a gathering of flowers

the mamas & the papas

Well, pop has finally grown up, or so we're told. Stan kenton leads a standing ovation for Blood, Sweat & Tears at a recent concert and Bernstein endorsements are a dime a dozen. The Woodstock Arts & Music Fair (or Catskills Folk Festival if you wish to be geographically more precise) has assumed spiritual proportions akin to Moses' arrival at the Promised Land. NEWSWEEK devotes half a column to the social import of Wild Man Fishcer, Hentoff does pop reviews for Cosmopolitan and even the sedate SATURDAY REVIEW runs a banner headline on 'How The Stones Keep Rolling.

And then, of course, there are the now familiar theories -- usually couched in tossed slang and bandied about the Fillmore on a Saturday night--about how those of us who are young will soon be in power ('young,' apparently, being determined by size and shape of moustache rather than date of birth--it has to do with 'state of mind'--about how the new pop pilgrims have led us to the threshold of a New Age although nobody has yet defined what lies beyond, and most of all about how pop has provided a vehicle for honesty, unity and hope for the future--a sort of international language of the young that portends fairyland for all of us on the near horizon.

Out of all this--and peculiar to most of what has come to be known as The New Music--has emerged one consistent and overriding philosopy: that in these days of desperation, frustration and alienation, 'We Are All One' or, as a recent hit record states so eloquently: "I am you, you are me, you are what you are."

We are all one. Oh that this were so. Unfortunately there has seldom been an age of such varied human discord in the history of Western Civilization and this is surely reflected in the emotional if not musical dissonance of contemporary rock.

Overnight, it seems, pop has become an art form. It is fanatically and voraciously consumed as such by its young constituents. Now there are 'rock critics' just like movie critics, so that groups who used to be merely good or bad are 'esoteric,' 'generic,' 'eclectic' and so on. Hyperbole is the order of the day. Every new singer is touted as 'the greatest white blues singer since Bessie Smith or Robert Johnson.' Never have there been so many poets, although it is doubtful that when Keats sat daydreaming on Hampstead Heath he ever saw 'ice-cream castles in the air.'

As recording facilities improve in this age of technology and the once Runyonesque recording industry slowly but surely liberalizes and cleanses itself while reeling from the impact of the new morality, so opportunities become greater for the young musician. Few intelligent artists, for instance, are limited to making single records anymore and the album has become the medium of the day. If you've got something to say--or even if you haven't--you can take forty minutes to say it. The pop song of the seventies will rarely be shorter than ten minutes.

Perhaps there IS an increasing honesty in pop, perhaps it is all a good thing, perhaps the destinies of many of us really are bound up in it. And perhaps the fact that this maturing process, these growing pains, have inevitably drained pop of many of the life-forces which created it--its glorious vulgarity, its backwoods skulduggery, its mythical God-figures, and most of all its remarable sense of humour--perhaps this is a good thing too. Or perhaps not. One can possibly be forgiven for feeling at times that pop has lost much of its magic at the expense of this new respectability.

With all this in mind, one hearkens back to the latter part of '65 for that was when we first heard The Mamas & The Papas and it was, indeed, a magic time. "Satisfaction" was number one for most of that summer and many were the maidenheads sacrificed. Bob Dylan seethed, bristled and ultimately wrung his hands and in his wake came folk-rock.

First there were McGuinn's high-flying Byrds who really defined the idiom applying their jangling guitar sound and warm, engulfing harmonies to traditional and modern fold songs. For a while, they really did seem like 'the chimes of feedom flashing.' Next came Barry McGuire, a tanned, blond mountain of a man with twinkling blue eyes and a seaman's tongue whose producer felt he could become the Elvis Presley of the folk movement and who could be found in various stages of undress at love-ins up and down the state that summer, rolling in the good earth and laughing his great, gusty laugh.

Simon & Garfunkel's precise and literate cameos of loneliness became subject matter in many a college English class yet they have consistently retained their evocative beauty. Tim Hardin didn't have hits but influenced practically everybody, not least John Sebastian, a fine harmonica player from the Village who became an even better singer and writer and created the Good Time Music of the Lovin' Spoonful.

