In the age of the single download, Jeff Harford
rediscovers the album.
There are few more pleasing sounds in pop music than the
distinctive voices of Denny Doherty, John Phillips, Michelle
Phillips and Cass Elliot dovetailed together in song.
As the Mama's and the Papa's, the quartet was among a clutch
of key American acts to wrest back initiative lost to
''British Invasion bands''. Their fresh sound and attention
to detail illuminated 1966 debut LP If You Can Believe
Your Eyes And Ears, which carried the band's sole US No 1
hit Monday, Monday and the top-five signature tune
This precision was largely driven by the ex-Journeymen
singer/guitarist/songwriter John Phillips. His famously
pedantic approach to arranging vocal parts would eventually
drive Cass to distraction, but in the first flush of youth
the group flourished under his hand.
The bell-clear purity of the Mama's and the Papa's harmonies
belies the seamier realities of the evolving folk scene.
These antecedents of flower power were deeply into speed and
LSD, their bond forged over a six-week credit card-funded
bender in the Virgin Islands from which they returned only
thanks to Michelle's luck in a casino with the last of the
Cass had by this time won John over, his reluctance over her
physical appearance eroded by her persistence and powerful
voice. All that remained was for the band to determine its
direction, and that became clearer when Doherty sat John down
with a Beatles LP.
The debut album hit at a time when albums were beginning to
make an impact, building a bridge between folk, rock, pop and
soul with its breezy attitude and expansive harmonies. Its
singles were attention-grabbers but all the material was
strong, including innovative readings of I Call Your
Name, Spanish Harlem and The ''In'' Crowd.
From here, in-house indiscretions would muddy the waters for
the band and such consistency would not be repeated, though a
second, self-titled album from the same year is almost as