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Music Review: The Mamas & The Papas – If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears

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If Brian Wilson was the king of the recording studio during the 1960s, then John Phillips was the crown prince. He had the ability to combine four voices into a virtual choir of harmonies. When you add in his songwriting expertise and his ability to produce a pure pop sound that would appeal to the mid to late sixties rock/hippie generation, you have the makings of one of the classic vocal groups in music history.

The career of The Mamas & The Papas would be short but extremely productive and commercially popular. Denny Doherty, Cass Elliot, Michelle Phillips, and John Phillips would be inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1998.

If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears was their debut album, released in 1966. It would be an immediate hit reaching the number one position on the Billboard Magazine album charts. Rolling Stone Magazine would rank it number 127 on their list of The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time.

The album is best remembered for two legendary singles that became huge hits. “California Dreamin’” remains one of the most recognizable pop songs of the era. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked it number 89 on their list of The 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time. The lush harmonies soar as the lyrics tell of a person longing for the warm weather of California. The song reached number four on the Billboard Magazine Pop Chart. “Monday Monday” is very similar in approach as the harmonies combine into a symphony of sound. The song would win a Grammy Award and reach number one of The United States Pop Charts. Both songs were written by John Phillips.

The cover songs were well chosen and expertly remade in the band’s own image. The Lennon/McCartney song, “I Call Your Name,” features a classic Mama Cass vocal. “Spanish Harlem” demonstrates what a wonderful voice Denny Doherty possessed plus the background harmonies of Michelle Phillips and Mama Cass soar in support. The Turtles hit, “You Baby,” is reinvented as a pop classic. The gem is the old Bobby Freeman hit, “Do You Wanna Dance,” which is slowed down from an early rock ’n’ roll uptempo classic. It emerges as a beautiful pop creation.

Two other John Phillips compositions too often slip under the radar. “Straight Shooter” is pop/rock at its best. “Go Where You Wanna Go” features some of the most intricate four part harmonies in pop music history.

If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears was a stunning debut. Song after song was well crafted and expertly recorded. Few groups have managed to equal its brilliance. It remains an essential pop listen.


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About David Bowling

  • Renata

    As Kat pointed out, California Dreamin’ was not written by John Phillips, it was written by John and Michelle Phillips.

    The error needs to be corrected.

  • Brandon

    I enjoyed this review except for one problem, Michelle Phillips and John Phillips wrote “California Dreamin’.” In fact, I have my dad’s old vinyl collection and it’s credited on the original version of the album (toilet not covered with any artwork or song list on the album) as being written by John Phillips and Michelle Gilliam (her maiden name). I figured that was a minor point and one I could note in the comments; however, I now see that back in December this was already pointed out by Renata and yet there has still been no correction to this article. That’s not a minor point. That’s a refusal to correct your error. And that’s pretty sad and part of the disrespect for women that you’ve gotten away with it for this long.