From England's green and pleasant land came England's green and pleasant Donovan whose 'Sunshine Superman' remains a minor classic of its time, and, as much a product of time and circumstances as any of the others, the Mamas & Papas emerged from this colourful melange with possibly the freshest sound of all.

The Mamas & The Papas was a magic group. It embodied four unusually talented, striking people who neither looked nor sounded remotely like anyone else and who made beautiful, fluent music without ever being sidetracked into the jungle of red-herrings that prevents so many nascent creative entities from achieving full maturity. They never got that much better--it was really all there in the beginning.

John Phillips started it all, he was really the key figure, and he's a tall, thin, nervous person of great poise. He was a little older than the others, he'd been around, he'd even been schooled for the military at Anapolis. Back in the early folk days when the Kingston Trio were dictating the trend, he had had an Ivy League group called the Journeymen and you can still find their records in discount bins if you look hard enough. The Journeymen, who never really became famous, was a smooth-sounding quartet who sang all the old folk standards like 'Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor' and 'I Know You Rider, Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone.' Phillips wrote much of their repertoire himself and revealed een then a distinctive talent for the arranging of voices, the sounds and effects of blending different voices in certain ways. in the Journeymen he had the fluent lead tenor of Scott McKenzie to work with, and around this he created perhaps the most lyrical of all the early folk-groups.

In the spring of '65 he was living in New York with his young wife Michelle, a gorgeous, winsome little thing with china-blue eyes and a girlish smile and she was doing some modelling and the Kingston Trio was long since out of vogue and nobody was making much money and when the idea for a new group was born, Dennis Doherty did not hesitate to enlist.

Doherty is a strange person, charming but reserved, giving nothing away. He's a Canadian from Nova Scotia who like Phillips had done his time with a folksy outfit of minor repute, this one called The Cumberland Three. Like McKenzie, he was givted with a smooth, ringing tenor voice that was to prove perfect for Phillip's needs.

Cass Elliot, now forever Mama Cass, had left the Big Three where she had partnered Tim Rose and James Hendricks, and had been working more recently with Denny in the Mugwumps. This was an early super-group which included John Sebastian and Zalman Yanowsky, Clown Prince of the folk-rockers and once alluded to as the case against Irael. Oddly enough and probably due to a conflict of artistic and professional interests, the Mugwumps never amounted to anything and when they dissolved Cass threw her lot in with John.

She is a sterling performer, a trooper in the grand old show-biz tradition a pro who twenty years earlier could have been Vera Lynn. She's an extravagant person with a tremendous driving energy, and nothing can phase her. She can sing like a bird and she can sing like a whore. Donovan wrote a song for her called 'The Fat Angel.'

Cass was the prime life-force of the Mamas & The Papas, and if Phillips was the musical mastermind, she was the personality. She added the vital spark.

Following their trip to the Virgin Islands, courtesy American Express (see Creeque Alley) during which, according to popular legend, they camped out on the beaches in grass huts and ate raw fish and were ultimately deported for general scruffiness, Cass and Denny and the Phillips' arrived in California. American Express was later to be re-imbursed with interest from royalties resultant of that Island sojourn where several of the early hits were written.

What was now required was a catalyst. It is perhaps worth devoting a little time here to some behind-the-scenes events and personalities if only to show that the much maligned record-industry processes can be of greater value than the underground press would have us believe, and that good things don't necessarily happen by accident.

Dunhill Records was at this time but a few months old and generating the sort of fervour that besets a small independent label when it gets its first hit. "Eve of Destruction" was fading, and the company was hungrilly seeking new talent.

Dunhill was the brainchild of three shrewd executives.

In the first place Bobby Roberts, had discovered Ann Margret. Roberts is a small, tough, bright-eyed entrepreneur who has since become a successful film producer. He's suave and personable and very dynamic, groomed in Las Vegas where he had been a dancer with the Dunhills and he had retired from the performing business and got into management with an elderly Beverly Hills partner who represented people like Dick Shawn and Anna Maria Alberghetti.

One day a yong, tanned busty surfer girl walked into Robers' office, or so the story goes, told him she wante to be a star, flashed her teeth, tossed her long auburn hair and said her name was Ann-Margret.

