968, none of which are considered classics by any means, a half dozen or so chart hits, and precious little lasting solo success for any of them outside of Cass, who had charm enough to become a sort of earth-mother icon to the masses until her death in 1974. They simply weren't around long enough to create a sustained impact, and as such have become yet another 'Greatest Hits' band as a result. I'd say that while most people wouldn't have any problem identifying one of their big hits on the radio, there aren't too many John Q Pubic's out there who could name one of their original studio albums. Can you? Right up until about a month ago, I sure couldn't! And this is, like, my job or something, to somehow acquire every popular music recording ever made since 1963! And even then I had to scour the internet for people willing to sell me their records for less than a pound of flesh and the right to sleep with my wife at will. These guys are like, invisible, or something. They don't really play instruments, so the creativity pretty much stops with the vocals and lyrics - sometimes the backing arrangements are solid and evocative, and sometimes they sound like the MGM house band just come back from scoring the latest Andy Williams TV special. These faceless studio orchestras and plug-and-chug production crews never sound too interested in making these songs sound unique musically, quite unlike, say, the complex folk-rock sounds that Simon and Garfunkel were able to get from their productions.
Most importantly, besides some of the most vibrant four-part harmonies ever put on record, the Mamas and Papas weren't much for innovation. John Phillips being, like, in his mid-thirties at the time or whatever, and therefore bringing a sort of cranky, old-school Grandpa Simpson quality to running the band, hey operated within the strict constrains of the three-minute hooky pop song, verse-chorus-verse, and never fucked with the formula. Hearing a Mama's and Papa's album almost feels like something from the late-50's: a bunch of short songs, the hits listed right there on the cover, an assload of covers and filler, and of course all those scrubbed down Mormon vocal arrangements that sound like the Christian Coalition's idea of a good rap song. The M&P's sure as fuck never released a Head, to invoke another mid-Sixties bubblegum-plus group that never was taken quite seriously enough. They never had no fuzzed-out feedback acid jams, no sitar workouts, no proto-Moog squelches and squeals for thirty minutes. This is a vocal pop band, not an acid rock band, and there's only so many weird things you can do with group harmonies. Brian Wilson did all of those first and best, anyway, so why couldn't Phillips just write melodically sound, unsurprisingly constructed little pop-hippie anthems for the kids to dig? They're considered bubblegum for a very good reason, but to deny the fact that Phillips was at one time a masterful songwriter just because he created 'music for the 12-year-old masses' rather than their older brothers and sisters would be akin to slamming Charles Dickens for being nothing more than a 'pulp magazine hack' or David Lynch as 'the Twin Peaks guy'. Phillips was simply more than that, and although he's no Dylan, there's still a place in the pantheon for him somewhere. The fact that this band was more revolutionary in its lifestyle than in its art shouldn't necessarily be held against them, you know. Besides, is there a single male on planet earth who doesn't think that Michelle Phillips is almost perversely sexy on the cover of If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears? I almost understand pulling a John Phillips and leaving wife and family for that ass of hers! Talk about drinking someone's bathwater....
If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears
- MCA 1966
Before they got all jaded and childish to each other as their career progressed, the Mamas and Papas had a wide-eyed confidence in themselves and their sound, one that created a mighty stroke of inspiration for Phillips to create some of his finest songs. While their debut is definitely their most 'square' with all its manner of cheesy orchestras, Herman's Hermits-lite rock arrangements and whatnot, it's got by far their best collection of original compositions. They sound very much like innocent kids here, though kids not too innocent to sing about asking your girlfriend if she has any drugs ('Baby are you holding anything but me? 'Cos I'm a real straight shooter, if you know what I mean...' and 'Just get me hiiiiiiighhhhhh!!' 'Shooter'? Christ Jesus Fuck! Is Phillips on smack already? This guy must've been trying to singlehandedly prop up the economy of Burma all by himself.), or praising free love ('Go Where You Wanna Go'). So, whatever, it's all sang like half-Motown/half-Beach Boys cutesy love songs so your parents won't notice or nothin'.
