I may be getting old, but I am cheered to learn that on this date in 1966 Monday Monday by The Mamas and the Papas hit #1 on the Billboard charts. It stayed there for three weeks. It was the only chart topping hit for perhaps the most inventive American vocal group of the ’60s. The song was written by 31 year old John Phillips, the creative force behind the group. Phillip had matured as a musician in the Greenwich Village folk scene where he performed with The Journeymen with Scott McKenzie and Dick Weismann.
In addition to Phillips the group included his wife former model Michelle, who often collaborated with him on song lyrics, Canadian born Denny Doherty, and Cass Elliot.
Besides being released as a single, the song was included on the group’s debut album If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, a pop masterpiece from beginning to end that also contained such classics as Lennon and McCartney’s I Call Your Name, Do You Wanna Dance, California Dreamin’, Spanish Harlem, and The In Crowd.
The story of the Village folk scene; the dawn of folk/rock in and around Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles; other musicians including John Sebastian of The Lovin' Spoonful, Roger McGuinn of The Byrds, and Barry McGuire of The New Christy Minstrels; and the formation of the group was told in Creeque Alley co-written by John and Michele with Doherty and Elliot singing lead.
In The Mama’s & The Papa’s short, tumultuous three years together—a contractual obligation to their record company, Dunhill, would result in the release of one final album of original material in 1971 recorded by each singer on separate tracks and assembled by Phillips and producer Lou Adler—they recorded three more classic albums, The Mamas & The Papas, The Mamas and the Papas Deliver, and The Papas and the Mamas. In the ‘70’s and ‘80’s their label would mine old material and some live recordings for several compilation and “Greatest Hits” albums.A seemingly ideal time in L,A's musically fertile Laurel Canyon masked trysts and affairs and growing drug use.
The band broke up after a long period of turmoil, including Michelle and Doherty’s affair, John’s increasing drinking and drug use, and John’s crass insult to Cass Eliot at a London party thrown by Mick Jagger.
Cass went on to have a successful solo career before dying of a heart attack in 1974. John released a critically praised but commercially unsuccessful solo album, John The Wolf King of LA. He and Michelle divorced and she became a successful film and television actress. Doherty struggled to establish a solo career.
In the ‘80’s Philips formed The New Mamas & the Papas with his daughter Mackenzie Philips, the former teen star of the TV sitcom One Day at a Time, Elaine “Spanky” McFarland formally of Spanky and Our Gang, and Doherty. Scott McKenzie would later replace Doherty. The band was very successful and toured to sold-out venues doing the classics as well a new material by Phillips. But both Phillips and his daughter continued to battle significant drug problems and Doherty drank. McKenzie would later charge that her father initiated a 10-year-long incestuous relationship with her, a charge other members of the family vehemently deny.
Phillips died of heart failure after several years of ill health and a liver transplant in 2001. Doherty passed of a stomach aneurism in Canada in 2007. His last years were spent as the producer and a performer in children’s television in his native land. Scott McKenzie died in 2012
Michelle Phillips, who now holds the copyrights on the band’s original songs, now spends a lot of time promoting its memory.
Mackenzie remains estranged from her mother. The Me Too movement revived interest in her story which was taken with greater credence. Calls were made to ban The Mamas and the Poppas from radio and for various record labels to withdraw albums.
Me? I feel a pang of guilt but I just can’t listen to those great old songs without a smile on my face.