The Mamas & the Papas

Before They Were the Mamas & the Papas...The Magic Circle

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Before the Mamas & the Papas formed, the four members were in various commercial folk-pop groups, including the Smoothies, the New Journeymen, the Halifax Three, the Big Three, and the Mugwumps. To make matters confusing for discographers (though more interesting for listeners), there are several unreleased studio tracks by ad hoc aggregations with members of the Mugwumps and Big 3. As for the music, this could be a more comprehensive overview of the Mamas & the Papas' roots, but it does illustrate the various forms of pop, folk, and rock that members were playing around with before the whole shebang coalesced with "California Dreamin'." There is Four Freshmen-influenced folk with choral vocals on the 1960 single by the Smoothies; lively pop-folk by the Big 3; and corny satire ("The Man Who Wouldn't Sing Along With Mitch") by the Halifax Three. "Oh Suzanna" and "Tom Dooley" by the temporary lineups mentioned above, come damn close to folk-rock, and serve as more evidence that various musicians were toying with the form a good year or so before the Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man." Speaking of which, there are three previously unreleased 1965 demos by the New Journeymen that also have a tentative folk-rock sound, including a version of "Mr. Tambourine Man"; it was probably recorded after the Byrds' rendition, but it indicates that some folk-rockers could have been playing around with similar ideas before the form's commercial breakthrough. There are a couple of actual Mamas & Papas hits ("California Dreamin'" and "Creeque Alley") that almost everyone who picks up this compilation will have already, and the selection is sometimes questionable (the absence of the Mugwumps' "Here It Is Another Day," co-written by Elliot and perhaps their best song, is unfortunate). Still, it's a fascinating and at times musically fine document of the Mamas & Papas' tangled roots.

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