The Mamas and the Papas were a crucial part of the harmony-rich pop-group movement that swept Southern California in the Sixties. With their mix of male (John Phillips, Denny Doherty) and female (Cass Elliot, Michelle Phillips) voices, astute songwriting and arrangements from Phillips and musical contributions from some of Los Angeles' finest session musicians, the Mamas and the Papas cut some of the most indelible and durable records of the Sixties.
The group formed out of the remnants of the "New Folk" movement of the late Fifties and early Sixties. John, Michelle and Denny performed in the New Journeymen; in 1965, the three of them headed to the Virgin Islands to write and rehearse. They were joined by Cass Elliot and the foursome eventually relocated to Los Angeles.
The group's first album, If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, contained the timeless "California Dreamin'," and stands as a peak moment in the West Coast vocal-group sound.
A string of hit records followed:
Dedicated To The One I Love
Look Through My Window
I Call Your Name
Dream A Little Dream Of Me
Go Where You Wanna Go
I Saw Her Again Last Night
Words Of Love
Twelve-Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon)
Dancing In The Street
The quartet broke up due to infighting in 1968, but the group's last hit was a launching number for Cass Elliot. "Dream A Little Dream Of Me" became Cass' theme song and beginning in 1968 she embarked on her own short-lived but solid solo career. Her distinct voice had always emerged from the groups in which she sang. In 1969 she scored big with "It's Getting Better" and 1970 yielded the hits "Make Your Own Kind of Music" and "New World Coming." In 1970, Elliot also appeared in the film version of "Pufnstuf" and recorded an album with rock star Dave Mason.
John and Michelle were divorced in 1970, and Michelle went on to a successful acting career.
The Mamas and the Papas reunited briefly in 1971 to cut "People Like Us" and thereupon disbanded again to pursue solo careers.
Elliot had two prime time television specials of her own in 1969 and 1973, but most people remember her scores of television appearances throughout the early 1970's with Mike Douglas, Julie Andrews, Andy Williams, Johnny Cash, Red Skelton, Ed Sullivan, Tom Jones, Carol Burnett and others. She guest hosted The Tonight Show, had successful stints in Las Vegas and continued to record for RCA during these years too. Cass had one daughter Owen Vanessa in April 1967 and she was married twice, first (1963-68) to fellow Big Three and Mugwumps member Jim Hendricks and second to Baron Donald von Wiedenman (1971).
In 1974, Cass Elliot travelled to London where she had a two week engagement at the London Palladium. After performing to sellout audiences and basking in repeated ovations, Cass tragically succumbed to a heart attack on July 29, 1974 in London, following this successful concert tour.
In 1998, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted The Mamas and The Papas into that institution. Cass Elliot's daughter Owen represented her mother and accepted her award.
After a well-publicized arrest on drug charges, John Phillips cleaned up and re-formed the Mamas and the Papas in 1982. The group included founding member Denny Doherty and two new "Mamas": John's daughter MacKenzie Phillips and Elaine "Spanky" McFarlane, who'd sung with Spanky and Our Gang back in the Sixties.