New audiences are discovering a song that, perhaps more than any other, captured the free creative spirit and vivacious independence of the Mamas and the Papas’ Cass Elliot: “Make Your Own Kind Of Music,” thanks to its appearance in the latest trailer for Greta Gerwig’s highly anticipated Barbie movie.
The song, written by the esteemed hit-creating duo of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, was first released in September 1969 and credited to Mama Cass Elliot, as she hated to be called. After the first wave of massive national and international success for her parent group had subsided, Elliot had enjoyed substantial solo recognition with 1968’s “Dream A Little Dream Of Me,” but found the going harder with subsequent singles. “Make Your Own Kind Of Music” would be her last solo US Top 40 entry, and even then, only just, peaking at No.36.
Many of Elliot’s fans, then or now, might not be aware that her release of the song was not the first. That came a few weeks earlier, in August 1969, by the New York trio the Will-o-Bees. Their not-dissimilar version reflected the sunshine pop sound favored by the Richmond, Virginia group, who comprised Janet Blossom, Steven Porter, and Robert Merchanthouse and had recorded previous Mann/Weil copyrights, including 1966’s “Shades of Grey.”
Cass had been developing her strengths and interests in other areas of the business, too. In 1968, she produced Californian vocalist Roberta Sherwood’s “I Taught Him Everything He Knows” single and Canadian folk-rock trio 3’s a Crowd’s only album, Christopher’s Movie Matinee. Both were labelmates of hers at Dunhill Records.
Elliot’s promotion of “Make Your Own Kind Of Music” included an appearance in late September on The Smothers Brothers Show, in an edition also featuring Harry Belafonte. In an unusual release strategy, the song was then added to a reworked version of Cass’ second solo LP, which had appeared in July as Bubblegum, Lemonade And…Something For Mama.
That was bolstered by the inclusion of her other trademark hit “It’s Getting Better,” but it was nevertheless superseded by a new edition of the album in December, with new artwork, some different tracks, and the awkward title Make Your Own Kind of Music/It’s Getting Better.
“Make Your Own Kind Of Music” immediately proved its allure to pop singers and has continued to do so. Soon after Elliot’s single, a rival version appeared by actress and vocalist Roslyn Kind, who happened to be Barbra Streisand’s half-sister, and there was another in 1970 by Bobby Sherman. Streisand herself included it in a medley on her 1972 album Live Concert at the Forum, and the song was revived to notable effect by British singer Paloma Faith in 2018, specifically for an advertising campaign by car manufacturer Skoda. The single reached No.28 in a ten-week stay on the British charts.
Buy or stream “Make Your Own Kind Of Music” on Dream A Little Dream Of Me: The Music of Cass Elliot.