Lou Adler, in those days a publishing executive at Columbia's Screen Gems, had been friendly with Ann-Margret and somewhere along the line had established contact with Roberts. He came from Boyle Heights, a rough area in suburban Los Angeles and it is even rumoured that his father was involved with Capone back in Chicago and had hopped a freight to California when the heat was turned on. Adler had worked his way to the top of his field, bobbing, weaving, feinting, always a jump ahead of the next mn, mostly riding trends but always creating exquisite records which almost invariably defined the trends responsible for them. Nothing could stop him. He started producing records with Herb Alpert (their first hit was 'Baby Talk' with Jan & Dean) and then Sam Cook (with whom he co-authored 'Wonderful World'). He produced a hit for the Everly Brothers ('Crying In The Rain'), rode the surfing craze hard with Jan & Dean, and came in behind Trini Lopez with Johnny Rivers who played nightly with his live-wire trio at the Whisky-A-Gogo, becoming a sort of jet-set speciality and for a while the rage of the discoteques and suppper clubs.

Adler is still making records and now he's making films too and most people say he's mellowed and he's certainly more outgoing. Yet he has retained his mystique and much of that derived from the early days at Dunhill and his involvement with The Mamas & The Papas. He used to be wonderfully vain, notoriously arrogant, and his strange, brooding temperament set him apart from the enfants terrible who followed Spector, apart from his Hollywood look-alikes who still exist in droves. He was, and is, as the saying goes, heavy.

Roberts' brother-in-law is Jay Lasker. Lasker is a big, bluff, ruddy-faced executive who could sell you the Brooklyn Bridge. He's great. He smokes huge cigars, has a tendency to shout, and on his office wall, above the inevitable plant and apart from the BMI plaques, he has framed an advertisement for an ad agency, the copy of which is worth reproducing in full as it is the key to an approach that has made him one on the most successful record-men of the sixties..

YOU HEAR A LOT ABOUT VINCENT," reads the headline, "BUT WHAT ABOUT THEO?" And it continues:

"Hot, sunny day in Southern France. The light just right on the haystack, on the Cypress trees. And plenty of fat tubes of green and blue and gold and yellow pain--all the paint Vincent could so prolifically squeeze straight on to the canvas. All the canvas he could ever use. Acres of canvas. Gallons of paint.

"Who bought all the lovely paint and canvas? NOt Vincent Van Gogh. Vincent was invariably broke.

Theo bought the paint and canvas. The frames, even. Theo bought the food. Theo paid the rent on that little house. Theo made it possible for his brother to do nothing but paint. "Theo was a business-man and a good one. With Vincent, Theo formed that combination so necessary to all successful enterprise--the combination of business acumen and creative flair."

Lasker, too, had been around. A qualified lawyer from New York, he had put in some time at Decca Records and knew how to sell country music, he'd been at VeeJay in its early days and knew how to sell blues, he'd been at Reprise in its infancy and knew all about vanilla. He is an absolute master of the hard sell, with a detached yet inherent understanding of what the public wants to hear, and he was vital to Dunhill in its early days.

He's no less vital now.

As he sits backi in the high leather chair in his sumptuous office at Dunhill today, puffing on his cigar, eyes twinkling, he will pick up a copy of 'Rolling Stone' magazine and smile warmly.

"Rolling Stone hates all our groups," he grins and then, raising his voice exultantly and pounding his fist on the polished desk so that the imitation quill-pens quiver, "But we keep selling records!!" And he's right. Everywhere you look, you see gold records.

That was the beginning of Dunhill, whose offices were not in Hollywood like the other record companies, but in Beverly Hills, where sprinklers play on smooth green lawns and you're quite likely to bump into Otto Preminger or Milton Berle when taking a dee-jay to lunch at the Brown Derby. It was perhaps the most interesting formula in pop at the time--the ideal complex. Adler found and produced the talent, Roberts managed it, Lasker promoted and sold it. "Dunhill Records--not just a company that makes records," according to Lasker's slogan, "But a Record Company."

After the enormous success of Barry McGuire, Adler wanted a group. Not just any group, but a special group. He wanted to get in there and compete with the best, the Byrds and the Spoonful and even the Stones. And then he was introduced by McGuire to John, Michelle and Cass and Denny, and he saw the chemistry. Here was the stuff that posters on bedroom walls are made of. They immediately took to each other. There was a particular affinity between Adler and Phillips who were not only the same age but also shared common goals and were later to form a motion picture company together. As for the others, debts were paid, just like Vincent and Theo, houses were rented, contracts were signed and sessions commenced.

