Sunday, July 19, 2009

Music roundtable

Jim: This is a musical roundtable. The Third Estate Sunday Review's Dona, Ty, Jess, Ava and me, Jim; Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude; Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man; C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review; Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills); Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix; Mike of Mikey Likes It!; Elaine at Like Maria Said Paz); Ruth of Ruth's Report; Wally of The Daily Jot, Trina of Trina's Kitchen and Stan of Oh Boy It Never Ends. Trina's joining us for just this feature and doing so because a number of people had to drop out due the topic. We're focusing on one album for this roundtable, the Mamas and the Papas' People Like Us which was released in 1971. Not everyone who normally participates has even heard it. Trina, being a music phile, knows it very well and was kind enough to join us for the discussion. This is a rush transcript you're reading. Mike, why don't you give us the basics on the group and then, Kat, break down the basics on the album.

Mike: The Mamas and the Papas is a hugely important vocal group of the rock era. The group is composed of, alphabetical order, Denny Doherty, Cass Elliot, John Phillips and Michelle Phillips. Of the four founding members, only Michelle Phillips is still alive. Starting in the eighties, John would trot around with a band with the same name giving concerts. The real group largely exists from 1965 to 1968. Their chart run includs "California Dreamin'" and "Creeque Alley" -- both written by Michelle Phillips and John Phillips -- and "I Saw Her Again Last Night," "Dedicated To The One I Love," "12:30 (Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon)," "Words Of Love," "Dream A Little Dream Of Me," and the number one hit "Monday, Monday." John was married to Michelle and touring in an act with her but wanted to start a new act. He saw it as being him, Michelle and Denny. The three of them went off to the islands to get away and to work on the new group. Cass, who was a long time friend of Denny's and who had met the Phillips in New York, followed them out and wanted to join in but John didn't want her. While the three were on stage performing, Cass, waiting tables, would add her vocals to the mix and the claim is Cass' voice grew higher -- supposedly due to being hit on the head with a pipe -- and John wanted her in the group then. Much more likely, the response during the performances to Cass' vocals is what made him let her in.

Jim: You say that because?

Mike: He pushed to have Michelle fired. He briefly replaced her for a series of concerts. The audiences didn't support it. The audience reaction forced John to let Michelle back into the group so it makes sense that the audience reaction would force John to let Cass in the group in the first place.

Elaine: Jumping in to agree with that and note Cass knew how to work a room and you just have to picture Michelle, Denny and John singing onstage with Cass, going table to table with orders, adding that great voice of her own to the mix and the audience reaction each time that happened. John loathed Cass, he always did. Michelle and Denny were talented in their own ways but Cass was on the level John saw himself. John saw himself as this musical genius leading Michelle and Denny around but he couldn't lead Cass. Cass' talent and her personality were far too strong. John found that threatening and it was a source of conflict. He also made 'jokes' about Cass' weight and didn't think, until the group landed a contract and became a hit that Cass necessarily belonged with them and Cass was aware of his attitude.

Jim: Okay. By the way, Elaine and C.I. knew Cass. Okay, Kat, Mike's provided the basics of the group. Take us to this album.

people like us

Kat: The Mamas and the Papas released four studio albums during the period that Mike's speaking of and all sold very well. There were numerous collections, A Gathering of Flowers was one. I'm not aware of the critical reaction to the collections but the albums themselves were well received and the group is considered one of the first American supergroups.

C.I.: Jumping in to note that Farewell to the First Golden Era, which was the first collection, received a rave review from The New York Times in real time and most outlets followed that assessment. Rolling Stone would be the exception to positive reviews throughout the real time period due to the fact that Jann fancied himself the prince of the Bay Area and had a real chip on his shoulder that Monterey Pop took place and that he wasn't a mover and shaker of it and that "L.A. groups" -- which the Mamas and the Papas were considered to be -- were staging the concert so close to Bay Area stomping grounds. That's really the reason for the war, the very long war, that Rolling Stone staged with the group. It's also the reason the Mamas and the Papas were denied their entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for so many years.

Kat: The last album, 1968's The Papas and the Mamas, had a track on it entitled "Dream A Little Dream Of Me," this became a single released as a single by Mama Cass and the Mamas and the Papas. The band was over. Cass went on to her solo recording career. Michelle moved into films. John thought he was going to do a number of things including Broadway, etc.

