The impact on popular music of the Mamas and the Papas was so great that it seems almost impossible to imagine that their first flush of success lasted little more than two years. But it was that intensity of their initial creativity that makes their work unmissable.
The Californian quartet hit the ground running with their overwhelmingly evocative debut hit “California Dreamin’,” which remains a definitive example of the west coast sound as do so many of these selections. The same goes for their one No.1 single on the Billboard Hot 100, “Monday Monday,” which was followed by some of the tracks from the group’s first album, the early 1966 release If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears.
Their remaining US Top 10 singles for Dunhill were “I Saw Her Again,” “Words Of Love,” “Dedicated To The One I Love,” and “Creeque Alley.” They were augmented with other chart singles, some of them lesser-played gems, including the reflective “Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon).’ Then “Glad To Be Unhappy” was a great example of the versatility of the four-piece, originally featured in the 1936 Rodgers & Hart musical On Your Toes. Their version became their final American Top 40 single.
The Mamas and the Papas also had the endless ability to adapt current or recent pop and soul compositions to their own style, whether it was with The Beatles’ “I Call Your Name” or Bobby Freeman’s “Do You Wanna Dance,” both on that first album. By the second LP, in among the hits, they were going Motown on “Dancing In The Street” and back to the musicals with Rodgers and Hart’s 1920s copyright “My Heart Stood Still.”
There was another Motown cover on the quartet’s third album, Deliver, in a reading of the Temptations’ “My Girl,” on the LP that housed “Dedicated To The One I Love” and “Creeque Alley.” The Papas and the Mamas included another look back to the pre-rock’n’roll days for the 1931 gem “Dream A Little Dream Of Me,” before a final LP that provided a post script to their collective story when they briefly united in 1971, People Like Us.
It featured “For The Love Of Ivy,” inspired by the 1968 Sydney Poitier film For Love Of Ivy, and Phillips’ composition “Step Out.” That may have been their last chart single, but decades later, the Mamas and the Papas have a permanent place in our consciousness.
The Mamas and the Papas’ classic 1966 debut album If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears is released on vinyl on January 29, 2021. Pre-order it here.