The Mamas & The Papas

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If You Can Believe Your Eyes and EarsIf You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears (1966)

Can we morph this into an EP? Please? I know that would bump it out of received canon, but imagine: The first six tracks show these songbirds honing their intricate harmonies and baroque touches, finally culminating in the windy peak of “California Dreamin”—and that’s it. No hip posturings (“Somebody Groovy”), stiff phrasings (“You Baby”), or Brillish dalliances (“Spanish Harlem”). (I’d entertain arguments to keep the closer based on Cass’ strength.)

As it stands, though, the first seven tracks are choice, with vocal detail paying impressive dividends on ballads dewy (“Got a Feeling”) and starry (“Do You Wanna Dance”). The four show a keen sense of scope, too, merging Spectorian grandeur and folksy simplicity in a way that still feels fresh today. And if holistic inconsistency gets you down, well, remember even Phil was more of a singles guy.

B


The Mamas & The Papas
The Mamas & The Papas (1966)

A refinement of and improvement upon the debut in nearly every conceivable way. More Cass, more moods—meditative and otherwise—and more complex arrangements, all supporting some of the most pristine harmonies this side of the sun. If anything, the higher stakes have made the group even more limber: The shades of difference between Technicolor bombast (“I Saw Her Again”) and bittersweet scorn (“That Kind of Girl”) are subtle, but the contrast between them is as crisp as the cathedral whispers (“Strange Young Girls”).

A-


DeliverDeliver (1967)

Man. One sidestep into lousy horns and half-hearted rags and our flying buttresses have spoiled into soggy pears. No more majesty or radio redemption, just knobbly-kneed voices, scaredy-cat Motown, and a creaky origin story for heroes burnt out.

C-

 


The Papas & The MamasThe Papas & The Mamas (1968)

Well, the malaise that tanked Deliver is alive and well: Aside from “Safe in My Garden”—world-weariness recast as beauty, with voices ricocheting from all angles—and a few other moments, the disconnect between singers (let alone voice and instrument) is profound. The detours, interludes, and multi-part meanderings don’t help matters, either. Worst of all, the cosmic navel-gazing stretches for miles, finally colliding with tinfoil guitar heroics only to double back and devolve into an utter mess (“Gemini Childe”). At which point the album’s slight step upward seems meaningless.

C-


People Like UsPeople Like Us (1971)

Listen to Michelle (just not here): People Like Us is the sound of four people trying to avoid a lawsuit, which translates to limp-fish soul and the dullest of harmonies—and virtually no Cass.

D

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