Sunday, May 26, 2019

Go Where You Wanna Go | Lefsetz Letter

Could “Echo In The Canyon” bring the Mamas and the Papas back?

Stranger things have happened, the Doors emerged from their strange days and waning popularity as a result of Danny Sugerman’s book. And Queen’s legacy was not burning brightly until “Bohemian Rhapsody” was featured in “Wayne’s World.” Hell, I’ll argue the scene in “Reality Bites” made “My Sharona” the cultural staple it is today.

Brian Wilson has gotten his accolades. Hell, there’s a new movie of him driving around with “Rolling Stone” editor Jason Fine. And all the members of CSNY are still around, they have not left the cultural firmament, even though Stephen Stills’s rep needs to be boosted. But the Mamas and the Papas?

This was before free-form FM. This was when we were all listening to Top Forty. When a hit was truly known by EVERYBODY! Oldsters and youngsters, even those who didn’t like it, waiting for something else to come on the radio next. Tracks didn’t build over time, they made it to the top of the chart within a month or two, and then were replaced by new ones. We were hungry for more, in the era of singles, and we were satiated.

“California Dreamin'”…I certainly was, all the music and movies came from the Golden State. I’d bug my mother to move there. And when I graduated from college I did, and it did not disappoint.

So “California Dreamin'” was recorded on November 4th 1965, and released on December 8th of that same year. It wasn’t held back for a marketing plan, it was either in the grooves or not, you got a record on the airwaves and got a reaction or you didn’t.

Ironically, another track also infiltrated the playlists and dominated Christmas when the Top Forty was frozen, but it was much darker. That was “The Sound of Silence.” But we didn’t expect either group to sustain. I mean really, with the name “Garfunkel”? One hit wonders…that was what the American groups were after the assault of the British Invasion.

But mere months later, in March of ’66, the Mamas and the Papas came back with “Monday, Monday.” This cemented their place in the firmament. Suddenly everyone knew the group members’ names. Was it Michelle Phillips who started the long straight hair revolution? From overworked beehive to something more natural?

And in June, “I Saw Her Again” burst on to the airwaves, and despite its story of duplicity, it was upbeat and singable and suddenly, the Mamas and the Papas were truly stars. With a catalogue that was not just of a piece, they had range and depth and they were big, one can argue Cass’s size and Michelle’s looks were iconic and talked about and therefore they floated the act to the top of the monoculture.

You have no idea of the impact the act had. Suddenly, those who didn’t pick up guitars like the Beatles, the choir members, were forming groups with harmonies and I remember vividly going to a high school assembly and hearing two girls and two guys singing “Monday, Monday” and being transfixed.

Now the group didn’t last. Blame is put upon Michelle Phillips and her wandering eye (and body!), then again, Fleetwood Mac was never the same after “Rumours.” But they made records and the Mamas and the Papas did not.

You bought the albums for the hits, and I didn’t, but I certainly knew the songs from the radio. “Words of Love” with its carnival feel. “Creeque Alley,” telling the story so everybody knew…this was when info was scarce, Papa John was letting us know the facts when everybody held back and that just bonded us to the group and made us want MORE!

But the song that encapsulates the era only made it to #20 on the chart. And therefore mostly album buyers knew it. But when I stole all the hits on Napster, I became enamored of “Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon).” It was both wistful and energetic. Telling the story of those in the canyon, enticing those who hadn’t already gotten the message that they had to move out west, where life was free, where it’s still free. Life is rigid in the east, but in L.A., you can go where you wanna go and be whoever you wanna be.

Now I sing “Twelve Thirty” in my head on a regular basis, it gives me hope, that the era I lived through, both socially and musically, can return. And if it doesn’t, at least I lived through the glory days.

And today, sitting at the kitchen table, a line kept going through my head…


And I wondered, could I listen to the soundtrack of “Echo In The Canyon” online? I called out to Alexa, but she played something else, but then I was more specific and I heard the jingly-jangly intro. And then Jakob Dylan’s vocal. Which was less sweet and melodic than the original, with less sing-song, ending up less infectious, but then out of the ether comes this burst of sound:

That a girl like me can love just one man

The story is in the movie, how Michelle steps out on John and he ends up writing this song, but…

It’s implied it’s with Denny, but no, it’s RUSS! TITELMAN!

I know Russ, with his great production credits, but to think at this time this studio rat with little success could woo Michelle away from John…

Yes, I Googled the song, then I fell down the rabbit hole. Read the “Vanity Fair” story, even though I remembered most of it from my first read-through over a decade ago. You see, I wanted to know MORE! And in the internet era, you can find it. Hell, there’s even a page that decodes “Creeqe Alley.” I had to tear myself away from the iPad after an hour.

All because of Jade Castrinos’s vocal. It penetrated me. It’s these subtle elements that hook you. Not that Jade’s vocal is subtle, anything but, it’s much more dynamic and in-your-face than the original.

Which most people think is by the 5th Dimension, where the grammar is corrected to “whom.”

Turns out the Mamas and the Papas version stiffed, and it was released as a single BEFORE “California Dreamin,” P.F. Sloan testified that this proved you never knew what would be a hit because he thought “Go Where You Wanna Go” was a smash…

As it ultimately was.

The story of the Mamas and the Papas is every bit as fascinating as Freddie Mercury’s. And Michelle Phillips is still alive. And when she tells the story of the group in the movie you’re infatuated.

Especially if you didn’t live through the era, which was the one of free love, before AIDS.

And these are classic songs, they’re not only of the era, anybody can sing them and they’re still fresh. Because there’s melody and meaning and they’re everything that today’s era is not.

That’s how the Doors came back. Queen too. Because their greatness was no longer achieved and we had to go back to the source, the progenitor.

Funny how life works, you never know what will be remembered, what will trigger that remembrance. But for the past week, I haven’t been able to stop playing the Mamas and the Papas.



California Dreamgirl

Creeque Alley by The Mamas and The Papas


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