I Dig The Mamas And The Papas

See the offensive toilet disappear? 

I’ve culled the title of this posting from “I Dig Rock ‘N’ Roll Music” by Peter, Paul, and Mary. The Mamas & The Papas weren’t very rock ‘n’ roll, but I’ve always enjoyed how they namecheck Michelle Phillips and Cass Elliot in the second verse. 

I Dig Rock ‘N’ Roll Music

John Phillips played with fire by getting involved with Michelle Phillips. He was married and touring with his group The Journeymen in L.A. when he met 18-year-old Michelle Gilliam. Michelle was a smart and with-it Hollywood girl, and stunningly beautiful. Soon John left his wife, married Michelle, and formed The Mamas & The Papas along with Cass Elliot and Denny Doherty.

It’s practically mythology now that the group went to the Virgin Islands and took a lot of liquid acid and wrote a lot of music, so I won’t get into that. “Creeque Alley” off the album Deliver chronicles the band’s beginnings, when they maxed out their American Express cards on their extended vacation.

Creeque Alley

Michelle and Denny Doherty began an affair before the band had achieved any success. Both men were in love with her, Cass Elliot was in love with Denny. Michelle was in love with John and Denny, but she was a free lover, and didn’t feel possessive over either of them. When she began an affair with Gene Clark of The Byrds, John kicked her out of the band, replacing her with producer Lou Adler’s girlfriend. At the time of their brief but tumultuous affair, Gene Clark was recording his album Gene Clark With The Gosdin Brothers, which he claimed was inspired jointly by The Beatles’ Rubber Soul, and The Mamas & The Papas. I can definitely hear a Phillips influence on “Needing Someone.”

Needing Someone

Eventually, Michelle rejoined the band, but the reformation was short-lived. John was drinking too much, Cass was upset with everyone, and they broke up. They were bound contractually to release one last album, which they did in 1971. People Like Us was not a big success, as none of them really had their hearts in it. “Shooting Star” is a great track off of it, exhibiting more of a 70s sound production-wise. 

Shooting Star

John’s first solo album John, The Wolfking of L.A., gives you an idea of what his post-Michelle period was like. By this point he was in love again, with South African model and sometimes actress Genevieve Waite. They were sinking into narcotic-use, despite her pregnancy. The album, tinged with pedal steel courtesy of Sneaky Pete Kleinow,  is at times unbearably sad, and other times buoyant with love and optimism. Undoubtedly, John was still screwed-up over Michelle. The album art, of John stumbling around wearing a fur coat on the beach, screams junk to me. 

“Someone’s Sleeping” is my favorite song on the record. I love the lines about him standing on a balcony in Tangiers, with tears dreaming down his dirty face. “Holland Tunnel” is great, too. The song is basically instructions on how to get out of New York, which personally has always been an instant cure for my city blues. I was bummed out when “Holland Tunnel” appeared on the The Squid And The Whale soundtrack. I hate Noah Baumbach for co-opting such a good song and putting it in such an annoying movie. The context is all wrong.  Don’t get me started on Wes Anderson. 

Someone’s Sleeping

John helped Genevieve with her music career, writing and producing most of the songs on her 1973 debut album Romance Is On The Rise. “Biting My Nails” is undeniably a waiting-for-my-man song, full of slightly-veiled to overt drug references. Nice 1940s pin-up photo of Genevieve by Richard Avedon. 

Biting My Nails

After The Mamas & The Papas, Michelle began acting. She appeared in Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie in 1971. They were married for 8 days and had an amicable split. Her first big role was opposite Warren Oates in John Milius’ Dillinger. She’s not amazing in this film, but her character wasn’t very developed. Harry Dean Stanton is amazing as one of Dillinger’s accomplices, and ofcourse, Warren Oates never fails. John Milius also directed Red Dawn, which made me more afraid of the Russians than I already was as a kid. 

