Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


MAMAS and the PAPAS, The

Folk-rock vocal group formed in 1965 in NYC: John Phillips (b 30 August 1935, Parris Island SC; d 18 March 2001); Dennis Doherty (b 29 November 1941, Halifax, Nova Scotia; d 19 January 2007), Michelle Phillips (b Holly Michelle Gilliam, 6 April 1944, Long Beach CA), and Cass Elliot (b Ellen Naomi Cohen, 19 September 1943, Baltimore MD; d 29 July 1974, London). Phillips had attended the US Naval Academy briefly; married model Gilliam '62 and she joined his group the Journeymen; Doherty had been a member with Zal Yanovsky of the Halifax Three, which made two LPs for Epic before they joined Elliot and her first husband John Hendricks in Cass Elliot and the Big Three, who changed their name to the Mugwumps, adding drummer Art Stokes, John Sebastian on harmonica, made an LP and split up. Yanovsky and Sebastian formed the Lovin' Spoonful, Doherty joined John and Michelle Phillips in their group, Elliot fronted another group briefly but joined the others on the West Coast, where they sang backgrounds on Lou Adler's Dunhill label and began recording as the Mamas and the Papas. They were the right group at the right time, still redolent of nostalgia for the flower-power era, the last time pop music could be commercial and still appear to be innocent: good songs, good singing, slick production (including excellent sound) made nine top 40 hits '66-7 with six in the top five: 'California Dreamin' ', 'Monday, Monday' (no. 1 for three weeks), 'I Saw Her Again', two-sided 'Words Of Love'/'Dancin' In The Street', 'Dedicated To The One I Love' and autobiographical 'Creeque Alley' (about all the groups they'd been in). Some of these were revivals of songs that were already classics (the Golden Age of pop had been quick to arrive, and would be over even quicker), while Phillips wrote others, not only the anthemic 'California' but 'San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)', a no. 4 hit for Scott McKenzie. First LP If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears was no. 1, The Mamas And The Papas no. 4 and Deliver no. 2 for seven weeks; compiled hits Farewell To The First Golden Era was no. 5, but it was also the last golden era for them: the Phillipses' marriage was failing and the group split up after The Papas And The Mamas '68 (no. 15 LP) and a few more Hot 100 singles, except for a reunion People Like Us '71, which everyone agreed wasn't very good.

Dunhill and the group (except for Elliot) squabbled over royalties; Elliot carried on as a single with no. 12 hit 'Dream A Little Dream Of Me' '68 (backed by the others), some lesser hits '68-70. LPs were Dream A Little Dream and Bubblegum; Lemonade And Something For Mama (Make Your Own Kind Of Music) '69 was a reissue of the second LP with title track added; Dave Mason And Cass Elliot was a duet '71 on Blue Thumb). She was always badly overweight and her much-loved voice was stilled by a heart attack at the age of 30. Michelle made films The Last Movie '71 (briefly married to co-star Dennis Hopper), Dillinger '73 with Warren Oates, Ken Russell's Valentino '77; LP Victim Of Romance '77 on A&M.

Denny Doherty made flop solo LPs, returned to Canada and resumed his acting career, starring as the Harbor Master on Theodore Tugboat, a children's program which ran for most of the 1990s, shown in 80 countries including about 200 PBS affiliates in the USA. His autobiographical stage show, Dream A Little Dream: The Almost True Story of the Mamas and the Papas, began in Halifax in 1999 and was seen Off Broadway at the Village Theater in 2003. John Phillips made LP John The Wolfking Of L.A. '70, and co-produced the Robert Altman film Brewster McCloud '70 with Adler. He was arrested on a drug charge '80; a stiff sentence reduced, he and actress daughter Mackenzie Phillips toured with an anti-drug lecture, then re-formed the group, touring '82 with Doherty and Elaine McFarlane (see Spanky and Our Gang). He co-wrote the no. 1 hit 'Kokomo' '88 with the Beach Boys. His other daughter, Chynna Phillips, appeared in film Caddyshack II '88, married actor Billy Baldwin, formed pop group Wilson Phillips with Carny and Wendy, daughters of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson: they had two hit albums Wilson Phillips '90 and Shadows And Light '92.