Jim: So the band breaks up in 1968 and ends up recording in 1971. Not, as we'd expect today, due to a desire for the big reunion bucks.

Kat: No. Dunhill was their label and it was sold to ABC which threatened to sue the four for millions if they didn't get back together and record one more album. It was in their contracts that they would deliver five albums and had only done four. So they come back together to record what is People Like Us.

Jim: Dona's got an assessment of the album.

Dona: This is Sandy Granger who writes discography notes for the book Go Where You Wanna Go: The Oral History of the Mamas and the Papas by Matthew Greenwald. Granger writes, "The sounds have always made me sad because I know in my heart it isn't really a Mamas & Papas album. It is an after-thought that does no merit comparison to the real Mamas & Papas albums that start with 'Monday, Monday' and end with 'Midnight Voyage.' Cass's contributions on this album are minimal at best. It is almost a New Journeymen's album by default. It has some astounding moments of Mamas & Papas clarity and more than its share of originality, but it has no heart."

Cedric: I disagree with that assessment completely. My first media player, other than a radio itself, was a tape player and it was an 8-track one because nobody wanted it. I found it in the attic and it was assumed to have been my father's because everyone else had tossed their own stuff from that era out. My father's stuff had been put up in his parents' attic after he died. So the attic's right over the garage and when the ladder was down all of grandkids would go up there. It had a light and we were used to watching the Brady Bunch every afternoon and would think, "They should turn this into a room!" Like Greg Brady's attic bedroom. So I found this 8-track player in one area and plugged into the orange extension cord up there one day. There was a stash of 8-track tapes and I played the bulk of them. My grandparents sent me back up after I came down the ladder, telling me to go back up and get the stereo. So I did and we set it up in my room, my grandparents raised me, and I had all the 8-tracks which were probably about 40. And because I had an 8-track player, all my aunts and uncles made a point to slide over their 8-tracks that they were no longer listening to and didn't want around because 8-tracks weren't cool. In that stash was the Mamas and the Papas' People Like Us. I'd find some more of their stuff at a garage sale my grandfather and I went to about a year later, but for the longest time, this was the only thing I knew of about the Mamas and the Papas. And I disagree strongly with that assessment Dona was reading.

Jim: But is that the case because this was your introduction? Would you have felt differently if that's how you capped it off as opposed to where you came in?

Cedric: I don't think so. I think the point's being missed that this is a tight album vocally. They could probably have had a little more experimenting with the instrumental accompaniment. But this is a vocal group and none of the four is playing an instrument on the album so I'm judging them by the vocals and these are really tight.

Mike: I agree with Cedric. I don't know when I was introduced to this but my mother's participating and she can call me out if I'm wrong. I'm laughing. But my dad is a record nut. And his vinyl is preserved in plastic. And when he'd share stuff with me, when he'd say, "Mike, you gotta listen to this," he wasn't playing me something he hated. I knew enough of the Mamas and the Papas when I did hear it to listen for Cass and she's really not all that present on the album. But it's a really strong album. My favorite is the fourth album, The Papas and The Mamas. But People Like Us is among my favorites and I love it way more than the second album, The Mamas and The Papas.

Jim: Okay, well what's to like about it?

Wally: "Snowqueen of Texas." That's a John Phillips' song on the album that Michelle takes the lead on and we're always singing that. Kat, Ava, C.I. and I are on the road every week and we'll listen to music going from here to here and singing along and sometimes we'll turn off the car stereo and just sing --

Ava: Many times with Wally playing the guitar as we do.

Wally: Yes. But one song we always have fun singing is "Snowqueen of Texas."

Ava: "Left Paris in a cloud of smoke . . ."

Kat: "They say she may be beaten . . ."

Ava & Kat (together): "But I know that she's not broke."

