Archive for the ‘The Mamas & The Papas’ Category

Spanky & Our Gang

Monday, November 5th, 2012

Listen: Like To Get To Know You / Spanky & Our Gang

God, I hated Spanky & Our Gang when they were current. As a kid, they just sounded like safe sonic sludge, a cross between The Mamas & The Papas and The Letterman. Being impatiently addicted to the English group image, this bunch were simply hideous visually, out of shape and way too American.

Add to that, they were signed to the US Mercury/Philips/Fontana labels. As far as I was concerned, any money and manpower directed toward them took away from The Herd, The Troggs, Manfred Mann, The New Vaudeville Band, The Pretty Things and Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich. Trust me, this did not sit well.

Truth be told, I was kind of wrong. Indeed, they probably did rob those other acts of company resources, but musically, they were pristine. To be fair, as the years passed, I found Spanky & Our Gang to be a nagging guilty pleasure, and one that eventually carried no guilt. Their collection of hits and non-hits sound even better with age. In fact, very psychedelic, aided in no small way by some of the earliest stereo 7′ pressings I can recall.

Check out both the production and arrangement of any Spanky & Our Gang single, start with ‘Like To Get To Know You’. This was on the radio constantly in ’68 and rivals Richard Harris’s Jimmy Webb written/produced ‘MacArthur Park’ for the flowery mini symphony slot of the era.

John Phillips

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

Listen: Mississippi / John Phillips

As unlikely as it gets in today’s world, Amoeba Music seems to be surviving, doing well even, despite basing a majority of their floor space to cd’s. I just pray I’m right. Last week’s Los Angeles visit meant several stops to their Sunset Blvd location. Unfocused on my bearings upon arrival, it was only when walking a block south from the hotel did I discover the store one further block west on Sunset. Miracle.

One of the location’s many highs includes the close proximity Amoeba’s 7″ department has to the front store windows, whereby you can literally browse singles and simultaneously watch the world go by along the fabulous Sunset Strip, as it’s referred to. In a car with friends, I’ll generally keep my mouth shut when it comes to spouting out landmarks along the patch between Doheny Road and the 101. Landmarks being where the various record companies and publishers housed themselves in the 60′s and 70′s. Other than me, nobody cares. But standing at the 45 rack in Amoeba while gazing left out the window, I could literally see the location of Phil Spector’s Philles offices just across the street, one block away. Yikes.

Right place, right time. A stocking clerk was busying himself away at the sorting table next to me and preparing to toss a small stack of jukebox tabs apparently found inside several of the newly acquired 7′s when I intervened.

“Take whatever you want” was the reply.

Now was this a dreadful oversight in the works or an attempt at intensely super serving one’s customers? I’m not really sure. But you only need to invite me once. I rescued the lot.

Given my geographic location on earth that very moment, what better example of the bunch than this? A whole sheet for John Phillips ‘Mississippi’ single, unscathed.

Despite a very out of place image and dreadful band name during The Mamas & The Papas’ successful patch, his songs were truly remarkable. John Phillips never lost his ability for a great one despite all the personal dramas and traumas. Just before his move to London in the early 70′s, what should have been the beginning of a successful solo career launched with ‘Mississippi’, a US #33 single. Seems the album JOHN, THE WOLF KING OF L.A., was a flop and off into a multi-millionaire’s drug jungle he went. Sounds like fun to me.

The Mamas & The Papas

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

Listen: Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon) / The Mamas & The Papas

Never in my life did I expect to say I fell in love with Mama Cass, but the day has come. Yes, reading DREAM A LITTLE DREAM OF ME: THE LIFE OF CASS ELLIOT by Eddi Fiegel allowed me to realize how much was missed during my empty life. Cass was clearly a great soul and this is a great book.

In their time, The Mamas & The Papas were everywhere, and despite the good songs, this Anglophile blotted the vision of them completely out of view. I mean, they looked pretty rough in comparison to The Small Faces, let’s say. And their name. Dreadful.

Having trolled through the world wide web as a result of my new found affection for Mama Cass, I did notice someone, somewhere, claiming they were America’s answer to The Beatles. No way. They deserve much more credit.

Combing back through their singles, anyone would need to admit, they were flawless. One classic after the other. A few still get heard today.

Not so with ‘Twelve Thirty’. Not in my world that is, but I never listen to terrestrial radio. I do have the balls to criticize it nonetheless, and am happy to take the risk of proclaiming ‘Twelve Thirty’ gets no play on the oldies format, bar Sirius. My brother-in-law Mitch argued differently just now, but I’m not buying it.

Written of course by John Phillips, it’s easy in hindsight to understand why the royalty of their 60′s and 70′s peers watched in awe of their output. The hooks, melodies and string arrangements that intertwine this, and all of his songs, remain unchallenged. Just when you think you know the track like you know your own being, another new, how the fuck did I not hear that before, twist slams you.

Possibly my favorite song at this very moment in time.

The Applejacks

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

ApplejacksTellUK, The Applejacks, Decca, London, Megan Davies

ApplejacksTellMeUSA, The Applejacks, Decca, London, Megan Davies

ApplejacksTellMeUS, The Applejacks, Decca, London, Megan Davies

Listen: Tell Me When / The Applejacks ApplejacksTellMeWhen.mp3

Hard to believe, but once was a time when a color photo of a UK band was a big treat. Color usually wasn’t the first look you’d ever get of a new act in the mid 60′s. Coincidentally, the only exception I can think of is The Applejacks. They were pictured, in color, like all the other bands, on the cover of ENGLAND’S GREATEST HITMAKERS, a benefit compilation album issued by London Records in aid of the Lord’s Tavern Fund, which was an association that helped finance cricket fields in England. My how the causes have become rather more worthy through the years.

