demo, Gone but not forgotten

Michelle, Ma(ma) Belle

I love you, I love you, I lo-oooo-ve you! Had I been a teenage boy in the 60s I’d have had posters of Mama Michelle Phillips all over my wall. She was Laurel (Canyon) to Mama Cass’s Oliver Hardy, the skinniest, blondest hippy chick in the whole of sun-kissed California and quite possibly the sexiest girl singer ever, although that last point is clearly open to healthy debate.

michelle-pool

Michelle. On the pool again.

The story of The Mamas and The Papas is best told by listening to their #5 1967 US single ‘Creeque Alley‘, taken from the group’s 3rd LP, ‘Mamas and Papas Deliver’. I remember going to a jumble sale with my Dad sometime in the 70s (long before ‘jumble sales’ became ‘car boot sales’) and my Dad buying ‘Deliver‘ for 10p. Fast forward to the end of the 80s and, armed with an encylopediac knowledge of The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Love and West Coast music in general I pinched the album from my Dad’s collection. He still doesn’t know.

Anyway. ‘Creeque Alley’ outlines the whole story of The Mamas and The Papas from the pre-fame hungry years to the cusp of the giddy heights of Ed Sullivan and Monterey, taking in all the sights, sounds and sex that the 60s revolution could throw at them. It’s a good read and it’s a good listen.

mamas-and-papas-deliver

Un-used picture from the ‘Deliver’ photo sessions

John and Mitchie were gettin’ kinda itchie
just to leave the folk music behind
Zal and Denny workin’ for a penny
tryin’ to get a fish on the line
In a coffee house Sebastian sat
and after every number they passed the hat
McGuinn and McGuire just are gettin’ higher
in L.A. you know where that’s at
And no one’s getting fat except Mama Cass.

Zallie said ‘Denny, you know there aren’t many
who can sing a song the way that you do’ (Let’s go South)
Denny said ‘Zallie, golly, don’t you think that I wish
I could play guitar like you’
Zal, Denny and Sebastian sat (at the Night Owl)
And after every number they passed the hat
McGuinn and McGuire just are gettin’ higher
in L.A. you know where that’s at
And no one’s getting fat except Mama Cass.


To paraphrase – John and Michelle (already an item) are fed up playing folk music to the finger-in-the-ear brigade who can’t embrace the new sounds of the day. Zal Yanovsky (later of the Lovin’ Spoonful) and future Papa Denny Doherty were playing together in Nova Scotia in The Future III . The band were just about to break up and Zal and Denny would soon find themselves down and out in New York City. Meanwhile, another future Lovin’ Spoonful member John Sebastian was playing Greenwich Village coffee houses such as the Night Owl for pennies (in the same way Dylan had done a few years earlier). Roger McGuinn and Barry ‘Eve Of Destruction’ McGuire were also part of this scene. They were possibly the Furry Freak Brothers of their generation. Long haired, broke and fond of the odd jazz cigarette. No-one had any money for food. Indeed, the only one who was fat was Mama Cass. But she always had been.

When Cass was a Sophomore, planned to go to Swarthmore,
But she changed her mind one day
Standing on the turnpike, thumb out to hitchhike,
Take her to New York right away
When Denny met Cass he gave her love bumps
Call John and Zal, and that was the Mugwumps
McGuinn and McGuire couldn’t get no higher
but that’s what they were aiming at
And no one’s getting fat except Mama Cass.

Mugwumps, hi-jumps, low slumps, big bumps,
don’t you work as hard as you play
Drink-up, break-up, everything is shake-up
Guess it had to be that way
Sebastian and Zal formed the Spoonful
Michelle, John and Denny gettin’ very tuneful
McGuinn and McGuire just are catchin’ fire
in L.A. you know where that’s at
And everybody’s gettin’ fat except Mama Cass.


Cass had bumped into Denny and Zal on the club circuit and suggested they work together. Things were going well, but Cass had won a place at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. However, she let her heart rule her head, falling for Denny and forming The Mugwumps at the same time. You can listen to ‘I Don’t Wanna Know’ here. Proto-Papas for sure. The Mugwumps were a good-time band (“Don’t you work as hard as you play“) and like a gazillion might-have-beens before them, they broke up. Zal and John went off to find fame and fortune in The Lovin’ Spoonful, a band who’s sound owes quite a lot to The Mugwumps. Here‘s ‘Coconut Grove’, a piece of groovy 60s soft rock. D’you know where the band took their name from? Same as 10CC. Google it…

Broke, busted, disgusted, agents can’t be trusted,
and Mitchie wants to go to the sea
Cass can’t make it, she says we’ll have to fake it
We knew she’d come eventually
Greasin’ on American Express card
Tents, low rents, and keepin’ out the heat’s hard
Duffy’s good vibrations, and our imaginations,
can’t go on indefinitely
And California Dreaming is becoming a reality.

 

mamasandpapas-b-w

Round about now, Barry McGuire’s ‘Eve Of Destruction’ was a Dylan-aping monster hit and The Byrds were in full flight. Things on the scene were looking good. Everyone downed an upper and upped a gear. But poor old Cass was still skint. Not that you’d know by looking at her. Also skint, fed up and freezing cold in New York, John and Michelle headed south to the Caribbean. Cass and Denny followed. They rented a house on the Virgin Isles called Duffy’s (it was near a road called Creeque Alley), started writing and playing as a four-piece vocal harmony group and the rest is wife-swapping intra-band sexual jealousies of a Fleetwood Mac nature history.

michelle-tambourine

Round round get around, she got around.

Incidentally, ‘Creeque‘ is pronounced ‘creaky‘, as in door, or my knees after a game of football.

Video from Ed Sullivan Show….

And another thing. My computer is playing silly games tonight and won’t lay out the page as I’d like to. I wanted the lyrics in the middle and in a much smaller font than the other words. And I’d like to have made the above video a bit smaller. All these things I should be able to do. I consider myself kinda computer literate (without being too geeky).  Dunno what happened. Bet it was them internet police again.

2 thoughts on “Michelle, Ma(ma) Belle”

  1. Hey Craig. It’s Hilly of big Mark fae Our Price’s band fame. Great blog. Right up my Creeque Alley. Michelle Phillips is deinitely up there with Patti Harrison in the top 60’s chicks, although I’m never quite sure if she is actually singing in all the old footage. As way of a tenuous link to your previous blog, did you know that she had an adulterous affair with Gene Clark resulting in her getting kicked out of the Mamas?

Comments are closed.