Whether you know the catalogue of The Mamas And The Papas, or your knowledge of them is limited to ‘Monday, Monday’ and ‘California Dreamin,’’ we’d encourage a visit to their excellent first album of 1966. We invite you to reDiscover If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears.
The quartet, who distilled the very essence of the California vocal sound as it matured from straight pop to the greater sophistication of the second half of the 1960s, were not an immediate success. Their first single, the glorious, richly orchestrated John Phillips composition ‘Go Where You Wanna Go,’ failed to make the charts, but when Phillips and his wife of three years, Michelle, came up with the bittersweet ‘California Dreamin’’ and Dunhill released it as single late in 1965, it was a different story.
The song became a US top five hit, followed just three months later by another superior single, ‘Monday, Monday,’ which went to No. 1 in the States and into the UK and Australian top five. The time was right for a debut album containing both of the hits, the earlier, undeserved miss and a great deal more, and that was If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears, produced by Lou Adler.
Listening to the record again 49 years later, what comes through is not just the extraordinary power of the group harmonies created by John and Michelle, Denny Doherty and Cass Elliot. It’s their unique ability to “own” songs across a wide range of pop styles, on a record split evenly between their own compositions and covers that are every bit the equal of their originals.
Of their material, ‘Straight Shooter’ is a guitar-led piece that previews the sound that the Monkees would make their own later in 1966. Among the other John Phillips compositions, ‘Got A Feelin’’ has a gentle, metronomic beauty while ‘Somebody Groovy’ is joyous, quintessential Mamas & Papas. ‘Hey Girl’ (written by John and Michelle) has Cass taking the lead and Larry Knechtel’s keyboards to the fore, along with the drums of omnipresent session king Hal Blaine.
The group had the imagination to take a relative Beatles obscurity, ‘I Call Your Name’ (issued on the ‘Long Tall Sally’ EP but never on an original album) and make it theirs by completely changing the tempo and feel. Bobby Freeman’s ‘Do You Wanna Dance’ is similarly successful, even though it was a well-worn song by then, from Freeman’s 1958 original and hit covers on either side of the Atlantic by Cliff Richard and The Beach Boys. Despite all that, the M&Ps slow it down and make it theirs, and ‘Spanish Harlem’ and ‘The ‘In’ Crowd’ are also successfully updated.
The album entered the US chart in March 1966 and, by May, was spending a week at No.1. American fans could believe their eyes and ears, and filled them with the Mamas and the Papas.
Purchase If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears here.