THE MAMA'S AND THE PAPA'S - 'If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears' (Dunhill Records D50006) March 1966
To say that The Mama's and the Papa's defy vocal and visual description has to be the biggest understatement of the year - and, for that matter, of next year as well.
There are four of them, and they come in all shapes and sizes. They live in a nutty world of semi-existentialism, of cuckoo-clocks and antique lampshades, of beat-up old cars and Indian boots, of longish hair and longer hair of folk-singers and not-so-folk singers, of Lou Adler and Lovin' Spoonful's, and primarily of Mamas and Papas, which in point of fact they are not.
John is the acknowledged leader; a tall thin, gaunt person who takes everything very seriously and would probably perpetrate a rather bewildered executive image were it not for his mildly dignified, but perennially poverty-stricken appearance. He has played and sung his way around Greenwich Village and other significant musical areas with and without his three partners. He has an usually creative mind which has been evident on the many songs he has written, several of which are featured in this album.
His fellow Papa is Denny, an insolently handsome young Canadian, who is nonconformist in that he originally entered our offices clean-shaven, but wearing black leather, and has since taken to wearing expensive sports clothes, only with a beard. His philosophies conform to the standard folk dream in many ways, the main difference being that they are neither idealistic nor illogical. If we were talking in terms of sex symbols and full page color pin ups and potential Marlon Brondos and John Lennons, we would select Denny to play the role. But we're not. So we won't.
It would be hard to say which of the two Mamas is the more striking. Michelle is certainly the more mysterious of the two. She is a lissom, blonde, vision-with-a-voice who doesn't say very much, but just looks at you waif-like, sylph-like or what-ever-adjective-you-care-to-dream-up-like. She was once a model, and in her own way is still a model. And you haven't seen anything until you have seen her smile.
To end up with, there is Cass. You couldn't really end up with anything else. She collects antiques, talks freely about art and Bob Dylan, loves Whispering Paul MacDowell, has travelled the land in satirical revues, wears cute little gold-rimmed glasses and, like the others, lives for today, buddy, "Cos tomorrow may never happen."
She is large and lovely, benevolent and broadminded, cynical and maybe sinful....who knows? Ask her.
The Mama's and the Papa's are all descendents of Traditional Authentic Folk Groups. One was in The Big Three, which for a long time ruled the folk scene in New York. Another was in the Halifax Three. A third - or perhaps it was a third and a fourth - were in a very big group called The Journeymen.
They have travelled all over the States in various capacities, and they recently returned from a trip to the Virgin Islands. Here they spent their time as one should spend one's time if one is a Mama or a Papa. Cass became a waitress for a short while, and finally joined the others who had set up camp in the foliage, and were passing the time lounging around on the beach enlightening the natives to American pop culture. When the govenor of the islands decided that they were not contributing too much to the everyday problems of running an island, he suggested that they move on to conquer fresh pastures - and this they are doing.
Their first record 'California Dreamin', waxed prosperous on the bullet-riddled charts. Their highly unusual contrapuntal harmonies - which is flannel for different vocal lines sung on top of each other - plus John's unique vocal arrangements, plus the unusual approach of the whole bunch, provided a healthy filling for a gap on the musical landscape which has reamined void even in these enlightened days.
Some of the songs in this album are new; others will be familiar. All are good. They become great when performed by The Mama's and the Papa's.
Denny's poignant lead vocal on 'Monday, Monday' transforms a clever song of many intricacies into a work of beauty which becomes disarmingly simple. The bawdy, vaudeville analysis which Cass inflicts upon 'I Call Your Name' projects The Beatles song in an entirely new light, John and Paul, one feels, would approve.
To describe the gentle harmony obtained by Michelle and Casson the extraordinary 'Got A Feeling' as 'soft and silky' would not only be inadequate, but also slightly inaccurate. 'Feathery' would be a better word. And on the swinging, swaying 'You, Baby' you have that old 'Good Time Music' feel as it was born to be felt.
In short, The Mama's and the Papa's emerge as one of the more stimulating groups of the era. They experiment; they create; they construct; and most of all they communicate.
A liner can only stand so many superlatives and hyperboles without becoming trite. This one has already utilized more than it's fair share. It only remains for you to extract the record carefully from the sleeve, play it, and then see if you believe what you have just read. And if you believe your eyes and your ears, then you're not only going to believe this album - you're going to be saving your nickels for the next one.
(original liners by Andy Wickham)
Producer: Lou Adler
Engineer: Bones Howe
Musicians: P.F. Sloan, Hal Blaine, Larry Knechtel, Joe Osborn, Peter Pilafian, John Phillips.