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Mamas And Pappas - Mamas and Pappas: A History of the Pop Band

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Please note the correct spelling is “The Mamas and the Papas”

One of the most influential pop bands from the United States, the Mamas and the Papas are often compared to the Beatles, the Turtles, and the Byrds. Considered a major part of the southern California pop scene, the sound of this music group is a spirited folk tune blended with the psychedelic funk that is signature of music during the sixties. The four members of the group, John and Michelle Phillips, husband and wife, Cass Elliot, and Denny Doherty, were all vocalists, with John writing most of the songs for the band. After going away on vacation to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands in 1965, the quartet began the band by writing and rehearsing together. Once they returned to the United States, they met with Lou Adler, a famous record producer, who signed the band to his Dunhill label. The name of the group came after Cass was watching a television show featuring the Hells Angels who mentioned their women are called “mamas.” She stated that their group had their mamas and their papas, and the title stuck.

The band released five albums, “If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears,” “The Mamas and the Papas,” “Farewell to the First Golden Era,” “The Papas and the Mamas,” and “People Like Us,” between 1966 and 1971. The group had several hit singles including “Monday, Monday” and “California Dreamin’,” and eleven top forty hit singles in the United States, but “Monday, Monday” was the band’s sole number one hit in the United States. After their first album hit stores, the band became an instant success as an enormously popular pop group.

Unfortunately, the group’s great success only exasperated their partying lifestyle, including free-wheeling drug use that was characteristic of the decade, and led to personal rifts between the band mates. John and Michelle experienced marital disaster after he caught her having sexual relations with Denny. After a confrontation lead to the three housemates splitting up, leaving Denny living alone, he began drinking heavily. Cass, who had been infatuated with Denny was also heart broken, and began making new friends outside of the band further isolating the band mates. John reacted by increasing his partying and drug use, which escalated into full blown drug abuse. Michelle found herself kicked out of the band in 1966, as a result of the extramarital affair, and she was replaced by Lou Adler’s girlfriend, Jill Gibson. By August of the same year, Michelle was invited back into the band.

In 1967, Cass gave birth to a baby girl and named her Owen Vanessa. She never told anyone who was the father of her child, and the mystery remains to this day. John and Michelle attempted to rekindle the flame of their romance but was unsuccessful. Denny continued to drink heavily during this time, causing his musical performance to be negatively affected. John worked with Lou Adler in the same year to produce the Monterey Pop Festival where the band would give their final concert performance. The Monterey International Pop Festival is historical in that the concert marked the beginning of the Summer of Love, a social phenomenon that symbolized the public awareness of the hippie counter-movement, incorporating music with psychoactive drugs, creative expression, sexual freedom, and political agendas. The Mamas and the Papas were instrumental in the development of this time in history as their music was symbolic of the attitudes and feelings of an entire generation.

In August of 1967, the band performed on the Ed Sullivan Show and they announced that they were taking a long vacation. In October an incident involving John belittling Cass in front of Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones would cause her to leave the band. Cass had a contractual obligation to work with the band in completion of their fourth album, but following its release she announced she was leaving for a solo career. Their fifth album did not achieve the success of the first four, and the band officially dissolved.

Cass continued as a solo artist in the music industry, and worked as a successful actress on several television programs. She died in London on July 29, 1974 of a heart attack. Her fellow band members from The Mamas and the Papas attended her funeral in Los Angelos. John reformed the group in the eighties with new band members including his daughter, Mackenzie. However his drug abuse caused the band to fail once again. He suffered from health problems related to his drug abuse, and died of heart failure on March 18, 2001. Denny continued in the music industry, as well as, as a producer of a television show for children. He passed away on January 19, 2007 in Ontario at his home from kidney failure after having an abdominal aneurysm. Michelle is still alive, working as a successful actress.

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