and their old friends from the circuit were making hay. Sebastian and Yanofsky had formed The Lovin’ Spoonful, and Cass’s friends Jim McGuinn and David Crosby were suddenly hugely successful in The Byrds. Even the gravel-voiced Barry McGuire had been picked up by Lou Adler’s Dunhill label and had a big hit with PF Sloan’s anthem ‘Eve Of Destruction’ (see page 36 this issue). McGuire generously brought some grass over to the cramped apartment on the eve of their Monday appointment with Nik Venet. Hearing the quartet sing, McGuire was knocked out and got on the phone to Adler at Western Recorders. “Barry told me some friends of his were in town and that they could sing,” Adler told Rolling Stone in ’68. “I told him to have them come to a session.” “We hung around and hung around, waiting to sing,” recalled John in the same interview. “Lou was slumped over the board – big hat, threeday’s growth of beard. He kept saying, ‘I’ll get to you, I’ll get to you.’” Eventually they crowded around one mic with John’s 12-string and sang five songs: ‘Monday, Monday’, ‘Got A Feelin’’, ‘Once Was A Time I Thought’, ‘Go Where You Wanna Go’ and ‘California Dreamin’’. “How did I react? I couldn’t talk,” said Adler. “The mix of those four voices was so amazing,” engineer Bones Howe told Kubernik in 2008. “We doubled their voices up, but it really was a great sound.” Adler signed them to Dunhill for an initial $1500 the next day and became their producer and personal manager. He was impressed with the rearranged ‘California Dreamin’ and thought it sounded like a hit… for Barry McGuire. Adler had been looking for a potential follow-up single after McGuire’s last 45 ‘Child Of Our Times’ had tanked. Making the most of their advance, the band, now calling itself The Magic Circle, moved into a shared house on Flores Street, just below Sunset Boulevard. Adler wasn’t convinced at the name, but a TV documentary on Hell’s Angels provided divine inspiration. Riffing on the fact that biker couples called themselves “Mamas” and “Papas”, and their own slightly messy communal lifestyle, they became The Mamas & The Papas. Returning to Western Recorders, they made their recorded debut in late Autumn, backing McGuire alongside members of LA session elite The Wrecking Crew for several tunes on new album This Precious Time – including ‘California Dreamin’’. The backing track was completed after Howe pulled jazz flautist Bud Shank out of a neighbouring session “Sometimes Lou would ask me about guys,” he told Kubernik. “He did not want to put a saxophone on it. He didn’t want a guitar solo. John said something about a flute. I asked Bud to come into Studio 3 for our session, and he made it in one or two takes.” The sessions with McGuire segued seamlessly into TM&TP’s debut album. The same crew was enlisted: Hal Blaine on drums, Joe Osborn on bass and keyboardist Larry Knechtel. “Lou has an extraordinary talent for being able to pick out all the good things you do and to let you know when you’re doing the bad things,” John sagely told KRLA Beat in ’67. Meanwhile, Howe found a way of recording the band’s complex harmonies. “I made suggestions, like putting Cass and Michelle on one side and Denny and John on the other side. What I found out is that if you put the guys close enough together, they’ll play better.” To the frequently stoned group, their combined voices occasionally summoned an imaginary fifth member, who they jokingly called Harvey.
“I made suggestions, like putting Cass and Michelle on one side and Denny and John on the other side. What I found out is that if you put the guys close enough together,
they’ll play better” Bones Howe, engineer
The debut single came quickly. Elaborately rearranged with criss-crossing vocals, cello and big girl-group choruses – ‘Go Where You Wanna Go’ was quickly pressed up on 45 with ‘Somebody Groovy’ on the flip in November. A few days later, Adler changed his mind and withdrew the single. Undeterred, The Mamas & The Papas made their TV debut on Shindig! backing McGuire and performing ‘Somebody Groovy’ and a Denny-fronted cover of Beatles oddity ‘I Call Your Name’. Recalling the group to Western, McGuire’s booming lead on ‘California Dreamin’’ was replaced by a new vocal from Denny and Dunhill hurriedly rushed it out. The single began a very slow crawl up the Billboard Hot 100 while sessions continued at Western. While they waited, Adler instructed John to potential single in the mould of ‘California Dreamin’’. The result was ‘Monday, Monday’, which the others initially hated – Doherty called it “a dumb fuckin’ song about a day of the week”. ‘Got A Feelin’’, written in The Virgin Islands was all eerie wee hours paranoia while the strutting ‘Straight Shooter’ combined John’s relationship insecurities with a descending ‘Day Tripper’-ish riff. The album was rounded out with a selection of covers. Denny led slow, romantic arrangements of ‘Spanish Harlem’ and ‘Do You Wanna Dance’ while Cass led a spunky remake of Dobie Gray’s ‘The In Crowd’. The biggest revamp was The Beatles’ ‘I Call Your Name’, reimagined from the straight acoustic version they’d performed on TV as a vaudevillian shuffle with Beatlemaniac Cass taking the lead. Cass’s instrumental break whisper of “John” to idol John Lennon was coaxed from the uncomfortable singer by John Phillips, who wouldn’t take no for an answer. The album, entitled If You Could Believe
Your Eyes And Ears wrapped recording in January ’66. Photographer Guy Webster snapped the infamous cover shot at the band’s rented house after the band got him high (see sidebar). The bathtub shot, with the scruffy, red-eyed band also concealed another secret – the now-consummated affair between Michelle and Denny. “You can see that I’m laying back into Denny’s arms and I’m practically making out with him,” Michelle told Fiegel. Shortly after the album shoot, the pair were caught by John. Mamageddon ensued, and the Phillips’ immediately moved out of Flores Street. Furious but business-minded to the last, John berated his wife. “You can do a lot of things to me, Mitch, but you don’t fuck my tenor!’” Michelle also had both barrels from a distraught Cass, who wailed “You can have any man you want. Why the one that I wanted?” With Denny in disgrace, John and Michelle agreed to work through their issues, but relations between the four were now irrevocably changed. If You Could Believe was released on 28th February to quietly enthusiastic response from the music press. Then everything exploded. After a slow burn chart climb, ‘California Dreamin’’ peaked at #4 on 12th March. Off the back of that, the freshly-released ‘Monday, Monday’ started to climb after it – reaching #1 in May. There was a flurry of TV appearances and radio spots, on which they turned on their natural charisma and goofed agreeably for the cameras. Suddenly, everyone wanted a piece of this oddball bunch – who looked like the cast of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon come to life. They now had public alter egos. Larger than life Mama Cass. Beautiful blonde Mama Michelle. Handsome mop-top Papa Denny, and lanky, behatted Papa John.