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The Mamas and The Papas

Anyone seeking to create a time capsule of the Flower Power generation and the easygoing, “be free” Southern California lifestyle of the 1960s counterculture, simply must include the idealistic, harmony driven music of The Mamas & The Papas. Founder John Phillips’ death in 2001 only increased the public’s interest in this enigmatic foursome, and the biographies keep on coming — most recently, Doug Hall’s The Mamas and the Papas: California Dreamin’, and Matthew Greenwald’s Go Where You Wanna Go: The Oral History of the Mamas and the Papas.

In 1961, John Phillips was in a folk band called The Journeymen when he fell in love with aspiring model Michelle Gilliam. While The Journeymen were on tour, he met Denny Doherty, who soon left his group The Halifax Three to hook up with friend Cass Elliot (later, “Mama Cass”) as part of The Mugwumps. John divorced his wife, and he and Michelle moved to New York City, where they immersed themselves in the Greenwich Village folk scene, joined up with Doherty and Marshall Brickman, and formed "The New Journeymen".

Moving back to California, they met producer Lou Adler through mutual acquaintance Barry McGuire. The then-unnamed Mamas And The Papas contributed backing vocals to the latter's second album. The group’s bohemian image was reinforced by Phillips' songwriting skill and the band's distinctive individual personalities. With "California Dreamin'" they hit the U.S. Top 5 and the song became a standard. The follow-up, "Monday, Monday" reached #1 in the U.S. and also established the quartet in the UK. Further timeless hit singles followed, including the soaring "I Saw Her Again" and a revival of the Shirelles' "Dedicated To The One I Love." While the group’s first album was sprinkled with cover versions, the second documented Phillips' development as a songwriter.

Marital problems between John and Michelle eroded the stability of the group, and she was fired in 1966 and briefly replaced by lookalike Jill Gibson. The quartet reconvened for Deliver, another strong album, which was followed by the autobiographical Creeque Alley, which humorously documented their rise to fame.

The Summer of Love really began with the "Monterey Pop Festival," which was organized by the fifth Papa, Lou Adler, and John and Michelle. John wrote the chart topping Summer of Love anthem for Scott McKenzie "San Francisco.” The quartet later recorded one final album, The Papas & The Mamas. After splitting up in 1968, the quartet embarked on solo careers, with varying success. Three years later, they briefly re-formed for People Like Us, but their individual contributions were taped separately and the results were disappointing.

Cass Elliot enjoyed the greatest success as a solo artist but her career was tragically cut short by her sudden death of heart failure in July 1974. Michelle Phillips continued to pursue an acting career, while John plummeted into serious drug addiction, near-death and arrest. He subsequently recovered, and in 1982 he and Doherty re-formed the Mamas And The Papas. The new line-up featured Phillips' actress daughter Laura McKenzie (McKenzie Phillips of TV’s “One Day At a Time”) and Elaine "Spanky" McFarlane of Spanky And Our Gang. Doherty left when the band began touring full-time, and was replaced by the aforementioned McKenzie for an attraction that steadfastly retains its popularity. The original group was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1998.

© 2004