Mamas & the Papas – The Complete Singles (review)

Mamas & the Papas – The Complete Singles – 50th Anniversary Collection (Real Gone / Universal) review

First-ever singles collection to feature their ultra-rare mono, hit versions

Real Gone Music is evidence that there are plenty of good things still happening in the music business.  For several years now, they’ve been delving into the Dunhill Records’ catalog, issuing best of’s from the Grassroots and Steppenwolf (read those reviews here), featuring the original, mono single versions available for the first time on CD.  Now, they’ve turned their attention to the Mamas & the Papas with The Complete Singles: 50th Anniversary Collection.

The Mamas & the Papas’ music has always sounded lousy on CD.  For one, the old tapes, when transferred to digital, seemed lifeless.  But, the real issue has been those horrid stereo mixes; the vocals and instruments panned hard right and left in clunky fashion – ultimately distracting from these great performances.

With the release of The Complete Singles Collection, they’ve managed to track down the long lost, original mono mixes which were the hit versions of these songs – the versions that occupied the 45 rpm singles back in the Sixties, and the ones that got played on the radio back then.  And – they sound oh-so-good.  The reason these were lost involves their original record company tossing the tapes out in the late-Seventies in attempt to clean house.  Most people haven’t heard these versions for fifty years!

The double-disc opens with their debut single, “Go Where You Wanna Go,” and follows with the “A” and “B” sides of all the band’s singles.  Hearing the mono mix of the ubiquitous “California Dreamin’” is stunning and worth the price of the entire set.  With all the instruments and vocals front and center, you get a deeper appreciation of how the four members blended their voices in breathtaking harmony.  The somber “Monday Monday” is lifted up with the group’s vocal interplay.

Disc one is chock full of pleasures, including the confessional “I Saw Her Again,” and its haunting b-side, “Even If I Could;” the tongue-twisting “Once There Was a Time That I Thought,” and the vaudeville throwback “Words of Love.”  For those wanting a musical history lesson, “Creeque Alley” poetically spells out the band’s early roots, including references to future members of the Lovin’ Spoonful and the Byrds.

Disc two is notable for the inclusion of many hard-to-find solo singles from three of the four members (Michelle Phillips didn’t release solo material until later). Mama Cass sounds best with pre-rock backing like on “Lady Love” (which she dedicates to her daughter), “Blow Me a Kiss,” and “I Can Dream, Can’t I” (originally performed by the Andrews Sisters).  John Phillips’ lone single, the acoustic stomper, “Mississippi,” is a high point, while Denny Doherty turns in some satisfying songs like the countrified “Whatcha Gonna Do,” and “To Claudia on Thursday,” which features a great bassline.

The set’s booklet contains an extensive history of the band, with new interviews with surviving member Michelle and producer Lou Adler.

While two discs featuring a total of 53 tracks may seem like much for the casual fan, the incredible sound quality makes this the one Mamas & the Papas compilation you really should have in your collection.  —Tony Peters