Wally: "She's living a cool green farmhouse, if you go to Houston, be quiet as a mouse." That's one of those songs, like Michelle Shocked's "Anchorage," that if we get to singing all together, we really just have a blast. It's like, "Oh, no, we're here already. Time to stop singing." That's a great song, I'm talking the writing of it, and it's a very strong point not just of the People Like Us album but also of the Mamas and the Papas career. If you look at all the collections, including the ones that aren't just supposed to be assembling the singles, you'll notice this song never makes it onto the CDs. I think the critical reaction to an album that most have never bothered to listen to or listened to it long, long ago, and if "Snowqueen of Texas," among other tracks, was better known, the chilly reception given to People Like Us today wouldn't hold.

the mamas and the papas

Ty: C.I., Ava and I participated in the roundtable for Polly's Brew Friday night and -- check your inboxes, if you haven't already -- and when Gareth asked what we had planned for this edition, I mentioned a music roundtable on this album. Immediately, it was like, "Shooting Star!" That's very big in England still among music lovers. Still. That's not the right word. "Shooting Star" was included on some free CD in one of the British music magazines, a compilation CD with a bunch of acts, about a year ago and that's just really considered one of the hidden treasures of the Mamas and the Papas, not just of this album, but of their careers. It was really something.

Ava: They were singing "Shooting Star," they knew it. Gareth, Pru, James, Polly and Lionel especially. "Across the milky way, baby . . ." They really love that song.

Ty: So I think what Wally's saying is valid. I think Cedric and Mike are right that if you listen to the album, it's not about where you come in on the group, you can be blown away by so much on this album. The di-di-di-di-di on "Shooting Star," for example, is vintage Mamas and Papas. The layers of vocals on that thing is amazing. And when people want to claim that the group just blew off the recording, those people haven't listened to the album.

Jim: Ruth, you were an original Mamas and Papas fan, I mean in real time. What about this album?

Ruth: I think part of the problem with the reception of the album is that it came out in 1971. By then, If You Can Belive Your Eyes and Ears, the group's first album, wouldn't have been well received. They were too tied to the sixties at that point, in people's minds, and the singer-songwriter was actually getting its big start. 1971 is when Carly Simon's hitting with "That's The Way I've Always Heard It Should Be," for example, James Taylor singing about "Fire and Rain," Carole King's becoming the mega star, Joni Mitchell's releasing Blue -- I mean, it's a different environment completely. It's the age of the confessional singer-songwriter and the confessional is singular. Mike, Kat or Trina, am I wrong on that?

Mike: No, you step into the confessional by yourself.

Ruth: I'm Jewish, wanted to check with the Catholics present on that. The singer-songwriter phase begins after the Mamas and Papas emerge, by many years, and 1971 is the year they really stand out.

Trina: Right. Just to go historical, Carole King and Gerry Goffin or any of the Brill Building writers are responsible for hits like "There Goes My Baby," "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," "On Broadway," "The Locomotion," etc. Those songs are recorded by people like the Drifters and the Shirelles and part of the early wave of rock. The Beatles follow and they record songs by writers like that and they also, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, take it another step by writing their own songs which are recorded. Lennon and McCartney will bit-by-bit set the rock standard. And long before Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, their efforts will have taken rock to another level. The Mamas and the Papas are the first American group to pick up the baton and run with it. And there were confessional elements in the Lennon & McCartney songs or the Mamas and the Papa songs written by John and Michelle, John and Denny or John by himself, but they weren't the confessional singer-songwriter genre. Like Ruth's saying, 1971 was a huge shift. And Carole King's popularity with Tapestry would be much emulated for sales, so much so that her own artistic talents on that album are often overlooked, and Joni's Blue would lead everyone -- male and female -- in the singer-songwriter genre to try to match her. No one ever matched Carole's sales or Joni's art. And Carole had art and Joni had sales but the two albums are known for sales, Tapestry, and art, Blue. So three years after the group's disbanded, they're trying to get noticed in the singer-songwriter era. Add in that they were hit makers and not a lot in the last three years justifies that claim. By 1971, John's got no hits, Denny's got no hits. Michelle's never recorded. That leaves Cass who has had some hits and some flops. So you've got a young audience to whom the group seems a relic of the past and one that doesn't sale anymore. I'm not agreeing with that assessment, I'm just trying to capture the mood as it was then, and I remember it very well. If I could go further?

Jim: Yeah, go ahead.

Trina: I think I'm in ninth grade when that comes out but don't make me do the math now, it's too late. But what I remember is that Cass was coming off Pufnstuf, where she was Witchy Poo's sister or something, that's 1970. And, sorry, we're trying to assert ourselves as young adults. And I'm, at that time, one of the prime markets rock is aiming at. So I'm going to be buying music by the woman in a kid's movie?

Jim: Did you buy it in real time?

