Friday, January 8, 2016

The Mamas And The Papas: “The Complete Singles 50th Anniversary Collection” (2016) CD Review

In early 2014, an unusual and interesting compilation of music by The Mamas And The Papas was released on CD. Titled A Gathering Of Flowers: The Anthology Of The Mamas And The Papas, this CD contained snippets of interviews as well as music. And now a special new anthology of the band’s singles, The Complete Singles 50th Anniversary Collection, is being released by Real Gone Music. This two-disc set includes both the A sides and the flip sides, and if you think you already own all this material, you might be surprised. Several of the singles have differences from the album versions. Also, the second disc includes the band members’ solo singles, many of which I hadn’t heard before. This set contains extensive liner notes by Ed Osborne (with some information I hadn’t previously known, or perhaps had forgotten), as well as some photos (look how adorable Michelle Phillips is in that fur jacket, particularly on the photo on the back of the booklet).

The first disc kicks off with “Go Where You Wanna Go,” which was the band’s first single, released in 1965, but then pulled so that “California Dreamin’” would be thought of as the band’s first single. “Go Where You Wanna Go” is one of the many semi-autobiographical songs in the band’s repertoire. It and its flip side, “Somebody Groovy,” would be included on the group’s first LP, If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears. Also included on that record are those two huge hits, “California Dreamin’” (which also used “Somebody Groovy” as its flip side) and “Monday, Monday,” both of which are included here. As much as I like “Monday, Monday,” I actually prefer its flip side, “Got A Feelin’,” which was written by Denny Doherty and John Phillips and is included on this disc. “Got a feelin’ that I’m wasting time on you, babe/Got a feelin’ that you’ve been untrue/I’ve got a feelin’ that you’re stealin’/All the love I thought I was giving to you.”

“I Saw Her Again” is another great song, and is one of the tracks that is different from the album version.  That song was included on the group’s second LP, The Mamas And The Papas. Also from that album is the hit “Words Of Love,” written by John Phillips and featuring Cass Elliot on lead vocals. This single version is different from the album version, with some prominent horns and a more prominent piano part. The flip side is a good cover of “Dancing In The Street,” a song that a lot of bands were covering at that time. There is a nice instrumental section with some good work on keys, and some goofing around at the end. That’s followed by one of their best covers, “Dedicated To The One I Love.” I love their rendition, but my absolute favorite cover is their version of “Dream A Little Dream Of Me,” which is also included in this set. It was the band’s last really big hit, and it’s absolutely beautiful, with Cass sounding great.

“Creeque Alley” has always been one of my favorite Mamas And The Papas songs, and it’s one that this set’s liner notes go into some detail about, detailing some of the autobiographical material in the lyrics. This is another track to have significant differences from the LP version. Its B side, “Did You Ever Want To Cry,” is also a really good song, and one you might not be as familiar with. Another of my favorites is “Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon).” This song was included on a compilation cassette I had in my teens – you know, one of those Summer Of Love compilations that were so popular in the mid and late 1980s – and I could never get enough of it. It’s a wonderful song. “At first so strange to feel so friendly/To say good morning and really mean it/To feel these changes happening in me/But not to notice ‘til I feel it.”

The second disc begins with a few Mamas And The Papas songs, but is mostly made up of solo singles from three of the band’s members. It opens with The Mamas And The Papas doing a couple of covers – “Do You Wanna Dance” and “My Girl.” Their version of “Do You Wanna Dance” is slow and has strings, and frankly isn’t that good. “My Girl” is better, though of course not as good as the original. The other two Mamas And Papas songs on this disc are the songs from the group’s final single. “Step Out” and “Shooting Star” were both written by John Phillips and also were included on People Like Us.