They were always fantastic sessions.

They recorded in Western studios down below Sunset & Vine, a small, sterile building where Brian Wilson had made all his hits. Bones was the engineer and the coterie of musicians was usually the same: an old guitarist friend from the Islands known as the Doctor--a carrot-topped, freckled, madman country musician who played just about anything, when he wasn't in jail for unpaid tickets or some stupid thing, but who mostly played guitar, Phil Sloan on twelve string who was young and impressionable then, going through his Dylan period with a funny little cap and a permanently curled upper lip, Steve Barri, his old writing partner bashing a tambourine and generally helping out, a gangly tow-haired piano-wizard called Larry Knechtel who used to play with Duane Eddy, Rivers' old bass man Joe Osborn, and Hal Blaine the dummer man who always had a little book of 'hone numbers if you were going out of town (most of which had been disconnected by the time you got to Cleveland or somewhere) and who had a seemingly inexhaustible supply of lewd jokes which he would often express at the most inopportune moments--when you had a headache, when you were double-parked outside, or--crime of crimes--in the middle of that perfect take.

Adler would hunch behind the console, scowling and seldom permitting visitors and Phillips would be in the studio directing the group.

Phillips got the voices, Adler got the sound, between them all they got the tracks--what came to be known and imitated as 'The Dunhill Track' with Blaine's drums always thudding out in four-time on the choruses. The first four things recorded were 'CALIFORNIA DREAMIN,' GOT A FEELIN', MONDAY MONDAY & GO WHERE YOU WANNA GO.

"GO WHERE YOU WANNA GO" actually came out first but, ever cautious, Adler pulled all the promotional copies after a programme director who should have been a bank clerk, slouched in his tiny office with his crackling, forty-dollar record-player, weary from a long afternoon of poor records and phoney compliments, listened to half a verse at inaudible volume when it was presented to him and firmly dismissed it. That particular station has since become an all-news outlet. There is little doubt that "Go Where You Wanna Go" would have been a hit then, as it subsequently proved to be by the Fifth Dimension.

"CALIFORNIA DREAMIN'" was rushed out. A new sound had hit radio and although slow to respond in terms of playing it, the public was immediate when given the opportunity to hear. "MONDAY MONDAY" was the second record and it went to number one. The first album was released and it is probably the best they did for there's never a pattern to follow that early in the game. The comver conveyed kookinees--that was the image--with the Mamas & The Papas all squeezed together in a bathtub. Roberts began to pull in the big television shows--first the Hollywood Palace, then Sullivan and the rest. And then the road--long hauls across the country culminating in a triumphabnt, memorable concert at Carnegie Hall.

They always looked fantastic. Michelle wore pretty blouses and Mexican shawls and the tightest flared pants accentuating her little firm behind, and Cass wore bright, voluminous robes, sweeping across the stage like Good Queen Bess, always exuding warmth and humour, always making the crowd laugh when the equipment broke down or somebody forgot the words. John wore a little pill-box cord hat and didn't move around to much--just sort of stood there always looking a little uncomfortable, a little pained, even a little aloof as if he really should be doing something else. Denny wore priest-like robes and wandered around the stage, eyes fixed mournfully on some imaginary Spanish balcony, smiling vaguely, saying nothing, just waiting for his parts and then giving out in his beautiful ringing tenor.

It always sounded perfect. Phillips would spend hours rehearsing and in person they always duplicated their recorded sound which was not easy for often his vocal arrangements were remarkably complicated (e.g. THE DANCING BEAR, DEDICATED TO THE ONE I LOVE) and you can't make mistakes at Carnegie Hall unless you're Phil Ochs when it's expected and usually applauded.

