Thursday, April 14, 2011

In Praise Of The Mamas and The Papas

As a quirk of history would have it, I was born in 1959, as the original rock n' roll movement was going through its death throes: Elvis in the Army, returning to civilian life to make mediocre records and a string of horrible movies; Buddy Holly and the extremely promising Richie Valens (and The Big Bopper too) dead in a frozen Iowa field; Chuck Berry was about to be convicted of transporting a 14-year girl over state lines "for immoral purposes" and sent to The Big House for almost two years; and others simply dead too young or past their prime.

When the greatest rock band ever --shut up, all your arguments are invalid and I'll gladly expound AT GREAT LENGTH WHY-- The Beatles burst on the American scene in early 1964, I was just becoming conscious of TV. By the time I had my own "first love" band in the form of The Pre-Fab Four aka The Monkees in 1967, I was a full-fledged music fan. It helped that my awesome Dad had big record collection of everything from Johnny Cash to Walter (later Wendy) Carlos' Switched On Bach to Stravinsky and two older sisters and an older brother who got all the latest releases.

Part of that mix was The Mamas and the Papas, one of the great vocal harmony groups in an era of great vocal harmony groups. If I was to name my favorite 20 songs, the M&P's Go Where You Wanna Go would easily make the list.

The harmonies, the lyrics reflecting that all-too-brief period in American (and British) life ca. 1964-1967 when it seemed anything was possible (Go where you wanna go/And do what you what wanna do/With whoever you want, babe), the wonderful Lou Adler/Bones Howe production, and for this bass guitarist, the wonderful bass line by the great Joe Osborn, it all adds up to 2:30 of aural bliss.

What blows me away is that John Phillips, the M&P's leader and songwriter, has a reputation as a great songwriter that lasts to this day based on maybe a dozen songs. Another favorite is autobiographical Creeque Alley (pronounced Creeky Alley), seen to great effect in this playful lip-sync job:

The Mamas and the Papas lasted a little under three years in their original run (I'll ignore the contractual obligation reunion(s)), breaking up amid drug abuse, members tending to sleep with one another and the usual "I'll be more successful as a solo act" hubris, but I just have to hear those golden harmonies on my favorite songs of theirs and it's pure musical bliss.

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