Songwise, there ain't much a man can say about tunes as high-test supercharged mondo-bot as the melancholy, autumnal masterpiece 'California Dreamin' and the warmhearted smash 'Monday Monday', both almost cinematic in scope and effect, with immediately recognizable, timeless hooks. (More than one each, too....) The visceral effect of the minor-key acoustic guitar that users in 'Dreaming' alone is enough to raise goosebumps for me, and whomever isn't affected by the monstrously powerful call-and-response chorus harmonies is simply a void without soul. You can hear Cass Elliott just pound her voice back there. 'Monday Monday' might be a little overcute, but there isn't anything about 'Dreaming' I can criticize whatsoever...whoever thought of putting that perfectly grey flute solo on there deserves an award.
The lesser known originals aren't nearly as good, or nearly as unique, but instead constitute some pretty decent formula exercises. 'Straight Shooter' and 'Somebody Groovy' are essentially the same song, a boppy semi-rocking tune fit for the teenyboppers to wiggle their pretty panties to but not a lot more (unless you go digging into those nasty lyrics, that is! Jesus, there's really something perverse about this 'liberated bubblegum' thing when you think about it), 'Got A Feeling' gives us the best use of their folkie skills, with some great subtle interplay and their tones at their sweetest and 'You Baby' is a fine intergender Brian Wilson imitation. None of these songs is too impressive on its own, but the fact that Phillips was able to keep such obvious filler material as melodic and youthful and as it is is still pretty good for a dude as crusty as he was.
I'm not at all big on the two covers that Mama Cass doesn't sing, both of which are treated so seriously they're nearly pushed into the land of the Unintentionally Funny. Lieber and Stoller's 'Spanish Harlem' is an a capella exercise in cheesemongering, a show-tuney chunk of whiteboy cornball that could easily have come from the Andrews Sisters or somebody equally sexy, and Denny's miscast oversweet croon renders the formerly jumpy 'Do You Wanna Dance' into something so comatose and castrated that Bobby Darin himself would toss it into the dirty laundry. Mama Cass saves the showtune version of the Beatles' 'I Call Your Name' with her big, effortless voice, sounding something like a less camp/faggy Bette Midler, and improves upon it with the irresistible 'In Crowd'. Covers are usually where folkies lose it, trying to make something a bit too reverent for it's own good, as if they're visiting some stuffy art museum rather than playing some pop tune, and only Cass really shows she can rise above her surroundings and make these tunes fun to listen to when they could easily be too honky to bear. She's big, having fun, and it's apparent...while Phillips can dash off a good tune, Cass is the star of this group. Call Denny the trite, croony one the middle-aged secretaries go for, and Michelle, well, she's alone way up there at the top of the chord, I suppose.
Capn's Final Word: The classics are butter, but the bun ain't so bad neither. A bit doughy, maybe.
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The Mamas and the Papas - MCA 1966
As melodic as they continue to be, I liked them better when they played bubblegum. Everyone's favorite family drama gets serious with their second album, breaching a rather sad boundary and become one of those po-faced Sufferin' Sixties folkie bands who are long on big-sounding statements and short on actual fun. The signs of trouble appear early, with the first notes of the leadoff track 'No Salt on Her Tail' (what is this, an ode to the resilience of a garden slug or something?) which don't take long to divine are stolen directly from 'Like a Rolling Stone'. Granted, maybe the kind of people who bought Mamas and Papas albums in 1966 wouldn't have deigned to hear Dylan's 8-minute magnum opus (not everyone was super hip to the changing times back then y'know), and Phillips thought he could slip one by his fans, but it still stinks a bit like sour milk when I hear it. The rest of the song is a two minute mess of mixed musical metaphors: Is it orchestral? is it soul? Ends up sounding like a big wad of nothing except for the melorable way that Mama and Michelle sing 'no way to make me staaaay' at the very close. Fair warning - for every piece of lame dreck this band makes, there is at least one hidden gem moment that'll jump up and bite you when you're not looking. John simply seems to be in a miniature songwriting funk throughout, spending less time cranking out ensemble-based pop classics and more time exploring his soloists' individual 'styles'.
