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Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Mamas & The Papas

The first thing that I would like to do is wish all mothers, grandmothers, stepmothers, mothers-in-law, acting mothers, foster mothers, and guardians a very happy Mother's Day!  And, in celebration of the day, this whole blog is going pink! 

(I'll be turning the blog "blue" for Father's Day when it comes around too.)

Anyway, I have a Sunday Jukebox entry to type out today, and can I just say that it took me a really, really long time to come up with a suitable song discussion for today.

You see, knowing that today is Mother's Day, I really wanted to find a topic that had to do with mothers, but I also had to try and find a song that was also a #1 hit.  And, that complicated my search to the point where I was coming up empty on finding the perfect song.

Almost every single song this week was recorded by either a male, or an artist without children.  And, those artists who were mothers were singers who I have already put in the artist spotlight this year. 

In short, I was really struggling to try and find the perfect song.

So, what did I do?  I improvised.  Since I couldn't find a song about mothers, or a song recorded by a mother...why not do a song which had the word "Mother" in its title, or have the word "mother" (or a variation of the word) in the band or artist name.  Surely there has to be ONE #1 hit that charted the week of May 11 throughout history.

Sure enough...there was one!  And it topped the charts exactly 48 years ago this week.

ARTIST: The Mamas & the Papas
SONG:  Monday, Monday
ALBUM:  If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears
DATE RELEASED:  March 1966

Yeah, I know I'm technically cheating here.  The song is recorded by the Mamas & the Papas, and it's a song about Monday.  But under the circumstances, it was the best that I could do.

Listen, to show you how sorry I am for not being able to keep up with the Mother's Day theme, why don't I try to make it up to you by doing a blog entry on the band, this song (which was their one and only hit on the Billboard Charts), and the aftermath of the band - which can only be described as 'stranger than fiction' no matter whether you firmly believe it or not.

So, let's begin by talking about the four members of the band who made up the Mamas & the Papas, shall we?  The group was founded by two former members of "The New Journeymen", husband and wife duo John and Michelle Phillips along with The Mugwumps band member Denny Doherty in 1965.  The three played together before recruiting the fourth and final piece of the band in Cass Elliot, who also played with Doherty in The Mugwumps.  At first, John Phillips was a little bit hesitant to let Cass join the group as he felt that her physical appearance (she was quite heavy-set compared to Michelle), and her low vocal register would be more harmful than good.  Even though Cass was eventually accepted into the band, it took quite some time for John to warm up to her. 

But one thing that Cass did have influence on was the band's name.  And, in this archived transcript from Denny Doherty's personal website, he talks about how the band ended up getting their iconic name.

"We're all just lying around vegging out watching TV and discussing names for the group. The New Journeymen was not a handle that was going to hang on this outfit. John was pushing for The Magic Cyrcle. Eech, but none of us could come up with anything better, then we switch the channel and, hey, it's the Hells Angels on the Carson show... And the first thing we hear is: "Now hold on there, Hoss. Some people call our women cheap, but we just call them our Mamas." Cass jumped up: "Yeah! I want to be a Mama." And Michelle is going: "We're the Mamas! We're the Mamas!" OK. I look at John. He's looking at me going: "The Papas?" Problem solved. A toast! To The Mamas and the Papas. Well, after many, many toasts, Cass and John are passed out."

I'd consider that to be quite an interesting story, wouldn't you? 

Now that we know who the members of the band are, let's talk about "Monday. Monday".

Now, I'll be really honest with you.  I find many of the songs by "The Mamas & the Papas" to be wonderfully written songs and I can see why so many people liked them.  But I definitely wouldn't recommend that these songs be played during happy occasions.  To me, their songs seemed to be overly saturated with melancholy.  And, yeah, "Monday, Monday" is no exception in this case.  The song's lyrics are so anti-Monday that you'd have sworn that Garfield had written it!  But in all actuality, the song isn't really about Monday.  Well, not exactly anyway.  It's about the ending of a relationship.  And, judging by the lyrics, it appears as though the end came on a Monday, as the singer kept singing about how on Monday morning he couldn't see that by the evening, their romantic partner took off to parts unknown.

As I said, quite the melancholic song.

The song itself was penned by John Phillips, who boasted that he had written the song in just twenty minutes.  The song is also one that boasts a false ending - you know, one of those songs that seemingly fades into oblivion, only to have a second surprise verse pop up at the true ending. 