Trina: I did. I actually loved the group. And that's one of the things I'd bond with, later in high school, with my future husband. But at that time, no one I knew was listening to it except me and when my friends would come over after school, I couldn't twist their arms to get them to listen. You have to understand that the sixties were "over." For my age group, they were "over." It was a new decade and it was going to be all about us. That's the feeling of every generation, at that age. So it would have been difficult for any group getting back together except maybe the Beatles. Although I think it would have been hard for them too. Today, people wouldn't think that but in the early seventies, there was some serious hatred at the Beatles. There was a theme of the Rolling Stones were the real group and they'd proved it by staying together and there was a theme of the Beatles weren't really rock. It may seem ridiculous right now, but it was part of that generational attempt to bury the sixties and turn the focus to today. And part of the problem for the group, Ruth should disagree with me that this was a problem because of our generational difference at the time, was that Cass wasn't just doing a kid's movie, little kids, she was every where. You couldn't turn on TV without seeing her on it and your parents loved her. Cass was very talented as a singer, which I think most people recognize today, but she was also very funny on TV and just had a really warm personality that played very well to the camera. And I don't think that part's remembered today. But Cass was everywhere and your parents loved her and they thought it made them look cool to you when they'd say, "Come on in here and watch TV with us, Cass is on." And, in 1971, as a teenager, your attitude more likely was, "She's so old, she's history." Again, Ruth should disagree with that.

Ruth: No, I agree with you. For my husband and me, it was great. We point her out on TV, a music special with Lulu or Tom Jones or whomever or a talk show or Match Game or whatever, and we'd point her out and say, "That's Mama Cass." And our kids were used to hearing those records so they knew who we were talking about and they knew her from Scooby Doo so they were excited too. But they were young children. Now when my boys hit their teenage years, I'd find, with other peformers I'd think we could share excitement over that, no, we couldn't. So I think Trina's point is really solid. For the young record buyers, for the teenagers in 1971, the Mamas and the Papas weren't anything they'd rush for and that would be true if it had been their first album coming out. Their sound was seen as dated, as happens with music and fashions when a decade ends, then, after a few years, they enter a different phase. But I agree totally with Trina's assessment.

Jim: Okay. Stan? Dona just slid over a note pointing out that we need to hear from you, Betty and Rebecca.

Stan: I don't know when I listened to it the first time. It was in one of my first two college years, so it was this decade. I had my own apartment. It was my first. I was working on campus and doing pell grant and student loans. I fixed up the place as best I could and it was strictly Salvation Army. That's the couch and everything. But my walls were bare and I got the idea to put up vinyl album covers. It seemed like a unique way to go. There were posters on campus, at the bookstore of Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix and one of Janis Joplin and Grace Slick that you could buy but that was over ten dollars a piece. Meanwhile there was a head shop posing as a used vinyl store just off campus that you could pick up a ton of vinyl in and it was like three dollars a pop. I grabbed People Like Us solely because it was the Mamas and the Papas. I knew their songs, their hits, and I liked those songs. This was the only vinyl they had of the group and I grabbed it along with other groups I knew, Diana Ross & the Supremes, the Temptations, the Doors and a few more. And I put them on my wall and a little later ended up getting a stereo system at a garage sale that had a turntable. At which point I finally listen to a number of vinyl I bought and -- let's say it was good I bought those albums for the cover, to put the covers up on my walls. A lot of the music either wasn't worth hearing or the vinyl was so badly damaged that it was all crackle and hiss. But the Mamas and the Papas played fine and I really grew to love that album. I remember one summer, August, when I was waiting for the pell grant and loan checks and just nearly broke. I had bread and dried beans and Ramen noodles in the apartment and that was it food wise. And it was blazing hot and I got a glass of ice water, put on that album and just really got into it like I never had before. "No dough, no place to go," that song, "No Dough," especially registered but they all did. I'd listened before while I'd be getting ready for a date or while I was studying or cleaning up. But this time I was just listening. Just laying on the floor in front of the speakers, listening. I really love this album.

Jim: Is "No Dough" your favorite track?

Stan: To this day, it's one of them. There are twelve tracks and I'd argue that six could stand on any Mamas and Papas collection, could hold their own with the better known tracks. I really love this album.

Jim: Rebecca?

Rebecca: This can be deleted if it's embarrassing to anyone, but I'm wondering if Stan was intaking at the time, to put it delicately.