'I Saw Her Again Last Night' was the major hit here, and sets the dark, brooding tone for much of the rest of the record. This (and a few other songs) is a rather pointed, completely unveiled attack at Michelle, rubbing it in her face that he's cheating and 'living a lie'. It's all a big, childish response at Michelle's own dabblings with Denny that nearly caused the breakup of the band earlier in the year, but it's also a great song. The harmonies are strong and the chord progression clear, and the (unintentional?) stutter of the final 'I saw her..I saw her AGAIIIIN LAAAAST NIIIIGHHT' is the kind of thing that makes my day, gentle friends. It's all about the gems. His other full-band ensemble songs are otherwise nearly all round failures, so he avoids writing too many of them: 'Salt' we've mentioned, but 'Trip, Stumble and Fall' also sounds a damned bit too dark and strained for the goofy pop number it no doubt desires to be (that chorus hook is too slight to be anything more), and 'That Kind of Girl' is simply too nasty to be anything but a dirty throwaway...the forced rhythm make it sound as if it were performed with clinched jaws, and just listen to how little heart the 'girls' put into their backup vocals. Hell, I honestly don't much blame them...if I were Michelle, singing a song so obviously about me, I'd be righteously pissed off. Actually, if I were Michelle, I'd be busy looking at myself naked in a mirror, but that's not a story for the family hour, now is it?
Otherwise, the Phillips screwdriver wises up and decides to make Mamas and Papas a showcase for his three bandmates' solo skills. For himself he keeps the most poppy, bouncy material, stuff like 'I Can't Wait' and 'Even If I Could' that ends the album and invokes Brit Invasion pop, that's the easiest to listen to but most clearly marking time.
John may revel in writing songs for Denny, the 'romantic' one, the one voted most likely to sing everlasting love ballads to pruny octogenarians at a Catskills resort, but his medieval farce 'Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme'-wannabe 'Dancing Bear' is just silly and gross. I'll say that while I like Denny Doherty's voice, his songs are always the cheesiest and most stereotypically 'folkie', like something out of A Mighty Wind. Okay, okay, so 'Dancing Bear' sounds much more like it was taken from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves...I admit it. You got me, copper! 'Strange Young Girls', as another 'dusky' acoustic number in the same vein, is much better: a tough little ballad with mesmerizing interplay between Michelle's beigy elf-croak and Denny's answering croon.
Cass still seems to have the most fun of anyone, either by anchoring down the entire band with her thick alto or taking those memorable, jazz-mama leads. John gives her one of his best songs with 'Words of Love', which ends way too quickly at 2:15...he voice is just a charm tonic, washing away bad memories of gong-bashers like 'Dancing Bear', and she nails 'Dancing In The Street' with enough go-go gusto to completely wipe clean memories of bad covers gone by, and I even think the screwy ending geography lesson is cute. I should probably be shot, but folks have been getting by with questionable taste for millennia now...I like stupid sophomoric humor, is that so damned wrong? Should I be PUN-ished for it? Heh. Heh!. As for ol' Michelle, well, she knows better than to take lead without the strong involvement of her bandmates, notably Cass blaring harmony alongside, as on Rodgers and Hart's 'My Heart Stood Still', which is one of the more harmonically uplifting things on here and a nice fresh of breath hair.
Considering what was happening in the band at the time, the letdown of their second album is understandable, even expected, and there's some credit to be given that they managed to hold it together as well as they did. Of course they had to 'split apart' a little to do it, and in such there's not that many juicy surprises. Denny's tunes are cheesy and suck ass, Michelle is sweet and doesn't stick out, John gives himself nasty character assassinations dressed up like hooky radio-friendly pop, and Cass just has a helluva great time. Just be prepared that the darkness stubbornly doesn't stay put under the bed, and some songs here are just too razor sharp to fit the band's positive demeanor.
Capn's Final Word: They explore the features of the foursome with predictable results for each, but John's bad juju almost spoils dinner.
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Deliver - MCA 1967
It's not too unfair to consider the Mamas and Papas debut to be their only 'real' album, recorded as a family, unfractured by loose-booty flim-flam and backbiting cruelties, which means that a 'return' to that sort of album can't be anything by insincere. Well, as pure as their debut album was, their second album burned bridges. It was encumbered by too much bad energy and outright meanness, and by the time of their third release, Deliver, the band was simply coasting on professionalism and inertia. They were, in fact, broken for good but not willing to kill the golden goose quite yet. The thing is, while their hearts may not have been truly in it, the product is still pretty frigging great for a good chunk of the time, and now that the air is clear and all movements are calculated for commercial success (and not for, you know artistic ones...ew!). On this one they make an attempt to return to the good vibrations of their first album, putting forth more of a 'group unity' feeling than on Mamas and Papas, which often felt like a bunch of solo tracks wadded together into a big ball. They aren't reinventing the wheel here, inf act their styles and songwriting haven't changed drastically since the debut, but while the second one was a bad attempt at recreating the debut (though not without, umm...interesting results), Deliver at least is a good one.
