Folk-rockers the Mamas & the Papas — made up of John Phillips, Michelle Phillips, Denny Doherty and Cass Elliot — offered the musical backdrop to the late 1960s with hit songs like “California Dreamin'” and “Monday, Monday.” Yet the groovy period did not save the group from behind-the-scenes upheaval that included affairs and heartbreak, break-ups and reunions, substance abuse and epic events. As Michelle recalled to Vanity Fair of their time collectively from 1965 to ’68, “It was two and a half years of total melodrama.”
Mama Cass Elliot was not allowed to affix the band at first due to her weight
The drama began for the Mamas & the Papas earlier than they had been even a gaggle. John, who’d left his first wife to marry Michelle, was prepared for the couple to sing with tenor Denny Doherty. But John objected when Elliot, one other determine in New York City’s music scene, wished in as nicely.
Elliot’s voice wasn’t an issue, as she had a standout contralto. She was additionally fun to be around. However, John felt her being obese would flip off audiences. According to Rolling Stone, Elliot was solely allowed to sing with the opposite three after she’d adopted them round, together with to the Virgin Islands (the 4 did journey there, however Elliot’s sister has steered this model of the story might have been skewed as a result of John’s jealousy that Elliot grew to become the breakout star of the group).
According to Elliot, her journey to the islands was important in one other approach: It left her with an expanded vocal vary for the attractive harmonies John composed. “I did get hit on the head by a pipe that fell down and my range was increased by three notes.” Elliot advised Rolling Stone in 1968. “I had a bad headache for about two weeks and all of a sudden I was singing higher. It’s true.” The group headed to California and signed to a report label in 1965.
Relationship points and unrequited love drove wedges between the band members
Their first album, If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears (1966), was an enormous success. They had been one of many first well-known groups to have women and men singing collectively, a set-up that of their case opened the door to romantic resentment. Elliot was in love with Doherty, who wasn’t concerned about her as a romantic companion. Michelle was a believer in free love, so marriage to John did not maintain her from an affair with Doherty (amongst others).
In 2007, Michelle recalled the sexual tensions within the group to Vanity Fair, saying, “The four of us would sit around, saying, ‘O.K., you’re gonna sing the third,’ and ‘You’re gonna do the bop da bops,’ and there’d be so much sexual energy between Denny and me that we’d be playing footsie under the table, and Cass and John didn’t notice it.” But the liaison ultimately got here to mild. Michelle later shared one painful ramification: “Cass confronted me and said, ‘I don’t get it. You could have any man you want. Why would you take mine?'”
John objected to his spouse being along with his tenor, although at his behest he and Doherty remodeled the expertise into the co-written “I Saw Her Again” (Doherty sang lead; it was one other hit). However, in accordance with People, after studying his spouse was concerned with Gene Clark of the Byrds, John kicked Michelle out of the group and introduced in a brand new “Mama” within the midst of recording the group’s second album, The Mamas & the Papas (1966). According to Vanity Fair, Michelle fought for her place and ultimately returned, thanks partly to fan help. It’s unknown which elements of the second album have Michelle singing and which have her momentary substitute’s voice.
Elliot discovered success as a solo artist
Even because the Mamas & the Papas dominated the charts, Elliot continued to have little luck in love. “It’s easy to find boyfriends,” she once said. “I buy them a motorcycle, a leather suit, and put them in acting school.” She was married, nevertheless it was an association supposed to assist a buddy keep away from the draft. In 1967, she gave delivery to daughter Owen Elliot-Kugell, however Elliot by no means publicly named the daddy.
Elliot might not have discovered real love, however she had a large social circle. In 1968, Rolling Stone described her as “the unchallenged queen of the pop music scene” and her memorable events had been a “Who’s Who” of musical expertise. She wished pals David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash to sing collectively, thus serving to Crosby, Stills & Nash take form. “Music happens in my house and that pleases me,” she advised Rolling Stone. “Joni Mitchell has written many songs sitting in my lounge.”
Her social standing put Elliot in a greater place to face up for what she wished with the Mamas & the Papas, which led to frequent clashes with John over the band’s path. Michelle later said, “Cass was unique in the sense that she had some money, she had a lot of friends, and she was not dependent on John.”
Recordings for the group’s third and fourth albums had been very tense
While making nice music, the Mamas & the Papas additionally drank, smoked and indulged in other vices. Doherty later advised the New York Times, “The first thing I did in the morning and the last thing I did at night was have a blast of rum.” According to Michelle, they “never went into the studio without a case of Crown Royal and a bag of pot.” However, although the group had taken LSD collectively early of their relationship, Michelle additionally stated they “never, ever worked on acid.”
John and Michelle helped organize 1967’s Monterey International Pop Festival, which featured Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. The Mamas & the Papas carried out there, however their time collectively was coming to an finish. Though Michelle and John received again collectively lengthy sufficient to have daughter Chynna (born in 1968), their relationship was nonetheless marked by infidelity and different issues (they might divorce in 1970). Things had been tense for everybody as they recorded Deliver (1967), their third album, and dealing on 1968’s The Papas & the Mamas wasn’t any better.
Cass admitted to Rolling Stone in 1968, “I didn’t just want to be part of a group. I wanted to be able to do television, and a movie it came up, to sort of diversify myself, to extend myself. Within the framework of a group, that freedom is not possible.” She proved her capabilities that 12 months with solo hit “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” Her emotions for Doherty remained unrequited and he wasn’t when she proposed marriage. By 1969, the group had damaged up.
The group reunited however the album was a flop
The Mamas & the Papas had a tangential connection to Charles Manson and his 1969 homicide spree. Manson had attended a minimum of one in every of Elliot’s events. And after the Manson Family killed Sharon Tate and others, Tate’s husband Roman Polanski thought John was the killer, motivated to hunt revenge as a result of Polanski had slept with Michelle.
The Mamas and Papas received again collectively to make one other album, however the group’s heyday was over and People Like Us (1971) was a flop. Though she had an unsuccessful present in Las Vegas in 1968, Elliot discovered success on her personal with movie and tv appearances, and with singles like “Make Your Own Kind of Music.” In 1974, she’d accomplished two weeks of sell-out reveals in London earlier than dying on July 29. Though preliminary experiences stated she’d choked on a ham sandwich, in actuality, she’d suffered a coronary heart assault, presumably as a result of her physique had been weakened by extreme dieting.
Drug use took over John’s life. At one level, his arms started to blacken as a result of broken circulation. He ended up in rehab in New Jersey in 1980 following an arrest for drug distribution and wanted a liver transplant in 1992. “I have no idea what my music would’ve been like without the drugs,” he as soon as admitted. He did discover some continued success in his subject, co-writing “Kokomo” for the Beach Boys, engaged on solo tasks and placing collectively the New Mamas & the Papas. One member of this group was his eldest daughter Mackenzie, who accused her father of rape and incest a couple of years after he died in 2001.
Doherty was a heavy drinker for years, although he efficiently stopped. He ultimately starred within the youngsters’s TV present Theodore Tugboat. Michelle discovered success as an actress, together with a memorable position on TV’s Knots Landing. She had a days-long marriage to Dennis Hopper, in addition to romances with Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty. After Doherty died in 2007, Michelle grew to become the final surviving member of the 4 unique Mamas and Papas.
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