John Phillips

Many Mamas, Many Papas

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The liner essay in Many Mamas, Many Papas, a double-disc collection of unreleased material by latter-day incarnations of songwriter John Phillips' "re-formed" legendary band, states it best: "...few people are aware that John Phillips was as musically active and productive then as was in fact the case." In the '70s, legendary songwriter and dope fiend Phillips recorded solo albums of mixed quality, downright strange soundtracks, and an outrageous theatrical/cinematic conceptual work throughout the '70s. In the '80s, Phillips had the idea to re-form the Mamas and the Papas, and contacted former Papa Denny Doherty, who signed on; he also employed actress/daughter Mackenzie in the role vacated by her mother, ex-wife Michele Phillips, and replaced the late Mama Cass Elliot with Spanky McFarlane of Spanky and Our Gang. The backing band was formed by no less than Mick Ronson, who bowed out shortly thereafter and was replaced by Mackenzie's future husband (and future Bruce Springsteen sideman) Shane Fontayne, among others, they cut a four-song demo that included a fine version of the Moody Blues "Go Now!" and three originals. They lived and worked together and recorded more songs in New York. They toured while trying to score a record deal that never materialized. In 1983, they began playing nothing but Mamas and the Papas hits in Vegas, which ended disastrously with everybody leaving the act. In 1986, Phillips tried again with Scott Mackenzie replacing Doherty. It was short-lived, but there were further recordings. Disc one contains the often scattered, shambolic, sometimes brilliant, document of those times. This disc contains all new, unreleased material. Highlights include the original demo, a wildly different Phillips' tune called "Kokomo" that the Beach Boys revamped into a number one hit, the MacKenzie Phillips' vehicle "Love Song," "Frankie" -- a jazzed-up '80s tune that could have been cut by any of your favorite '80s MOR singers, "Yachts," and the truly bizarre "Chinaman." The songwriting is all over the map, but Phillips was onto something. The live second disc is something else again: it's awful. Whether it is reprising the original Mamas and Papas hits, a Spanky and Our Gang medley, a bizarre, apologetic, out of tune reprise of "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair)," or rough versions of new songs, one conlyony wonder why this disc is here. Without it, this collection might have achieved a kind of cult status. Included, it mars the entire package. Yes, it is that bad. This is for hardcore Phillips fans or rabid music historians only.

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