Stan: No need to delete it. Yeah, I already said I got the vinyl at a head shop. My first two years of college, I was a big pot head. Then someone got fired on campus after a drug test and I was shocked: "They can make you do a drug test?" After that, I stuck to beer. But, yeah, I had a joint while I was laying on the carpet listening.

Rebecca: I ask because C.I. can explain that this is a minor drug album. The group's big drug album is The Papas and The Mamas.

Jim: This is a drug album because, I'm reading the credit from C.I.'s vinyl copy, "Medical Aid: Nurse Regina"? That's why it's a drug album?

Rebecca: No, not because of that credit. Because of the sounds and the way they're assembled and because the one doing the bulk of the assembly, John Phillips, is lost in drugs at this point. There are twelve tracks and John Phillips wrote eleven of them. He's not written that many on any album by the group. This is very much a John Phillips' production. The only song not written by John is "I Wanna Be A Star" written by Michelle Phillips. I think the album has many riches and this song is one of them. At my site, I've written of Michelle's solo album, Victim of Romance. "I Wanna Be A Star" really sets the stage for her later songs like "There She Goes" and "Lady Of Fantasy" -- both of which she wrote by herself. The Hip-O re-issue of the album includes ten bonus tracks and there are more wonderful Michelle compositions like "You Give Good Phone" and "Guerita" and one song she co-wrote with John Phillips, "Aloha Louie" that's so wonderful as it is it should be on every Mamas and Papas compilation. Michelle co-wrote many tracks the group recorded, though John tried to strip her of credit and his little cult followed suit, but those songs she co-wrote were "California Dreamin'," "Got a Feelin'," "Hey Girl," "Trip, Stumble & Fall," "Creeque Alley," "String Man" and "Free Advice" -- those are songs that any fan of the group knows very well. People Like Us sees her emerge with a song she didn't co-write, one she wrote all by herself. And it's one of the best songs on the album.

Betty: My brother, as I've noted many times, is my entry into music. He loves music. He also loves hitting the road. And whenever he would, he would make me the keeper of his music. That included, first, his cassette collection. He hit the road first right after high school graduation. I think he actually gave me the cassettes because we were so close and he didn't want me to miss him. I say that because when he returned a few years later, he was surprised I still had them. And then when he hit the road later, he made me the keeper of his CDs. In the cassette collection was a Mamas and the Papas best of. And I'm trying like crazy to think of the title or even what the cover looked like. I'm failing. But it had sixteen tracks. None of them from People Like Us. I heard People Like Us for the first time after PBS did their Mamas and Papas special a few years ago, two?, and they had Michelle on during the pledge breaks and one of the premiums, the highest one, was the boxed set. It was a British import and I wanted it so badly and I was about to call in and pledge money I really didn't have, we're talking a pledge of over two hundred, I think, when Kat happened to call and I told her about it and she said, "We can get it for you at Tower." So that's what happened. But, anyway, the collection is called Complete Anthology and it's every known recording of the group plus a little solo stuff, like "Aloha Louie," and that collection is really my introduction to People Like Us. Now Jim had asked earlier, of Cedric, if hearing it at the start of your Mamas and Papas discovery might make you like it better, indicating that you didn't know the group, had no expectations, so you were easy to please? I reject that because, at that point, I had my brothers CDs of the group, and I'd lived on the cassette with their greatest hits even before that. I knew their work. I loved their work. And I really love this album. It's a quieter one but, Ruth, Trina, anyone, wasn't that time?

Jim: Let Elaine grab that so she can get into the mix.

Elaine: Okay. Well, yeah, I'd say it was a quieter time compared to their previous 'last' album, 1968's The Papas and The Mamas. "Safe In My Garden," an amazing song and recording, sings of "cops out with their megaphones, telling people stay inside your homes." And that really is that period where you have MLK and RFK assassinated, where you have uprisings around the world and more. 1971 was the singer-songwriter year as Trina and Ruth have noted so well. But the confessional genre was able to succeed because of events in the country and due to the nature of the rock audience. You had Tricky Dick in the White House lying like crazy. We wanted truth and singer-songwriters appeared to represent that. So, yeah, I'd agree that it was a quieter time, 1971, than 1968. I think the album reflects that and reflects drugs: Mellow drugs mainly. I don't believe every song John has on this album was written for it, in fact, most weren't.

