The Mamas & the Papas (credited as The Mama's and the Papa's on the debut album cover and sometimes shortened to Mamas & Papas) were an American/Canadian vocal group who came to prominence in the 1960s (Denny Doherty was from Canada). The group recorded and performed from 1965 to 1968 with a short reunion in 1971, releasing five albums and 11 Top 40 hit singles. They have sold nearly 40 million records worldwide.[1]

Their signature sound was based on four-part male/female vocal harmonies arranged by John Phillips, the band's songwriter, who managed to "leave the folk music behind"[2] and blend his writing with the new "beat" sound in an unprecedented mode.



After the split-up of their two previous folk groups—The Mugwumps and The New Journeymen—bandmates Denny Doherty and John Phillips formed a new group, which included John's wife Michelle. The last member to join was Cass Elliot, though chief songwriter Phillips never wanted Elliot in the group as he was convinced that there was no way they could succeed in the music industry because of her size.[3]

The band briefly moved to the United States Virgin Islands; after running out of money, Michelle Phillips gambled back enough for them to return to New York City.[4]

Briefly known as The Magic Cyrcle, the group members found that they disliked the name. One night, the band watched the Hells Angels on a television talk show; one of their members said "Now hold on there, Hoss. Some people call our women cheap, but we just call them our Mamas." Cass stood up and said, "Yeah! I want to be a Mama!" Michelle joined Cass; they danced around, chanting "We're the Mamas! We're the Mamas!" After a couple of minutes of this, John and Denny looked at each other and shrugged. "The Papas?"[5] From then, shortly after signing a five-album contract with Dunhill Records, they referred to themselves as The Mamas and The Papas.[4]

Early commercial successEdit

The band's first single, "Go Where You Wanna Go", was released in 1965, failing to chart. However, the second single, "California Dreamin'", was released later in 1965 and quickly peaked at number 4 in the US, while in the UK, it peaked at number 23. The band's debut album, If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, was released in early 1966 and became the band's only number 1 album on the Billboard 200. The third and final single from their debut was "Monday, Monday", which became the band's only US number 1 hit. The song brought the band international success when it peaked at number 3 in the UK Singles Chart.

After it was discovered that Michelle Phillips was having an affair with Doherty, tension in the band erupted. Consulting their attorney, Abe Somer, as well as their label Dunhill Records, the band drafted a formal statement expelling Michelle from the group on June 4th, 1966 - in the midst of recording their second album, The Mamas & the Papas. At this point they hired a new singer to replace Michelle, Jill Gibson, girlfriend of their producer Lou Adler. Gibson was already a singer/songwriter who had performed on several Jan and Dean albums. Although Gibson was not known as a strong singer, she learned to sing Michelle's parts within three weeks while the band was in London. Who sang on the second album is a disputed point, and further confused by using Jill Gibson to dub over an unknown number of vocals on the second album. Gibson says she sang all but two songs. Rock Historian Greg Russo says studio records show Michelle had already recorded six songs for the second album with the group in April 1966, including the singles "I Saw Her Again" and "Words of Love." Gibson recorded with John, Cass and Denny in July and early August 1966. Michelle was asked to rejoin the group by the end of August and went right into the studio, while Gibson was let go and received an undisclosed payment for her part. Producer Lou Adler states in the book Go Where You Wanna Go that Gibson sang on "maybe six songs", but Michelle re-recorded them when she returned. In the same book, Michelle Phillips is quoted as saying that she does not know for sure who is singing on the second album, that she and Jill both recorded many of the same songs. Phillips says only Engineer Bones Howe and Producer Lou Adler know for sure who was on the final record.[6]


The first single from the album, "I Saw Her Again" was about the affair. It peaked at number five in the US and number eleven in the UK. There is a false start at the final chorus of the song, which John Sebastian later mimicked on the Lovin' Spoonful song, "Darlin' Be Home Soon" (Kenny Loggins' "I'm Alright" repeated the theme in 1980). Paul McCartney, however, was not impressed by the way the group came in too soon on the recording. "That has to be a mistake. Nobody's that clever," he told the group.[7]

When the album was released afterwards, it peaked at number four in the US, continuing the band's success, but peaked at number 24 in the UK. "Words of Love" was released as the second single in the US and peaked at number five in the US. In the UK, it was released as a double A-side with "Dancing in the Street" and peaked at number 47. "Dancing in the Street" was released as the third and final single in the US and peaked at number 75.

=== Deliver ===
The band then recorded its third album, Deliver. During this time Doherty was drinking heavily, trying to get over Michelle Phillips.[4] As the closing act of the first Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967, the band performed dismally. John and Michelle Phillips and Lou Adler organized the festival, and according to interviews with the members of the group, they were all so caught up in the festival they never got around to rehearsing. That, combined with Doherty's last-minute arrival from Canada, resulted in the mediocre performance.[8]

The first single from the album was "Look Through My Window", which peaked at number 24 in the US, but failed to chart in the UK. However, the second single, "Dedicated to the One I Love", gave the band a comeback, peaking at number two in both the US and the UK. That success helped the album peak at a strong number two in the US and number four in the UK. The third single "Creeque Alley" showcased the band's history before their success. It peaked at number five in the US and number nine in the UK. The fourth and final single, a cover of "My Girl", peaked at number 15 in the US, but failed to chart in the UK.

