If Brian Wilson was the king of mid-to late 1960’s producers, then John Phillips was the crown prince. He had the knack of taking his own voice, plus those of Mama Cass Elliot, Michelle Phillips, and Denny Doherty and creating a virtual choir of sound. The result was some of the best vocal pop music of the 20th century. Real Gone Music has now issued the two-disc set, The Complete Singles: 50th Anniversary Collection.
The 53 tracks include all the singles released by the Mamas and Papas, plus solo releases by Elliot, Phillips, and Doherty on the Dunhill label. Not included are Mama Cass’ releases on RCA and Michelle Phillips singles for the A&M label.
As the title announces, it has been a half-century since “California Dreamin’” entered the American charts, January 8, 1966. Songs such as “Monday Monday,” “I Saw Her Again,” ” “Look Through Any Window,” Words Of Love,” and the quirky “Creeque Alley” soon followed setting the standard for smooth west coast pop. The vocals are impeccable and Philips was able to create textures that remain amazing today.
The first disc contains 27 songs in chronological order and is an essential listening experience. Even what is considered the second tier of their single releases, “Dedicated To The One I Love,” “Twelve Thirty (The Girls Are Coming),” “Safe In My Garden,” “Glad To Be Unhappy,” and “For The Love of Ivy” are outstanding. At this point, there may not be many surprises as the songs have been ingrained into the American musical consciousness but they are like old friends who have come for a visit,
The second disc roams a little out of the ordinary as many of their single releases quickly disappeared with Mama Cass’ “New World Coming” and John Phillips “Mississippi” being the exceptions. The disc begins with the group cover singles of “Do You Wanna Dance” and “My Girl,” which are brilliant in their somplicity. The other singles by Elliot, Phillips, and Doherty are solid, if not spectacular and quickly establish that the whole was better than the individual parts. Still, if you are a fan of the group, there are tracks that have not seen the light of day in decades.
The sound is clean, which is important for the material. The liner notes center around producer Lou Adler and Michelle Phillips, who is the only member of the quartet still living.
The lifespan of the original group was short and Mama Cass’ death in 1974 at the age of 32 prevented any complete reunions. Left behind is a wonderful collection of material that spans the decades as some of the best pop on record.