But despite its solemn tone, and despite the tricky ending of the song, it was enough to stay on top of the charts for three weeks in May 1966 - the band's only single to top the Billboard charts.  Though, the band was hardly considered to be a one-hit-wonder.  During the time that they performed as a band, they recorded five studio albums, released seventeen singles, and of those seventeen, a half dozen charted within the Top 10.  And, for their performance of "Monday, Monday", the group was awarded a Grammy Award in 1967 and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.  I'd say that wasn't bad, given that the band only stayed together for three years before the group split up in 1968, following Cass Elliot's desire to embark on a solo career.  Though the band did reunite briefly in 1971, by the time 1972 had arrived, all four members had decided to go their separate ways.

So, what became of The Mamas & The Papas?

Well, let's begin with the only surviving member of the group, Michelle Phillips, who turns 70 years old this June 4.  Michelle did attempt to get a solo career going with her 1977 album "Victim of Romance", but she soon found herself embarking on a totally different path...


Did you know that Michelle Phillips was once a cast member on the long running dramatic series "Knots Landing"?  She joined the cast of the show in 1987 as the role of Paige Matheson's mother, Anne as a recurring character.  She became a regular two years later, and stayed with the show until its May 1993 series finale.  She also worked on several films during that period as well. 

And her musical talent seems to have carried on, as her daughter is Chynna Phillips, one-third of the successful all-girl group "Wilson Phillips", which Phillips formed with Brian Wilson's daughters Carnie and Wendy.

Michelle and John Phillips stayed together until 1970, when their divorce was made final.  It was also right around this time that John battled a serious addiction to heroin.  Throughout most of the 1970s, while he was experiencing some minor success writing songs for other artists, his drug addiction lead to him getting arrested and convicted of conspiring to distribute alcohol in 1980.  He served a month in jail during 1981 during which time he tried to resurrect the Mamas and the Papas by performing with Denny Doherty, and his two oldest children, Jeffrey and Mackenzie (Phillips would father five children overall which included Chynna, Tamerlane, and Bijou). 

John Phillips died in March 2001, and after his death came the allegations that John had an incestuous relationship with his troubled daughter, Mackenzie.  Whether or not the allegations are true, however, are between John and Mackenzie themselves...and only one side is able to talk.

Denny Doherty, as I mentioned before, tried to reboot the Mamas and the Papas with John Phillips, but he ended up leaving the group once more to be replaced by Scott "San Francisco" McKenzie.  Denny also had troubles with alcohol abuse after the original Mamas and the Papas split up, but found his way to total sobriety and stayed that way for years until his death from kidney failure in January 2007. 

But prior to his death, he had an interesting credit to his resume.  He hosted the Canadian children's television show "Theodore Tugboat" from 1993 until 2001!  I totally didn't realize that, and I do remember seeing an episode of that show here and there!  The things you learn on this blog, huh?

As for Mama Cass Elliot...well, her life has been filled with a couple of urban legends - emphasis on the word legends - and I shall let you know what they are.

Contrary to popular belief, Mama Cass was not let go from the band because she hit her head on a copper pipe which miraculously caused her voice register to rise three octaves (where the heck did they come up with THAT one).  In truth, Mama Cass had been considering a solo career for a while, and in 1968, she made her dream come true with another song about a dream of sorts.

(Though another rumour states that John Phillips had her axed from the group because of her size.  I can't confirm, nor deny this, so let's just this an allegation, rather than an assertion.)

In 1968, Cass was scheduled to perform a three-week gig at Las Vegas' Caesars Palace, but unfortunately, Cass suffered a series of health issues following a crash diet, which saw Cass lose 100 pounds in six months.  She was suffering from a fever and her vocal cords were hemorrhaging, and people urged her to cancel the show, but Cass refused, saying that the show had to go on.  Unfortunately, the show was a disaster, and the rumours spread that Cass had a drug problem.  However, she tried performing in Las Vegas again four years later, and that time, the crowd loved her.

Sadly, Mama Cass' career was cut short as she passed away in July 1974 at just 32.  And, contrary to popular belief, she did not die because she choked on a ham sandwich.  While there may have been some uneaten food in the hotel room where her body was found, there was no food in her windpipe upon closer examination during the autopsy.  In fact, the cause of death was a heart attack, likely brought on by the crash dieting that Cass had done over the last five years of her life.

So, there you have it.  The story of "The Mamas & The Papas"...a band whose history might very well have been as melancholic as some of their songs.

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