Shortly afterward, a non-album single called "Glad to be Unhappy" was released and peaked at number 26 in the US, but failed to chart in the UK. Also that year, a song from the group's second album titled Dancing Bear was released as a single and peaked at number 51 in the US, but also failed to chart in the UK.

First break-up and fourth album Edit

The band then made their final television appearance together where they performed some of their most popular songs, on The Ed Sullivan Show in June 1967. During the ensuing conversation with Sullivan, they revealed that they would be taking a long vacation but would return. Because of this announcement, Dunhill released their first greatest hits album entitled Farewell to the First Golden Era volumes 1 and 2 featuring their early work.

Subsequently in October 1967, the group decided to take a trip to Europe to spark their creativity while recording their fourth album. While in England, Cass Elliot was talking to Mick Jagger at a party thrown by their record label Dunhill Records, and John made an insulting remark about her in front of the guests. Disgusted and humiliated, she stormed out of the party and quit the group. However, Cass was contractually bound for the band's next LP, and therefore appeared on The Papas & the Mamas, their fourth album.

The first single "12:30 (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon)" peaked at number 20 in the US, but failed to chart in the UK. The album was then released and was another commercial success in both the UK and US (although it was their first album not to go gold or peak in the top ten in America). After the second single, "Safe In My Garden" failed on the charts, only making it to number 53, their label released Elliot's solo song from the album, a cover of "Dream a Little Dream of Me" and it ended up peaking at number twelve in the U.S. It also became their first single to chart in the UK after five failed singles, peaking at number eleven. It was their only single to ever chart higher in the UK than the U.S.

===Second break-up and final split===
After the success of "Dream a Little Dream of Me", Elliot admitted she wanted to embark on a solo career. The fourth and final single from the band's fourth album was "For the Love of Ivy", which peaked at number 81 in the US and failed to chart in the UK. For the second time, their label released a single from their previous work. A song from their debut titled "Do You Wanna Dance" was released as a single, but failed to chart in the UK and peaked at number 76 in the U.S.

After the official breakup, John Phillips issued the country-flavored album The Wolf King of LA, featuring the minor hit single, "Mississippi", but it was not a commercial success. In the television special, Straight Shooter: The True Story of John Phillips and The Mamas and the Papas, other band members said that if they had recorded the material from that album, it might have been their best album and would certainly have been a hit.

In reviewing their contracts, their record company held that the band owed them one more album and threatened to sue each member of the band for US$250,000 for breach of contract. Subsequently in 1971, after about a year of John catching the other members as they passed through town, teaching them their parts and then overdubbing them on tape, the band released their final album People Like Us. The only single, "Step Out", peaked at number 81 in the US and failed to chart in the UK. With the failure of the lead single, the album failed to chart in the UK and became the first album of the band's not to chart in the top 20 on the Billboard 200, peaking at number 84.

After the failure, the band officially split, with each member embarking on solo careers.

Aftermath Edit

Cass Elliot Edit

After the final breakup, Cass Elliot had a successful solo career, touring the U.S. and Europe, becoming popular with hits such as "Make Your Own Kind of Music" and "It's Getting Better". The three albums she recorded for RCA, (Cass Elliot, The Road Is No Place for a Lady, both released in 1972 and Don't Call Me Mama Anymore, released in 1973) contained singles, but none hit the charts.

She had many successful appearances on American variety shows, including the highly popular Carol Burnett Show and the CBS game show Match Game '73. She also starred in two U.S. prime-time network television specials - The Mama Cass Television Program airing on ABC in January 1969 and Don't Call Me Mama Anymore airing on CBS in September 1973, the soundtrack of which was her third and final album for RCA.

After featuring her solo act in a sold-out two-week engagement at the London Palladium in July 1974, Elliot died of a heart attack in a London flat owned by Harry Nilsson following the closing night performance on July 29. The night before she died, she had called Michelle in Los Angeles to tell her how thrilled she was about getting standing ovations. Michelle Phillips says that Cass Elliot "died a very happy woman." Her former band mates and Lou Adler all attended her funeral in Los Angeles.

John Phillips Edit

'John Phillips' "Mississippi" peaked at #32 on the Hot 100 on 18 July 1970, and he continued to write songs for solo performers and other acts. Perhaps his best-known effort outside of The Mamas & the Papas was his contribution to the Beach Boys' #1 hit "Kokomo", of which he was a co-writer.

In the 1980s, John reunited with Denny Doherty and formed The New Mamas and The Papas, with John's daughter Mackenzie Phillips and Elaine "Spanky" McFarlane (of the group Spanky and Our Gang). After some initial success, Doherty dropped out of the band in 1987 because he was discontented with John’s drug abuse. The band continued to prosper and John's old friend Scott McKenzie replaced Denny until 1991 when John Phillips began to show signs of liver failure and became very ill. Mackenzie Phillips also continued to struggle with drug abuse and was permanently replaced by Laurie Beebe, former vocalist of re-formed group The Buckinghams in 1991. John Phillips dropped out of the group after a liver transplant in 1992 and Doherty reclaimed his original position with McKenzie replacing John on the front line until the breakup of the band in 1994. Throughout the rest of his life, Phillips toured with various versions of the group playing smaller venues, reunion shows, and television specials. He died of heart failure on March 18, 2001.

