Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Mamas & the Papas
The Mamas & the Papas (credited as The Mama's and the Papa's on some album covers) were a leading vocal group of the 1960s. They were one of the few American groups to maintain widespread success during the British Invasion ; others include The Beach Boys. The group recorded and performed from 1965 to 1968; while relatively a short time in the realm of popular music, group members such as Michelle Phillips have attributed their short life as a reason why they still have loyal fans to this day.
John Phillips, Cass Elliot, Denny Doherty and Michelle Phillips formed the group after several previous folk groups failed. They hit it big immediately after forming the Mamas & the Papas with "California Dreamin'", still their most recognizable and enduring song.
The name of the band was inspired by a daytime television talk show. Before their first album, the band was known as "The New Journeymen." Wanting a name easier to remember, they were sitting around their house (which all four band members initially shared) brainstorming on a new name. Someone switched on the TV and a talk show was on with a Hell's Angel. The first thing they heard was: "Now hold on there, Hoss. Some people call our women cheap, but we just call them our Mamas." Cass jumped up and exclaimed, "Yeah ! I want to be a Mama!". Michelle chimed in that she wanted to be a "Mama" too. John and Denny looked at each other and John said, "Papas? Okay, problem solved." And the band had a new name.
In interviews, former band members confide that their recording sessions (and lifestyles) were usually heavily drug-laden, with large reserves of marijuana and other popular '60s drugs on hand. They even admit that their drug activities were usually openly viewed by their young children, also usually present at recording sessions.
The breakup of The Mamas & the Papas can be likened to that of Camelot: as infidelity destroyed King Arthur's kingdom, so did it tear apart the four members of the band. John Phillips married Michelle long before the formation of the band when she was just seventeen. Early on in the band's history, when they were still "The New Journeymen" without Cass Elliott, Michelle and Doherty began an affair. They were able to keep it secret from the other two band members for quite some time. During a trip to Mexico, Denny revealed his affair to Elliot, who was furious (since she was secretly in love with Doherty). Soon afterwards, John Phillips caught Michelle and Doherty in the act and moved out of the house.
John couldn't stand to live with Michelle afterwards and so moved back in with Doherty. They were both still in love with Michelle and one day confronted her and told her to decide between them. Initially she couldn't decide, but eventually went back with John before leaving him again. At this point she fled into the arms of Gene Clark of The Byrds (friends and rivals of The Mamas & the Papas). After one concert where Michelle blew kisses to front-row-seated Clark, John said he couldn't stand to perform with Michelle any longer. Consulting their attorney, they drafted a formal statement kicking Michelle out of the band.
At this point they hired a new band member to replace Michelle, Jill Gibson, girlfriend of their producer. Gibson wasn't a singer (but arguably, Michelle wasn't much of a singer either), but learned to sing within a few weeks. Her most important asset, however, was that she was a good replacement for Michelle: long blonde hair, slim figure, pretty face, etc. Shortly after they started touring with her, however, it became apparent that the fans weren't happy with the substitution of Michelle. At every concert, the crowd would scream, "Where's Mama Michelle?", "We want Mama Michelle!" Shortly afterwards, they re-introduced Michelle to the band's lineup and ejected Jill.
Michelle moved back in with John and the band tried to forge ahead and things seemed fine for a while (at least they pretended they were). Doherty was drinking heavily trying to forget Michelle and had a hard time seeing her back with John. Eventually the band closed The First Monterey International Pop Festival, but performed dismally.
The band tried to work on another album (to which they were contractually obligated). After making no progress, they decided to take a trip to Europe to spark their creativity. While in England at a party thrown by the record company, Elliott was talking to Mick Jagger. John approached them and made an insulting remark about her in front of the guests. Disgusted and humiliated, she stormed out of the party and quit the band. The record company released a Greatest Hits compilation as a stop-gap measure. Cass was contractually obligated for the next album, however, and appeared on "The Papas & the Mamas."
The band broke up in 1968.
Cass Elliott started a very successful solo career and toured the U.S. and Europe. In reviewing their contracts, the record company decided the band owed them one more album. After about a year apart, the band regrouped and released their final album "People Like Us" in 1971.
While on tour, Cass Elliott died of a heart attack on July 29, 1974. "Papa John" Phillips died of heart failure on March 18, 2001. Michelle Phillips went on to a successful acting career and Denny Doherty a popular variety show in Canada.
John's first daughter, Mackenzie Phillips went on to play a teenager in the 1970s TV series One Day at a Time. John and Michelle's daughter, Chynna, would go on to form the band Wilson Phillips along with the daughters of Beach Boy Brian Wilson, with whom she's been friends since infancy. John's last daughter, Bijou Phillips, is a successful actress.
In recent years, entirely new, succeeding incarnations of The Mamas & the Papas have toured small cities nationwide. But none of them have the spirit and impact of the original group that John Phillips helped to build.
Mama's and the Papas discography
- If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears (1966)
- The Mamas and the Papas (1966)
- Deliver (1967)
- Papas & The Mamas (1968)
- People Like Us (1971)
Also many Greatest Hits packages were released world-wide.
- Vocal Group Hall of Fame page on The Mamas & the Papas
- Dream a Little Dream - The History of the Mamas & the Papas as remembered by Denny Doherty, with photos and song clips
- The Mamas & The Papas Lyrics
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