Stealthily, I’m penning an article on my memories of the 70’s. It’s a think-piece with much first-hand material, assorted recollections, warm memories. There’s laughter, tears; insight. If you remember the 70’s, you were probably there.
In the 70’s I got my music mainly from the Radio 2 – Terry Wogan or Stupot rather than Radio 1 and Tony Blackburn. We are all victims of our parents’ choices. Obviously Thursday nights and Top of the Pops or the music slot on Swap Shop was important. But for repeated plays I would need to raid my parents record collection. Hence my love of The Carpenters or Abba, I guess.
And the Mamas and Papas.
I created a Mamas and Papas playlist recently to play on the train to work. I love the Mamas and Papas. Although the group was of the 60’s* they are inextricably linked to the 70’s for me.
I played and played the Best of The Mamas and Papas LP. It was the British best of compilation with just ten tracks. I knew every word. They informed my evolving worldview. My nascent thoughts on relationships were crystalized by “Sing for your Supper’, “I Saw Her Again Last Night’, ‘Dedicated to the One I Love’. Before I actually had relationships, I had an idea of what they were about.
So; who were the Mamas and Papas?
John Philips – tall, songwriter and vocal arranger. Boss. Obsessive. Drug casualty.
Mama Cass - Big, bold and brassy with a belting powerhouse of a voice. The heart and soul of the group. Fancied Denny. He preferred Michelle.
Denny Doherty – Lead singer. Dressed in a kaftan at the Monterey festival. Looked a prat. Slept with Michelle. Wrote ‘I Saw Her Again’ about this.
Michelle Phillips – Ethereal, heartbreakingly beautiful. Thin soprano voice but she had the look. Wife of John but also known for shagging Denny and, briefly, the late great Gene Clark of the Byrds.
And their sound?
Bright if somewhat wistful songs with complex multi tracked musical arrangements that utilise interweaving lead and backing vocals. A unique sound – briefly with us and then, gone forever.
After their hippy beginning (documented in the hit Creeque Alley) the group only really lasted two years in the public eye – from late 1965 to late 1967. They reformed in 1971 to complete their unsuccessful fifth album - as demanded by contract - but they were essentially a mid 60’s group.
I hesitate to put in a list headed – My Favourite Mamas and Papas songs. I’ll instead entitle it:
Some Interesting Mamas and Papas Songs
Twelve Thirty (young Girls are coming to the Canyon) – I discovered this later, in the 80’s. Moody, reflective, with tinkling piano underpinning one of John Philips best songs juxtaposing an unfriendly New York with the warmth of California. The possibility of renewal.
Look Through My Window – The opening line, “It’s not that lovers are unkind,” is a wonderful, if oblique, start to this wistful romantic vinaigrette. “Look through my window, to the street below’. It takes a formulaic set up –someone reflecting on a break up whilst looking out of a window- and turns this into a wider metaphor for alienation. Great vocals throughout, resolved by Denny’s softly repeated ‘She’s gone,” at the end.
For The Love of Ivy – One for hard-core Mamas and Papas fans. John Philips’s masterwork, constructed over many, many sessions in his home studio. Harmony, piled on harmony, choirs of Mamas and Papas trying for more! More! For The Love of Ivy sails past like a doomed battle cruiser sailing to war; so stately, so magnificent, you want to stand to attention and salute it. It shouldn’t work, but it does! This was my 70’s favourite.
California Dreaming. Their calling card; a massive hit, it introduced the Mamas and Papas to the world. But despite its ubiquity, the song bears repeated scrutiny. From the acoustic guitar figure at the start, the signature vocal harmonies, Denny’s impassioned delivery, the flute solo, the abiding sense of yearning. There’s an air of decay – of the seasons, of a relationship that’s run its course leading to the yearning for something better. California.
Finding a live performance from the group is rarer than rocking horse shit. There's the stuff from Monterey but Michelle's mic wasn't working. To be honest - they were a studio band. With all the harmonies and double tracking, they couldn't replicate their sound live. So - I'll post a video of them miming. Live. If only to hear their music as it should be. And to see how beautiful Michelle was.
* They released People Like Us in 1971 to fulfil a contractual obligation.