The Mamas & The Papas prospered. THey were a huge success in England and on the Continent. They became very rich and they lived life to its fullest. They hung out with the Beatles and frequented all the in spots. Cass went through innumerable Alfa Romeos and Porsches and wound up owning a $17,000 AstonMartin in stop red. She also had a baby and became a real Mama and nobody knew who the father was and there was much intrigue. John & Michelle had a baby too--a pretty little girl called China--and they bought an enormous mansion with a sunken floored ballroom and huge French windows and a room for playing pool and acres of land complete with riding stable and Bronte swings in fashionable Bel Air. It had once belonged to Jeannette MacDonald and they threw fantastic parties to which they invited many Hollywood stars. Denny bought a spacious Victorian mansionette high up in the Hollywood Hills and stocked it with thousands of dollars' worth of antique furniture, lots of booze, and several colour television sets and every night was open house. Cass drifted from place to place with her usual abandon, spending several weeks in a $9000.00 a month penthouse previously leased to Natalie Wood.

It became difficult to keep everything together. It always does. John and Michelle started quarrelling, and then John hit a dry spell and Cass wanted to go solo and in the middle of everything, Adler, Lasker, and Roberts sold Dunhill to ABC for a cool five million. Roberts went into film production, Adler left and formed his own label and Lasker, solid as ever, rode out the storm and continued to build Dunhill within its new corporate framework. There were some lawsuits which never amounted to anything, there was more internal squabbling, John wanted to get into film production with Adler, Cass decided finally to go it alone and by the time personal relationships were repaired it was really all over. It had been almost three years, but somehow it seemed like only weeks. And yet throughout these trying times, remarkably enough, the quality of the Mamas & The Papas' recorded product rarely waned.

The first album, which took but eight weeks to complete, was, as previously indicated, probably the best. Here were 'Monday Monday' and 'California Dreamin', here was Cass' seductive message to John Lennon, "I Call Your Name," here was "Spanish Harlem" in all its fragile beauty. Yet who could forget "Words of Love" on the second record, or "Look Through My Window" & "Creeque Alley" on the third? As late as 1967 they were sounding as fresh as ever with such rich and powerful recordings as "Twelve-Thirty" and "Dedicated To The One I Love." If the pressures and demands of such enormous success made it impossible for the unit to continue as such, then at least they left us sounding almost as good as when they had arrived, so that their departure--it was never a demise--has left a gap that has never quite been filled. Perhaps, as Derek Taylor wrote, the end of the Mamas & The Papas really was the end of an era. For many of us, they were the last of the magic groups.

And today? Today John still lives in Jeannette MacDonald's old place in Bel Air, and he's not seen around too much. He has an office of his own in Beverly Hills and he is rumoured to be making a movie about Shelley & Byron with Lou Adler who is toying with the idea of playing Trelawney, the sea captain. Togehter, Adler & Phillips have already released one picture, a cinema-verite look at the Monterey Pop Festival which they put together with such pride and care in the summer of '67, assembling possibly the finest array of pop talent ever to be seen in one place at one time. Lou has his record label--he calls it Ode--and at this writing is devoting most of his spare time from the movie project to making records again after a short lay-off. It's funny how you always go back to old friends. At present he's working again with Johnny Rivers and the Everly Brothers. Michelle is looking after he baby and apparently enjoying the comparative anonymity of civilian life again. She doesn't come out that often, but she was down at the Troubadour the other night and she looked happier and healthier than ever. Denny it is said, is putting a new group together with includes the Doctor and McGuire and will probably be seen and heard by the time you read this. And good old Cass, after a couple of false starts and an extraordinary opening at Caesar's Palace up in Las Vegas, is getting hits on her own now, still very much in evidence, hosting the Hollywood Palace, quipping with Johnny and Merv on the talk shows, and roaring around Hollywood in a variety of expensive cars. Bobby Roberts just finished producing a Western. And Lasker? Uncle Jay just keeps moving that product.
January 1970



***In the inside of the box for this record collection is a series of song lyrics, I don't want to type them up, so if you really want to know what they are, I'm just going to link you to my lyrics page.***
Monday, Monday
California Dreamin'
Dedicated to the One I Love
Once Was A Time I Thought
Twelve-Thirty (Young girls are coming to the canyon)
Words of Love
Dancing Bear
Go Where You Wanna Go
I Saw Her Again Last Night
Creeque Alley
Did You Ever Want To Cry
Look Through My Window
You Baby
Midnight Voyage
Safe In My Garden
Trip, Stumble and Fall
No Salt on her Tail
Somebody Groovy

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