Recently I was more than a little surprised to see some music from the nineties described as “oldies”, but then I thought about it and realized that it really isn’t that startling because the definition of oldies obviously varies with your age and background. Still, I think that most of us would probably concede that it was the baby boomer generation that first popularized the term, so maybe their preferences have the most legitimacy. (I say this speaking not as a boomer myself, but rather as a sort of “pre-boomer” — if there is such a thing.) I’d also guess that most boomers’ favorite oldies would probably be the music of the sixties.
When you get to a certain age, your memories can sometimes seem like bubbles rising to the surface of a tar pit – slow and labored in transit, and often accompanied by a suspicious aroma. I think that might be what happens when I first try to remember how music was in the sixties because all I can think of is the Beatles. However, if I dig a little deeper I remember that it was actually one of the most richly varied periods in pop music. In addition to the popularity of the “mop-tops” and their copycats, we were experiencing the evolution of early rockabilly and doo-wop into variations that ranged from bubble-gum pop to the Motown sound, while at the same time California was weighing in with surfing tunes, folk music, and the psychedelic sound of the “hippies” beginning to – er – flower in San Francisco.
The various California sounds provided the background for the rise of a singing group that exploded into pop music in the sixties and became a case study for everything good – and bad – happening in music at that time. The Mamas and Papas were a huge success musically with their “sunshine pop” mega-hits but their lives contained an almost endless amount of turmoil and trouble, with drug and sex scandals of a frequency and variation to almost strain credulity. The trials and tribulations of the members of the group have been well-documented and you can find all the stories you want by doing some searches on the web, so I’ll only say that the whole saga would probably make a great movie — except it might not be believable. (Although I guess that wouldn’t necessarily disqualify it.)
John Phillips, Michelle (Gilliam) Phillips, Denny Doherty, and Cassandra “Mama Cass” Elliot, (who did not die from choking on a ham sandwich) formed the original group that hit it big, and stayed together long enough to gain a lot of fame and prosperity, although there were occasional disruptions and separations along the way. Still, the music was impossible to ignore and is still a joy to hear.
The album I’m spotlighting, The Mamas and Papas — 16 of Their Greatest Hits, features exactly what it says – their biggest and best – including “Monday, Monday”, and Mama Cass’s unforgettable solo on “Dream a Little Dream Of Me”, plus the songs I’m sampling here. First up is great little novelty song called “Creeque Alley“, followed by a tune that was their first big hit, and it sort of encapsulates their whole experience: “California Dreaming“.