Jim: Okay. I'm going to toss to C.I. in a second so let me bring back in Mike who I saddled with the overview and see if he wants to add anything to the conversation before we wind down. Mike?

Mike: Well, we're all big Mamas and Papas fans here and, as early as 2005, when a reader, I don't remember who, was writing in that we were the Mamas and Papas online --

Kat: We've now morphed into Sly and the Family Stone due to our tremendous population growth.

Mike: Probably so, probably so. Let me note Cedric's wife Ann just started her own site and she filled in for me while I was in Hawaii and for Ruth when she was in Japan. But back in 2005, that was the surpeme compliment to me and it's still my favorite one and it is how I see us. I think the Mamas and the Papas are one of the most magical groups in history. And "Snowqueen of Texas" is probably the song on People Like Us that best captures that magic but it's not the only one. When the Mamas and the Papas are at their best, listening to them, focusing on their song, not just having it in the background, sends a chill up your spine. People Like Us passes that test for me. I think it's a hidden gem of its era.

Trina: I want to jump in to congratualte Ann for starting her site, the 15th site in this community, and to thank Rebecca who watched my granddaughter while I was in Hawaii the week before Mike and Elaine went. Thank you, Rebecca. And of course, Jess filled in for me while I was gone and I thanked him at my site but, Jess, thank you, again.

Jess: Your welcome and I'll use that kind attention to jump in since Jim hasn't included me in this roundtable.

Jim: Blame Dona, she didn't notice you hadn't spoken. I got no note from Dona. Jess, please, speak.

Jess: Like Mike said, they're a vocal group and when they're on, they do give you a chill, a rush of excitement, a sense of just how amazing moments in life can be. And I agree with him that this is a wonderful album. This was one of our "downtime" albums growing up. When my father, for example, felt my sister and I were just a little too hyper, this is one of the albums he would put on. So I absolutely agree it's a drug album and the mood is mellow. But I grew up hearing this and, since it was a "downtime" album, probably heard it more than any other Mamas and Papas album. It's not my favorite, Deliver is my favorite, but it's one of my favorite albums of any group. And Denny's lead vocal on "Step Out" really needs headphones to be appreciated. My sister and I used to grab a speaker each and we'd lay down in front of it. "Downtime" meant we'd usually broken a lamp or something, or come close to it, and our parents would call "downtime" to get us to calm down. So we'd each have an ear pressed up close to a speaker and there is some amazing singing going on. Denny's best moment is the lead on "Step Out." But there are so many great moments. There's Cass' laughter on a track, I'll let you discover that yourself. There's the blend on "People Like Us," there's the blend on "Snowqueen Of Texas." There's so much to love and I'm glad Rebecca noted Michelle Phillips' "I Wanna Be A Star." I can remember when I was old enough to understand songwriting credits and grabbing albums, including this one, to find out who wrote what songs. And I remember being ticked off by the way it was listed. It was a bit like Michelle's talent was being hidden to make this "A John Phillips Production." And "Pearl," another strong track, is an ode to Janis Joplin who had died the year before and, of course, first shot to fame at the Mamas and the Papas Monterey Pop festival which John and Michelle Phillips really staged with Lou Adler.

Jim: Okay, I'm going to go to C.I. now. C.I.?

C.I.: Well this is a drug album as Rebecca, Stan and Jess have noted. I'm not of the Cult of John Phillips. I think he was talented and I don't deny his talent -- or his madness. However, there is a cult around him that could potentially rival the one existing around Brian Wilson. So I always find it strange that there's not been an effort to re-evaluate this album. This is John Phillips. This is his vision. Yes, there's the wonderful "I Wanna Be A Star" but even that's produced and arranged to his tastes. I didn't want to do this roundtable and still argue we should have done a roundtable on the album before, The Papas and The Mamas, because that's many things and to talk about John Phillips' vision, you really need the background of that album explored first. Lou Adler could be considered the fifth member of the group and he was very instrumental in the way the group sounded, especially the musical accompaniment, on those first albums. John may have admired Lou's taste and talent, but John also wanted control and a large part of building a recording studio was in taking more control of the group and taking it away from Lou. As Elaine rightly noted, Cass and John didn't mix. Cass left the group after The Papas and The Mamas hating the group and glad to be out. Later, with time, she'd remember the good experiences and there are collections where she's quoted saying good things. But in real time, when she left the group she was ticked off and that wasn't because of anyone except for John. They fought constantly. He wanted her to do things his way and while if it was Lou wanting something she'd listen and explore, John didn't approach like Lou, he ordered, didn't ask, and John also didn't respect her. That's why Cass couldn't get into John. She never could. And when she grasped that he didn't respect her, she was done with him. She was still a part of the group and close to everyone except John, but she was done with him. If you didn't like her, Cass assumed you didn't know her and she'd make a real effort. But once she'd made that effort, once she'd given you the benefit of the doubt, if you were still distant to her, she had other things to do, many other things to do. She and John did not socialize after the brief period where the group lived together at the start. She was not close to him, she did not like him. Do I have more time?