For sho, the band at this time wasn't nearly as cohesive as they came across, and they hinted at this fact on one of their bigger hits, 'Creeque Alley', which describes the band's history in a deceptively lighthearted ramble (punctuated by the 'hardy-har' punchline 'And no one's getting fat 'cept Mama Cass!', which I'm sure made ol' Cass feel great about herself) that hides hard-truth lines like 'Drink-up, break-up, everything is shake-up, guess it had to be that way' and 'can't go on indefinitely'. The song is fun on a certain level, but not really too great except as a sort of peek into the dirty neuroses of a dysfunctional bunch of stoned, horny egotists. Except Mama Cass, who had her own library of psychological mishaps, but at least she never sold crack out of her house like John Phillips would later end up doing. 'Creeque' is fun regardless, and not particularly indicative of the rest of this thing, so whatever..maybe I should leave the dimestore psychoanalysis to multimillionaire quack assholes like Dr. Phil. How did this guy get a TV show, fer fuck's sake? My Magic 8-Ball gives better advice than he does! Like the time it said 'kill the mailman with a garden shovel and masturbate using the severed remains', that worked AWESOME for the time I thought I might have an eating disorder!
Anyway, we kick off with two covers, so all this talk about John's songwiritng skills was a big fucking waste of time anyhow, Denny's mostly-faithful folky version of the Motown rarity 'My Girl' and the girls' kickin' sexy hit cover of The Shirelles' (by way of the 5 Royales) 'Dedicated to the One I Love', and later on we get a strange Denny deconstruction of 'Twist and Shout' that turns a screaming blood-rush party anthem into a high school prom slow dance. Denny usually makes his tunes sorta, you know, pathetic, but this one soars. It also lends new meaning to the line 'let's work it on out' when you hear Michelle sing it louder than everyone else around her. Cass sings another one of her typical showtune-y songs (another Rodgers and Hart, to be sure), but 'Sing for Your Supper' is too cheesy even for this ABBA fan. It's a rare day when Cass can't save a tune with her voice alone, but this one's too far gone. Not so 'Did You Ever Want To Cry', though...I get a bit tired of Cass always singing torchy, dance-hall stuff, but her calm, controlled delivery here shows how deep her professionalism really runs.
It's a good thing that the covers are all ranked on the first side, when you're deciding whether you like the album or not, because the originals on the second half aren't any better than the failed filler on the first two albums. 'Look Through My Window' is moody but sounds completely unoriginal in its genericism (or, if you like, completely original in its unoriginality), using what sound like a bunch of vocal chords borrowed from Rubber Soul and a bunch of sappy strings borrowed from the last Mantovani Plays Movie Themes album. The instrumental 'Frustration' is similarly ruined by twee, cutesy arrangement, not to mention begging the question of how necessary an instrumental is ON A FUCKING VOCAL ALBUM. About as necessary as tits on a boar, urinals at a lesbian bar, or consciences in the Bush Administration, I guess.
'Free Advice' and 'Boys and Girls Together' are at least goofy, and you shouldn't be ashamed if you get ahem.... stimulated after hearing Michelle's breathy, reedy vocals on 'Boys and Girls', or thinking that maybe Debbie Harry stole a few of her tricks back when she was a Playboy Bunny and learning how to sing lead in Wind in the Willows. Her 'String Man' is pretty weak, though...she simply sounds like a desperate groupie instead of a sex kitten. And all who think John Phillips should be poisoned and thrown in the La Brea Tar Pits for his wind-chime left-my-tape-machine-running-while-I-went-off-to-slam-some-Brown bullshit closing track 'John's Music Box', please leave a Reader Comment with a big 'Aye aye captain!' on it. I swear I'll put it up before the year is out!
Capn's Final Word: When the covers, which pulled down the debut, become your runaway best tracks, either you're getting more professional or there's something wrong with your songwriter. Or both.
