The sun is out in the UK today. After a grey winter, the first day of warm sunshine always makes me think about summery songs by the Mamas and Papas. If ever there was a group that signified “summer” to me, it’s them.
Although my favourite Mamas and Papas track is “California Dreaming”…and I’m a big fan of Mama Cass’s solo work…today I’m writing about a very unusual, and fiendishly clever, Mamas and Papas song from 1967, which reached number 5 in the Billboard Hot 100 and number 9 in the UK singles charts.
Music and lyrics for today’s song were written by John and Michelle Phillips…between them, 50% of the Mamas and Papas.
“Creeque Alley” takes us on a wonderful autobiographical trail through the history of the Mamas and Papas, weaving in some of the key characters and events of the folk-rock scene of the early to mid-1960s.
A bit like that Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game, where you can connect from Kevin Bacon to just about any figure in the movie industry via one of the films he’s been involved with, for the folk-rock end of California’s music industry in the 1960s, you were only ever a couple of connections away from the Mamas and Papas.
Of course, it’s not unusual for composers and lyric writers to draw on experiences from their own lives when writing a song. But having quite such a comprehensive autobiographical sweep is very unusual…at least among hit records of the last 40 years or so.
One of the reasons I enjoy listening to “Creeque Alley” so much…apart from it being a straight-up brilliant song, beautifully delivered…is that I like to spot the Mamas and Papas’ references to the people they encountered and the places they visited on their musical journey from near-deserted back-street coffee houses in Greenwich Village to stardom around the world.
And there’s always something new to discover. I found out only today as I was checking a couple of facts for this article that the title “Creeque Alley” is a place in the Virgin Islands where, allegedly, John Phillips wrote the song while the Mamas and Papas were performing in a club nearby…I’ve enjoyed listening to “Creeque Alley” for 40-odd years without knowing that little nugget before today…
If you listen carefully you’ll pick up references to bands…or the members of bands…who were pivotal to the development of the music industry in the 1960s. Bands like the Mugwumps, the New Christie Minstrels, the…