Saturday, December 31, 2011

Leaving the Folk Music Behind

What a cool coincidence to notice that my latest post before the very long break was about a Mamas and Papas song. That band has, in fact, become quite a big favourite since then. I had known about the band for years and I enjoyed some of their songs such as Monday, Monday and I Saw Her Again. The harmonies and vocal arrangements always struck a chord with me but it took a while to finally begin to see all of the beauty behind this group of two men and two women.

The Mamas and the Papas were not a very long-lived band but recorded lots of excellent late 60s baroque/kind-of folk pop music. Huge harmonies, baroque elements and sunny California spirit also justify a link to sunshine pop. In my opinion, the Mamas & the Papas stand out best due to their brisk, cheery male-female vocal harmonies, arranged by John Phillips.

Despite the harmonious, well-balanced, often even playful sounds, lyrics and rhythms, there was quite a bit of drama in the band. The members ended up disliking each other and breaking up on more than one occasion. They however became an iconic American band of the late 1960s having released five albums and several successful singles in 1966–1971. The Mamas and the Papas also performed at the prestigious Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.

As usual, I ended up enjoying this band a great deal after the usual getting-to-know period. There is indeed a lot to love: beatlesque stuff such as Straight Shooter, the huge sunshine pop harmonies of Monday, Monday, the band's most famous hit California Dreamin', a non-successful yet awesome debut single Go Where You Wanna Go, Dancing Bear with its great baroque sensibilities, as well as other quieter songs Got A Feelin' and Strange Young Girls. The Mamas & the Papas also show their talent with several versions of good old classics such as Do You Wanna Dance, Spanish Harlem and Dancing in the Street.

I also discovered a song called Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Going to the Canyon) and knew immediately there was something quite special about the song. Listen to it on the headphones and you'll hear the pure genius of a vocal harmony. There are different interpretations of the lyrics and I don't know which ones are true but the song is anyway amazing in its baroque melancholy.

A lot of the Mamas & Papas magic comes from Cass Elliot's superb vocal abilities which also play an important role in the band's overall sound. I don't pay attention to female singers all that often but here is one that I really appreciate. There is no denying the power of her impeccable sound and sense of style and dynamics. Check out songs such as Dream A Little Dream Of Me, Words Of Love, and The In Crowd.

The Mamas & the Papas are probably usually remembered by California Dreamin' but there is a lot of other great stuff as well. Their charming music is definitely worth checking out.

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