Mamas and Papas – If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears (1966; 2010 reissue)

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If there was ever a group that sang in perfect harmony, it was the Mamas and the Papas. Featuring Cass Elliott, John Phillips, Michelle Phillips and Denny Doherty, the Los Angeles based quartet gleaned phenomenal success in the 1960s, and their influence continues to resonate throughout the ether today.

Stunning songs aside, the Mamas and the Papas were also visually striking. Garbed in loud, unconventional clothing that was colorful but not exactly color coordinated, the group wore their flower power image on their neon lit sleeves. And if that wasn’t enough to attract attention, they were physically mismatched.

Mama Cass was big-boned and heavyset; John Phillips was six-feet-something inches tall, rail thin, bearded and past the 30-year mark, which was considered quite mature at the time; Michelle Phillips was blonde, beautiful and totally hip; and Denny Doherty, with his moptop haircut, stovepipe pants, pointy-toed boots and turtleneck sweaters, resembled a British Mod.

The Mamas and the Papas were an immediate sensation, nabbing a nationwide No. 4 hit in January of 1966 with their first single, the absolutely breathtaking “California Dreamin,’” which was so vivid and alive that just hearing the tune made you feel as if you were basking in the West Coast sunshine. A few months down the road, the group scored a No. 1 winner with the comparably intoxicating “Monday Monday.” Both these songs are included on the foursome’s fantastic debut album If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, which was originally released in the spring of 1966 on Dunhill Records, and has recently been reissued in all its ravishing glory on the Sundazed label.

Folkies at heart, the Mamas and the Papas marinated such inspirations into a contemporary pop rock casserole, and by doing so concocted a sound that was innovative and accessible. Skyscraper choruses, shimmering with charisma nailed tight to a bed of finger-licking good melodies and creative arrangements fire each track on If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears. Lush and lavish the production may be, but there’s still a rocking element to be had, especially on the rippling, whipping rhythmic gyrations of “Straight Shooter.” And then there’s the swinging “Somebody Groovy,” skipping and hopping to a bouncy beat that’s hard to ignore.

Performed in a dramatic vaudeville manner, a cover of John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s “I Call Your Name” portrays how unusual and enterprising the Mamas and the Papas could be, while a rendition of Ben E. King’s “Spanish Harlem” is drop-dead gorgeous. Piled high with ribbons of plush harmonies and a gosh darn catchy hook, “Go Where You Wanna Go,” which was later recycled by the Fifth Dimension, holds court as another ace ditty on the disc.

Strewn with curious, interesting, clever and often surprising moves, If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears was truly a groundbreaking album. By mixing old school genres with contemporary soul, pop and folk rock pursuits, the Mamas and the Papas were equal parts quaint and cool.

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Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson was born the day Ben E. King hit No. 4 with "Stand By Me" -- which is actually one of her favorite songs, especially John Lennon's version. She's contributed to Lance Monthly and Amplifier, and served as Rock Beat International's associate editor. Paterson has also published Inside Out, and Twist & Shake. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Beverly Paterson
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