The Mamas & the Papas

  • Folk rock vocal group formed in 1965 from Los Angeles California. The members of the group were John Phillips, Michelle Phillips, Denny Doherty and Cass Elliot. John Phillips was the primary songwriter, with occasional contributions from his wife Michelle and from Doherty.
  • John Phillips moved to New York when he was in his mid-20s, hoping to find a career in music. In 1961, he formed a folk trio named the Journeymen, and they had some minor success, releasing three studio albums. Also in 1961, he met his wife Michelle at a club in San Francisco where the Journeymen had a gig. They married when Michelle was 18 years old and John was 27. Meanwhile, Doherty and Elliot were members of a New York folk group named the Mugwumps. When the Mugwumps split up, Doherty joined a later version of the Journeymen called the New Journeymen (which also included Michelle). Initially, Elliot performed as a solo act, but in 1965 Doherty convinced Phillips that Elliot would be good for the group. Now with two women, the group needed a new name. They were watching The Tonight Show and the Hell’s Angels were making an appearance on the show. One of the Angels said “Some people call our women cheap, but we just call them our Mamas.” Elliot and Michelle immediately said that they wanted to be Mamas, and John agreed, saying that the men would be the Papas.
  • The group rehearsed for several months, with John reluctantly embracing electrical instruments instead of traditional folk music. They auditioned with a record label and they were signed in 1965. Their first single was released in November that year – Go Where You Wanna Go failed to chart. The following month, California Dreamin was released as a single, and the Mamas & the Papas became stars. It peaked at #4 on the Hot 100. Their next single was Monday, Monday. It topped the Hot 100, and it was the first #1 song ever by a group that was comprised of both women and men. It won a Grammy award for Best Pop Performance by a Group with Vocal.
  • These singles were included in the group’s debut album, If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, released in 1966. The album topped the Billboard 200 album chart and was certified platinum.
  • In 1965, Michelle had an affair with Doherty. John forgave both of them, and they began to record their second album in 1966. During the recording, Michelle had another affair with Gene Clark from the band the Byrds. This second affair was too much, and Michelle was fired from the band. She was replaced with Jill Gibson. Gibson performed at three concerts, a television show and some recording sessions. But the group felt that Gibson lacked “stage charisma,” and Michelle was reinstated 25 days after she was fired.
  • In September 1966, their second album was released, the self-titled The Mamas & the Papas. It reached #4 on the album chart, and the single I Saw Her Again peaked at #5 on the Hot 100. The song was co-written by John Phillips and Doherty, and it was inspired by Michelle’s affair with Doherty. Another single from the album, Words of Love, peaked at #6 on the chart. In early 1967, the Deliver album was released. Two hit singles from the album were Dedicated to the One I Love (#2 on the chart) and Creeque Alley (#5).
  • Personalities in the group, along with heavy drug usage, began to take its toll. John built his own recording studio, giving him autonomy, but his insistence on perfection made the recording process unbearable to the other members. After months of recording, the band announced that they were taking a break in September 1967. An incident at a party between John and Elliot led to a confrontation, and the members separated for months. Elliot announced to the press that the band had split up, but eventually all of them reconciled, and by May 1968, their next album was released – The Papas & the Mamas. Singles from the album were less popular than their previous work. Twelve Thirty made it to #20, and a remake of a 1931 song titled Dream a Little Dream of Me (a Cass Elliot solo credited to “Mama Cass with the Mamas & the Papas) reached #12, but other singles from the album failed to break into the top 40.
  • Cass’ success with Dream a Little Dream of Me fueled her interest in a solo career, and she released her first solo album in 1968. John Phillips followed with a solo release in 1970, and Doherty released an album in 1971. The group had an obligation to the record company for one more album. Phillips wrote twelve songs, and the members of the group recorded their vocals separate from one another. People Like Us was released in late 1971. One single reached #81 on the Hot 100 chart. The band officially split up soon after.
  • The four members of the Mamas & the Papas went their separate ways. Elliot released eight albums and had two television specials. She died of heart failure in 1974 at the age of 32. John Phillips wrote music for film soundtracks during the 70s, a period when he was hooked on heroin. In 1982, he started a revival group called the New Mamas & the Papas, which included two of his children along with Doherty. Over time, members of the group changed, but Phillips continued to tour until 1998. He died in 2001 of heart failure, at the age of 65. Michelle Phillips divorced John in 1969 and became a successful actress, performing in over 40 films and landing parts in dozens of television shows, including a recurring role in 88 episodes of Knots Landing. Doherty released two albums and performed in some films and television, in addition to his work with the New Mamas & the Papas. He died 2007 of kidney failure at the age of 66.
  • In 1998, the Mamas & the Papas was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for their contributions to the music industry. Here is their signature hit, California Dreamin – a 60s era psychedelic anthem.

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