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Mamas - MCA 1968
A big 'grow up' album, with not a single hit of bubblegum beyond the irreplaceable bit of pop sensibility that pervades everything that John Phillips gets his mitts on, but rather an album of more adult sounding hippie-roots-rock. No hits either, besides the Mama Cass solo track (and Corey Haim movie-inspiration) 'Dream a Little Dream', but rather lots and lots of really subdued, airy folk-rock, no doubt inspired by smoking too much hash and stonedly watching too many late-night westerns on TV. This was apparently recorded in John Phillips' house, meaning that for once the group most likely had a 'band' of their choosing, not to mention a limited access to orchestras and glockenspiels and harpists and shit, but also score a certain worn-out homey feel on their final pre-breakup album. This album, strangely enough, is probably their most complete statement as artists in addition to being their only true 'album' in the modern sense, avoiding obvious cover material (no 'My Girl's here) and worthless filler noise like on the end of Deliver. It was a bold step, and not one that many people quite agreed with (I mean, after going from fitting in nicely with the Young Rascals and the Association on the AM radio, how are people supposed to take an album intended to sit on the shelf between Joan Baez and the latter-day Byrds?). My opinion is to reiterate what I said earlier...the melodies? Well, strong as strong can be once you pick them out. But I still like them singing silly love songs a whole lot better than this atmospheric wheatfield-in-space music they've got going on here. What they buy in consistency they sell off in memorability, and for a band that can orchestrate and harmonize like angel choirs, why would it be preferable to hear them intone these meditative chants that any old bunch of croaky idiots could perform? They've gotta use their gifts a whole lot better than they do on flat-ass tracks like 'Mansions' or 'Meditation Mama (Transcendental Woman Travels)' to make this material rise above the half-dead Frankenstein level.
Some observations of Papas and Mamas:
-- Never, ever, NEVER should the Mamas and Papas be allowed to perform with a noisy acid-rock riff-monster guitar line ('Gemini Childe')
-- Never, ever, NEVER should the Mamas and Papas be allowed to perform a song with a title featuring a conspicuously placed vestigal 'e' ('Gemini Childe')
-- The Mamas and Papas sound better singing country-folk than any other sort of hyphen-folk (e.g. acid-folk, dance-folk, drum'n'bass-folk, Dirty South-folk), but don't do it nearly enough. ('For the Love of Ivy')
-- If I ever see the word 'Transcendental' or 'Meditation' in an albums' track listing, I can't be expected to be responsible for my violent reaction during the duration of time that track is being played. That goes double for cases when they actually appear together in a song title. I should probably just be given diplomatic immunity when that happens, 'cos I'll clog up a court docket singlehandedly.
-- Have I mentioned Cass Elliott is the only one of these guys I really wish were still alive and performing? Does this not point out the despicable injustice and intolerable cruelty of a universe lorded over by a deity?
No, really, this album is okay if you don't mind this sort of light, sleepy earth-tone folk music. It's all still pretty good, but I can't help but wonder why the Mamas and Papas recorded this album as their last one. Were they really that tired of their hitmaking formula that they decided to toss it aside like so many dirty syringes? I'll tell you, this album's clearly designed to have been a John Phillips solo album (even if he didn't know it at the time): it's really quiet and restrained, the harmonic strength of the band is squandered on atmospheric 'doo be doo' backgrounds, and considering the lack of easy hooks, there's no blaming the fans for flocking to it like heifers to a Whataburger. Still, what the masses may have hated the music fan might appreciate, and in the history of folk rock, it at least deserves a footnote.
Capn's Final Word: The M&P's get serious and complex, which ain't what they do best. Soft-core hippies might do well to take a good long look at it.
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Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: my favorite album ever.
i have a question...was it dr. eric hord, john phillips, or someone else who played the distorted electric guitar part on "gemini childe"? my email address is below so you can write back if possible.
i'm a singer songwriter of great unknown in livermore california, and the sound of that guitar has haunted me all my life. i know YOU don't seem to like it, but it's been the very definition of early hard rock grooviness for me.
People Like Us - MCA 1971.