The second disc then gets into the solo singles, beginning with Cass Elliot’s output, and that’s when this disc starts getting really good. She covers John Hartford’s “California Earthquake,” and does a good job with it. Obviously her version is a bigger production than the original, but it works well. That’s followed by “Talkin’ To Your Toothbrush,” a wonderfully mellow and groovy song that was written by John Simon. I really like Mama Cass’ relaxed vocal approach here. “All For Me” is an odd little number, with Mama Cass mostly humming throughout the track. “It’s Getting Better” was a hit for Mama Cass. This song, written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, was also covered by Leonard Nimoy. Mama Cass also does a nice version of Mann and Weil’s “Make Your Own Kind Of Music,” which was a top forty hit for her. One of my favorites is “Lady Love,” which she dedicates to her daughter, and which has a fun vibe. It was written by Delaney Bramlett. Another favorite is “Blow Me A Kiss,” written by Jack Carone. “Don’t bother me while I’m dreaming/Don’t make me move while I feel like this/Blow me a kiss.” Interestingly, both of those songs were B sides. And “I Can Dream, Can’t I” is actually a better song than its A side, “A Song That Never Comes.” Go figure.

The second disc includes a single from John Phillips – “Mississippi,” along with its flip side, “April Anne.” Both songs were written by John Phillips, and both are quite good, with strong country elements. “Mississippi” is a totally delightful tune. “Sipping on a beer on Bourbon St., and I’m sitting easy/Don’t get me wrong – it takes a lot to please me.” And I love that bass. This is one of my favorite tracks of the second disc. “April Anne” is a mellower tune. “Anne, the gypsy woman once said/Let an easy rider share your bed/But you chose the drunken gigolo instead.” (This single was released in 1970, the year after Easy Rider.)

This disc also has two singles from Denny Doherty. “Whatcha Gonna Do” is an excellent folk rock song. This song was also used as the title track to an LP (on the cover of that album, Denny is pictured in a tub outside, which is interesting, as the cover of the first Mamas And The Papas record showed the group in a bathtub). “Gathering The Words” has a sweeter feel. “To Claudia On Thursday” and “Tuesday Morning” are also really good (“Tuesday Morning” has a little “Monday, Monday” reference). I hope Real Gone Music will see about releasing Whatcha Gonna Do on CD.  Right now it looks like that album is only available as a very expensive import.

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. Go Where You Wanna Go
  2. Somebody Groovy
  3. California Dreamin’
  4. Monday, Monday
  5. Got A Feelin’
  6. I Saw Her Again
  7. Even If I Could
  8. Look Through My Window
  9. Once Was A Time I Thought
  10. Words Of Love
  11. Dancing In The Street
  12. Dedicated To The One I Love
  13. Free Advice
  14. Creeque Alley
  15. Did You Ever Want To Cry
  16. Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon)
  17. Straight Shooter
  18. Glad To Be Unhappy
  19. Hey Girl
  20. Dancing Bear
  21. John’s Music Box
  22. Safe In My Garden
  23. Too Late
  24. Dream A Little Dream Of Me
  25. Midnight Voyage
  26. For The Love Of Ivy
  27. Strange Young Girls
Disc Two
  1. Do You Wanna Dance
  2. My Girl
  3. Step Out
  4. Shooting Star
  5. California Earthquake
  6. Talkin’ To Your Toothbrush
  7. Move In A Little Closer, Baby
  8. All For Me
  9. It’s Getting Better
  10. Who’s To Blame
  11. Make Your Own Kind Of Music
  12. Lady Love
  13. New World Coming
  14. Blow Me A Kiss
  15. A Song That Never Comes
  16. I Can Dream, Can’t I
  17. The Good Times Are Coming
  18. Welcome To The World
  19. Don’t Let The Good Life Pass You By
  20. The Costume Ball
  21. Mississippi
  22. April Anne
  23. Watcha Gonna Do
  24. Gathering The Words
  25. To Claudia On Thursday
  26. Tuesday Morning
The Complete Singles 50th Anniversary Collection was released today (January 8, 2016) through Real Gone Music.

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