Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mamas And The Papas: Creeque Alley

A few weeks ago my old buddy Mike Kinsley asked me to feature the Mamas and Papas’ autobiographical hit “Creeque Alley.” The song is one of those hit record anomalies that does not include the title either in the song's hook or anywhere in the lyrics. It was written by the band’s two primary members: John and Michelle Phillips. “Creeque Alley” chronicles how the band emerged out of John and Michelle’s vocal duo and the short-lived band the Mugwumps.

The Mugwumps included future Mamas and Papas members Denny Doherty and Cass Elliot, future Lovin’ Spoonful members John Sebastian and Zal Yanovsky, and folksinger James Hendricks. Hendricks, Elliot, and Tim Rose had previously performed in a folk trio known as the Big Three.

When the Mugwumps split, Denny Doherty joined with John and Michelle (identified both as Michelle and Mitchie in the song) as the New Journeymen. While they were on vacation in the Virgin Islands, Doherty convinced John Phillips to allow his former singing partner Cass Elliot to join the band.

Phillips reluctantly agreed to allow Cass to join, but he was initially skeptical that Elliot’s weight would keep them from fame he desired. While they all were starving folk musicians, the lyrics persisted that “No one was getting fat except Mama Cass” – a reference to Elliot’s obesity. I always wondered what she felt about this demeaning line that she had to sing.

The title “Creeque Alley” comes from the area of the Virgin Islands where the seminal Mamas and Papas formed and performed at Hugh Duffy’s club located on Creque Alley. The band was living off of their American Express cards at the time.

Wanting to “leave their folk music behind,” there is the constant reminder in the song of the success of two former folkies who had crossed over into the pop scene. “McGuinn and McGuire just a-catchin' fire in L.A., You know where that's at” is a reference of the success of Roger McGuinn of The Byrds and former New Christy Minstrel member Barry McGuire who had a hit record with “Eve of Destruction.” Finally, their own success is mirrored in the line “And California dreamin' is becomin' a reality...”

The song is really a well written tune that chronicles the band’s prehistory and history. The lyrics are very clever in telling the story. Even though the title is never found in the song, it managed to score a top five hit for the Mamas and Papas.

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