No, John, people like 'California Dreamin', and until you start providing your 'band' with more material like that, no one's gonna give two shits and a warm Mr. Pibb about you. The group's feelings about making this contractual obligation album three (long) years after the original breakup is tellingly illustrated in the four photographs of the bandmembers on the jacket sleeve: Cass looks indifferently at a hand of cards, as if she wanted to be doing anything but record an album with these punks, Doherty looks nearly despondent (and nearly as fat as Cass), Michelle clueless and strung out, and Phillips, unkempt and hairy like Ted Kaczynski, or maybe Boston Red Sox outfielder Johnny Damon (though Phillips is much worse at playing the fly ball off the Green Monster), pointing off in the distance with an unmistakable passive-agressiveness on his face that makes it look like he's in the middle of telling someone how much they suck ass. It's damned depressing after the glowing chumminess of their first two covers, all Michelle-sexy and hippie utopian, and the music within this shoddy heap is worse. THIS DOES NOT SOUND LIKE THE MAMAS AND PAPAS. Hear that? It's the sound of truth, friends and creditors! Whatever it does sound like, it's about as far from the fresh melodicism of If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears as Brittany Murphy from not being a skanky-ass anorexic no-talent. What it does sound like is quicky soft-rock sellout, halfway between the Carpenters without the garage-rock drive and Linda Ronstadt without the soul credibility. If you've ever wanted to hear, in gory, bloody detail, what happened to hippie musical idealism not so many years after the death of the hippie movement, buy this album. Sure, you can say 'It's just a contractual obligation! They hated each others guts and never even met in the studio at the same time! Of course it sucks donkey tonsils.' That doesn't explain this level of badness, though. It's not simply mediocre and boring...there's actually a list of things to hate here, and picking one to describe first is like choosing which body part you want amputated before the other ones. Allright, let's go: the mix, for one thing is such that all the voices cloud together into a faceless, pale-white mass, losing every bit of the fascinating tonal combinations they used to create, which wouldn't be so bad if they had anything interesting arranged for them in the first place. Forget interplay, massed major chords are the name of the game from here until next Friday, and it begins to wear on the listener badly. Again, in short, it just doesn't sound like them...it really, truly, could be anyone. Remember how Cass used to be a guiding light of energy and focus in the band, leading by example? Well, it might be better if you go ahead and forget, because she may as well not be on this record.
The lyrics are flat but unassuming, not a major sore spot but nonetheless making the lack of any sort of melodic base that much more glaring. The sellout pussified production only exacerbates the melody disease, rendering (formerly) one of the most immediately recognizable ensemble sounds in rock music into pale copies of what else was big at the time. The best they can muster, in fact, is a kind of variation on the unballsy unassuming soft rocking of the contemporary Beach Boys with 'Pacific Coast Highway', and lemme tell you, that ain't any good. At other times they sound like they're recording a television show theme ('Shooting Star'), some weird emulation of early-Seventies Fleetwood Mac soft-prog ('Lady Genevieve), or Crosby, Stills, and Nash ('Pearl'). And good Christ and St. John playing shuffleboard in a rainstorm, but 'Blueberries for Breakfast' sounds for the life of me like the Starland Vocal Group, of 'Afternoon Delight' fame. If that's what the Mamas and Papas doth beget, let me take back at least half the nice things I said about this band. Okay, not really, but I will say that Michelle sounds lamer than ever on the pointlessly banal 'I Wanna Be A Star', which for all intents and purposes could have been titled 'I Wanna Be A Coatrack' considering the passionate reading on display here. I also hate the musical arrangements, the drag-ass tempos, the unimaginative song structures, the Garcia-lite country guitar solos, and the frequent, lengthy stretches where the vocals drop out completely so we can just sit and grok session musician whitewash for minutes at a time. I'm sure I can find some more things to bitch about, but the point has been made. If there had ever been a germ in the back of John's or Denny's or Michelle's minds about 'what might have been', People Like Us killed that dodo bird good and dead. From here on out, the Mamas and Papas existed only in free civic center performances put on by John Phillips and his motley collection of random folk-losers for $300 in drug money and one more shot through the heart of his talent. Michelle ended up on network television as a sort of second-tier middle aged sex symbol along the lines of a Barbara Eden, Denny went solo with a shred more dignity than John, and Mama Cass just outgrew her body. Took the easy way out, I'd say.
Capn's Final Word: This soft rock abortion should never have happened. A truly terrible attempt to revive the dead.
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