His final album, Phillips 66, was released posthumously in August 2001. John's version of The Mamas & the Papas' story is told in the PBS television special, Straight Shooter: The True Story of John Phillips and The Mamas and the Papas.

Denny Doherty Edit

Denny Doherty released a few solo LPs and singles after the breakup of the Mamas and the Papas, however none charted. Of note are 1971's Whatcha Gonna Do? and 1974's Waiting For A Song. The latter LP went unreleased in the U.S. and featured both Michelle Phillips and Cass Elliot on background. The recordings would be Elliot's last as she died in London shortly after the record was made, but the album did feature a solo hit with a rendition of the standard "You'll Never Know" on the Adult Contemporary chart in 1974 however, after which Denny went on to host a popular variety show in Canada.

In response to Straight Shooter: The True Story of John Phillips and The Mamas and the Papas, Denny produced his own stage musical Dream a Little Dream (the nearly true story of The Mamas and The Papas). It featured music from the group and focused on his relationship with Mama Cass. It was, he said, to "set the record straight".

In the 1990s, Denny was the producer and host of a popular children's television show in Canada, Theodore Tugboat — a kind of Thomas the Tank Engine for vessels in the Halifax Harbour.

Denny Doherty died on January 19, 2007, at his home in Mississauga, Ontario, from kidney failure following surgery on an abdominal aneurysm.

Michelle Phillips Edit

After appearing in the 1973 movie Dillinger and following the unsuccessful release of a 1977 album, Victim of Romance, Michelle Phillips went on to a successful acting career, appearing in Bloodline (1979), The Man with Bogart's Face a 1980 Sam Spade tribute/spoof, American Anthem (1986) and Let It Ride in 1989.

She also had a successful run in television drama, including Hotel, Knots Landing and Beverly Hills, 90210.

As the last surviving original member of The Mamas and The Papas, and the copyright owner for the song "California Dreamin'," Michelle was a major contributor to the 2005 PBS Television Special California Dreamin': The Songs of The Mamas and the Papas.


Their first successful single, "California Dreamin'," was re-released in the UK and peaked at number nine in 1997.

John's eldest daughter from his first marriage, Mackenzie Phillips, had a successful career as an actress in the mid-1970s, having first appeared in George Lucas's hit film American Graffiti (1973) and then in the successful television series One Day at a Time, but found her success so overshadowed by her problems with drug addiction—habits that she had shared with her father—that by 1979 her career had effectively ended because of her inability to work. She toured with a reconstituted version of the group in the 1980s, singing her stepmother's part while Spanky McFarlane, of Spanky and Our Gang, singing Cass's. It was not until the 1990s and 2000s that she would rebuild her career, mostly with guest-starring roles on a string of popular television dramas.
John's and Michelle's daughter, Chynna, would go on to form the band Wilson Phillips along with Carnie Wilson and Wendy Wilson (the daughters of Beach Boy Brian Wilson), with whom she has been friends since infancy.

John's youngest daughter, Bijou Phillips, is an actress and model.

In 1986, the three surviving members of The Mamas and the Papas, John Phillips, Denny Doherty and Michelle Phillips were featured in The Beach Boys music video California Dreaming from the album Made in the U.S.A..

The Mamas and the Papas were inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Hit Parade Hall of Fame in 2009. Much press was given to their Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, as the members of the group, especially John Phillips, had publicly stated their dislike for each other. At the 1998 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony the three surviving members accepted the award, with Cass Elliot's daughter accepting for her. Michelle Phillips created a memorable moment after all had accepted their awards returning to the podium saying, "I know that Cass is sitting on that big full moon tonight, looking down on these proceedings, wearing a size six Thierry Mugler dress, and thanking you all very, very much." The audience then burst into applause. The group then performed "California Dreamin'".

A musical theatre work of The Mamas and Papas story, is being developed in Australia, for performance in 2011.Template:Citation needed

Dream a Little Dream: The Nearly True Story of The Mamas & The Papas, by Denny Doherty and Paul Ledoux, a world premier musical at the Phoenix Theatre 2007/2012.


The Mamas & The Papas recordings were originally released on ABC Dunhill Records. In 1973, executives at ABC Dunhill (Jay Lasker is generally blamed) decided to discard all the multi-track recordings and mono masters in order to save storage space. Fellow labelmates Three Dog Night suffered the same loss as The Mamas & The Papas where their original recordings are lost, except for the stereo album masters. As a result, re-issues on CD are remastered from the album masters (usually second or third generation tape) which results in lesser sound quality than that of other catalogs from the era. [9] Sundazed Records located the only known Mono Master of "If you can believe your eyes and ears" It has been re- released on vinyl in limited edition 180 gram vinyl, and a limited run of 500 compact discs. [10]

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