Michelle was known for breaking hearts. Among her other boyfriends:

Michelle intermittently released singles throughout the 1970s, many of them writing collaborations with John, with whom she tried to remain close, especially for the sake of their child, Chynna, of Wilson-Phillips fame. She would find herself acting as a surrogate parent to his children with Genevieve, Tamerlane and Bijou. The couple were still deep into drug use. John would be a drug-abuser, on and off,  for the rest of his life until his heart gave out in 2001. Here are John and Genevieve in 1974, both looking particularly out of it. 

They stayed together until 1985. 

In 1977, Michelle appeared in the Ken Russell film Valentino, playing the silent screen star’s lover opposite Rudolph Nureyev. It looks like pretty sultry stuff, but apparently Michelle couldn’t stand Nureyev, making for no screen sizzle between them. Around this time she recorded “The Achin’ Kind,” this smooth country-rock tune with autobiographical lyrics. “Steel guitars, honkytonk bars- nothing makes you crazy like singing in a rock and roll band…”

The Achin’ Kind

Cass Elliot had the most successful solo career after their break-up. She was a popular guest on several variety shows. I remember seeing her on an episode of Scooby Doo when I was a kid. It had something to with a haunted chocolate factory owned by Cass.I think the chocolate bars were called Cass Bars.  Here she is on The Johnny Cash Show singing a medley of pop country tunes.

Cass also did a cover of Judee Sill’s “Jesus Was A Crossmaker.”

Jesus Was A Crossmaker

Below is a picture of Genevieve, John and Michelle at Cass Elliot’s funeral in 1974. 

Denny Doherty died of kidney failure in 2007. Denny, along with John, participated in many of the reunions of the group in the 1980s, which included John’s actress daughter from his first marriage, Mackenzie Phillips. Mackenzie, recently arrested for cocaine and heroin possession, was introduced to drugs at a young age, claiming her father showed her how to shoot up when she was eighteen. She also claims at that age she had a one night stand with Mick Jagger, in which he said he’d been wanting to have sex with her since she was ten. 

Oddly, John’s last hit song- performed by another band beleaguered by line-up woes, interpersonal conflicts, and premature deaths- would make it to the #1 spot on the charts in 1988. The Beach Boys minus Brian Wilson (who was under the spell of the svengali/shrink Eugene Landy at the time) can thank John Phillips for giving them their final hit “Kokomo” from the Cocktail soundtrack. Well, I say it’s their final hit, but who knows? Lousy movie, great song. Most of you are probably saying, no, awful song.

Here is Kermit The Frog singing “Kokomo.”

Here are two great versions of “California Dreamin'” you’ve got to hear, from soul singer Lee Moses, and Portuguese garage band Os Claves. 

California Dreamin’- Lee Moses

California Dreamin’- Os Claves

I can’t believe I almost forgot Baby Huey’s version.

California Dreamin’- Baby Huey & The Babysitters

 

Lastly, The Mamas And The Papas in happier times:

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13 responses to “I Dig The Mamas And The Papas

  1. As usual, I have nothing insightful to add, since my knowledge of music plateaus well before yours even gets off the ground.

    Thoroughly enjoyed listening to Baby Huey while reading another interesting post. Where you find all these incredible pictures and sounds is beyond me, but I love it.

  2. That is an absolute killer post. Amazingly interesting and I too don’t know how you managed to find all those great images. Awesome.

  3. Thanks, Adam. As you might have ascertained, I’m a big fan of Diddy Wah!

  4. Great post. I learned a lot. Thanks! (And it really doesn’t need to be repeated for the millionth time but, whoa, Michelle’s a looker.)

  5. The link on my last comment was messed up. This is Paul from Setting The Woods on Fire. Just wanted to say I’m glad I found your blog. Good stuff.

  6. Whenever my mother would catch me eating something while I was lying down she would chastise me by saying, “You know, that’s how Mama Cass died.”

  7. What a great post. I just wrote about California Dreaming on my blog; I wish I had come across the covers you posted before that.

  8. Thanks, AMD. I’ve been enjoying you blog for a while now. Finally got it up on my links sidebar!

  9. Oh thanks. I also linked to yours. I’ve had a wonderful time catching up with your older posts.

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  12. Pingback: Any Major Dude With Half A Heart » Great covers: The Mamas and the Papas – If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears

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