Jim: Yeah, go fot it.

C.I.: Again, if we'd started with the 1968 album, we'd have a better foundation to do this discussion. People Like Us is attacked because Cass isn't front and center. And it's assumed that's because she's sick, hence the nurse credit. That's really not what's going on. Cass isn't in the mood for John. And John's not in the mood for Cass. And Cass actually takes what people are calling a "backseat" on the 1968 album. She's got "Dream A Little Dream" and "Midnight Voyage" on that which gives a different impression. But Cass is no longer fueling the songs and that's because (a) she's sick of John and (b) John's sick of her and wanting to prove that the group is not Mama Cass' band. John was majorly pissed when Dunhill released "Dream A Little Dream" with the credit they did. And the fact that Cass was having hits -- she was having misses, but she was also having hits -- after the group was a sore spot with John who couldn't get it together. His 1970 album had flopped. That's all he had to point to besides the group -- and a lot of 'plans' that never came true. There was real competition between John and Cass. She preferred a live environment because she'd always win in that, the fans loved her. They didn't feel that way about John. In the studio, he could be a tyrant. Lou Alder tempered that but Lou was gone by People Like Us and Cass wasn't going to be his foot soldier on an album no one wanted to record except John. The idea that John didn't want to record it is laughable. John thought it was going to be a hit and a needed success for him after his 1970 solo flop. I'm not speaking of it artistically, by the way, that's a whole other conversation. But it was a commercial flop and John was very aware of that and, no, he wasn't blowing off People Like Us. Nor did he claim he was while recording it or right after. What you have with People Like Us is the Mamas and the Papas as John Phillips wanted them to sound. So it's amazing that his cult, which continues to grow, has not offered a reconsideration of this album. This is John Phillip's vision for the group and, in his vision, Cass is a bit player. He thought she'd grab a lead on one song but she wasn't in the mood for him and he wasn't for her so that ended before they hit the studio. You have to realize that these wonderful songs that we know didn't come about by laughing and grinning and hugging. They sing their asses off on these songs. It's very hard work and, during it, they are discussing phrasing and enuciation and whether the tempo needs to be slower or faster and maybe someone needs to come in sooner than the arrangement calls for, and many other things and trying all those things. With the first album, they'd rehearsed all the songs long before getting a contract. And that's generally assumed to be the reason the album was recorded so quickly. That's only part of the reason. The other was because John deferred to Lou who was the producer of the album. John increasingly takes on that role as the group continues recording. Even when Cass was still angry about the last recording experience, she could find great things to say about that first album and that first album was a pleasure for her because Lou was in charge. She could work with Lou and have a blast. He respected her, he loved her talent and he realized how incredible it was. With John, it always came back to he never saw her as part of the group. As Elaine rightly points out, audience reaction forced her on him and People Like Us is his vision of the group and, in his vision, Cass is just one singer, just one element. Now she could have had a lead on one song if she was willing to put up with Tyrant John. She wasn't. She wasn't willing to put herself through singing the part John planned for her the way John wanted with all the negative feedback for anything she brought to it of her own. Cass was an artist and wasn't going to be ordered around by anyone disrespecting her and John disrespected her. You have some wonderful vocals on the album and Cass did a wonderful job as an "element" -- and didn't want to be anything more than that because she didn't want John to have an excuse to start something with her. Is it a great Mamas and Papas album? I'll leave that to others to decide but it is John Phillips' vision of the group.

Jim: And on that note we'll wrap up this roundtable. We're asked all the time to talk about music and decided we'd grab the topic this week. Dona and I picked the album on Thursday and didn't realize all that usually participate weren't familiar with it. Thank you to Trina for joining us and the e-mail address for this site is
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