There was once talk that bassist Megan Davies was sister to Ray and Dave. The fact that they covered and released as their fifth single an obscure Ray Davies song fueled the rumour for years. Turns out it wasn’t true. But the potentially accurate info at the time made the agony of struggling to hear The Applejacks even more acute. Despite blagging promos from the local adult station, WMCR – and having some really good shops (Walt’s Records, Smith’s Records) that would stock three to five copies of just about any new English band, The Applejacks first few singles were very evasive. Years later, I guess in the early 70′s, I finally scored a coveted US stock copy of their first single ‘ Tell Me When’ (pictured above), which spent one short seven day run on BILLBOARD’s Bubbling Under The Hot 100 chart at #135 (6/6/64). And that was their entire chart history in the US. Don’t feel bad, I’m embarrassed too.

‘Tell Me When’ paralled the stereotypical Beat Group sound, leaning a little too close to Freddie & The Dreamers. Still at the time, the wait was so long (almost six months – then a lifetime), that all it’s Mersey leanings were forgiven once a copy arrived from my cousin Anne in London.

ApplejacksBabyJaneUK, The Applejacks, Decca, London, Megan Davies

ApplejacksBabyUSB, The Applejacks, Decca, London, Megan Davies

ApplejacksBabyJane, The Applejacks, Decca, London, Megan Davies

Listen: Baby Jane / The Applejacks ApplejacksBabyJane.mp3

The real surprise was ‘Baby Jane’, it’s B side. More loud and bluesy, this was closer to The Spencer Davis Group or The Downliner’s Sect than any of their eventual tracks. ‘Baby Jane’ is also one of the first released songs from writers Pete Dello and Ray Cane, who would eventually form The Honeybus, so it’s historical value is quite high. I like to think this was indicative of The Applejacks live. Can you imagine how fun that would have been to see?

ApplejacksThreeUK, The Applejacks, Decca, London, Megan Davies

ApplejacksThreeLittleUSA, The Applejacks, Decca, London, Megan Davies

Listen: Three Little Words (I Love You) / The Applejacks ApplejacksThree.mp3

Their third single was also the last to make the UK chart (#23). ‘Three Little Words (I Love You)’ also became their finalt US release, for some reason retitled ‘I’m Gonna Send My Love (Three Little Words)’. Megan was a pretty swinging bassist, you’ll notice her carrying this one along too. The single came into the radio station, I recall seeing on the counter, but not in my stack of weekly rock discards, which would clearly have been headed for the rubbish bin until God put me on earth to save them all. I learned then and there to ask and you will recieve.

ApplejacksByeByeUKA, The Applejacks, Decca, London, Megan Davies

ApplejacksByeByeUK, The Applejacks, Decca, London, Megan Davies

Listen: Bye Bye Girl / The Applejacks ApplejacksByeBye.mp3

1965′s ‘Bye Bye Girl’, like ‘Baby Jane’, has a slightly heavier, early Moody Blues slant that I much preferred to their often Liverpool sounding tracks. By now, cousin Anne was well trained in grabbing The Applejacks’ 7′s week of release. She in turn, wanted The Mamas & The Papas’ singles. No problem. They were everywhere. A more than fair trade.

ApplejacksGameUKB, The Applejacks, Decca, London, Megan Davies

ApplejacksGameUK, The Applejacks, Decca, London, Megan Davies

Listen: It’s Not A Game Any More / The Applejacks ApplejacksGame.mp3

B side, ‘It’s Not A Game Any More’, was another early Pete Dello song. Clearly still finding his footing, practising you could say, on The Applejacks, there are a few signature Pete Dello twists and turns here – if you know his work, they’re easy to spot.

ApplejacksLP, The Applejacks, Decca, London, Megan Davies

There are those who insist the album was never released in North America. Proof above otherwise. A cherished item.

The 5th Dimension

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

Go Where You Wanna Go / The 5th Dimension

Listen: Go Where You Wanna Go / The 5th Dimension 5thDimensionGoWhere.mp3

Another Day, Another Heartache / The 5th Dimension

Listen: Another Day, Another Heartache / The 5th Dimension 5thDimensionAnother.mp3

The California Folk Rock mafia, a description I have totally made up, probably did exist around ’65-ish. In my fantasy world, it included PF Sloan, John Phillips – all of The Mamas & The Papas I suppose, Dunhill Records, Jim Webb, Steve Barri, probably even Sonny Bono in a certain way. They were the big cheeses, writing, producing, releasing the hits. The Grass Roots certainly benefited. And so did The 5th Dimension. They were literally M & P soundalikes. This is way before they went all schmaltzy upon their switch to Bell Records. Prior, and including these first two singles, they recorded for Johnny Rivers vanity imprint: Soul City Records, a division of Johnny’s label Liberty. He had gads of hits, and for whatever reason, he got to set up Soul City. Great. Worked for me. I loved all those initial 5th Dimension singles. Even the huge hits that hinted at blandness to come (‘Up – Up And Away’ particularly) have aged just fine.

Rivers produced these two psychedelic tinged classics (John Phillips wrote the first), and probably had a lot to do with their output. Great choice of tapping into Laura Nyro’s catalog – not one but three times for single A sides.

Their west coast, carefree, vague LSD, pre -Tate/La Bianca murders, LA pop marked, in hindsight, the ending of an era.