“Dedicated To The One I Love” — The Mamas and Papas

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Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Whatever challenges we face, the darkest hour is always just before dawn.

Winston Churchill memorably used the expression “the darkest hour” to describe the period of time Britain stood alone against might of the German and Italian armies in the early years of the Second World War.

Fine wordsmith though he was, Churchill didn’t invent the “darkest hour” expression. Nobody knows quite who did, but as its first use predates Churchill by at least a couple of centuries, we know for sure it wasn’t him.

Nor was it Lowman Pauling or Ralph Bass.

Although they did slip the expression into a song they wrote together, “Dedicated To The One I Love”, a 1967 Number Two in both the UK and the US for The Mamas and Papas.

However, a bit like Churchill’s use of the “darkest hour” expression, The Mamas and Papas weren’t the original singers of “Dedicated To The One I Love”.

Lowman Pauling was the guitarist for a group called The 5 Royales and Ralph Bass was their producer when they wrote “Dedicated To The One I Love” together. The 5 Royales’ version didn’t make much impact on the charts on its initial 1957 release, but it did just about squeeze into the Billboard Hot 100 on its re-release in 1961.

1961 was also the year that The Shirelles, one of the most popular girl groups of their day with hits like “Tonight’s The Night” and “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”, covered “Dedicated To The One I Love”. Their version beat The 5 Royales in the charts, topping out at Number Three on the Hot 100.

Pauling and Bass might have been happy enough with that, but there was still better to come in 1967 when one of the most popular groups of the late 1960s, The Mamas and Papas, covered “Dedicated To The One I Love”. The Mamas and Papas’ version reached Number Two in the Hot 100.

For The Mamas and Papas, “Dedicated To The One I Love” was an unusual song because Michelle Phillips sang lead vocals instead of their usual female lead vocalist, Mama Cass Elliot…still one my my favourite vocalists of all time.

It turned out to be a great creative choice.

In fairness to Michelle Phillips, I don’t think even she would claim to rival the great Mama Cass’s vocal ability.

But Michelle Phillips’ slightly hesitant, uncertain vocal style was just what “Dedicated To The One I Love” needed for passages like this…

This is someone who’s on their own…like many of us are at the moment…and wondering whether they’ll ever see their loved ones again.

We’re far from those who care for us and in the midst of a pandemic there’s no easy way to connect in person the way human beings were designed to.

We’re all feeling a bit vulnerable. And if we were asked to sing that opening verse from “Dedicated To The One I Love” with just a single acoustic guitar playing quietly in the background for accompaniment, we might sound a bit hesitant and uncertain too, just like Michelle Phillips.

But that’s creative genius at work. Michelle Phillips captures the mood of the song perfectly.

It helps that the Mamas and Papas version is much slower and less raucous than either The 5 Royales’ or The Shirelles’ version. The more thoughtful, contemplative style really works.

In its day, I’m sure the rockabilly/doo-wop original by The 5 Royales was well enough received. And you don’t get to Number Three on the Hot 100, as The Shirelles did with their mostly unchanged cover version, by recording a song the record buying public don’t like.

But it turned out that one of Flower Power’s most prominent groups would unlock the secret to this great song — play it slower, and be more restrained.

While Michelle Phillips kicks off The Mamas and Papas version of “Dedicated To The One I Love”, you’ll be glad to know we don’t need to wait long before the rest of the group comes in.

Mama Cass, Denny Doherty and John Phillips are just waiting for that first verse to finish to fire up…

Then we get the lush vocals the Mamas and Papas were known for. As the vocals swell, we’re taking from a place of loneliness, symbolised by Michelle Phillips’ wavering solo vocal, to a place of togetherness, when the rest of the band join in.

That’s not necessarily a physical togetherness…after all, “I’m far from you, my baby”…but it’s that sense of connection that humans can feel for one another even when they’re not in the same location.

You can close your eyes and recall your loved ones, turning up the feelings when you think of how they smell or how they walk or how they smile…and it’s almost like they’re right next to you in that very moment.

Life at the moment isn’t like any of us would want it to be.

But, as for most human endeavours, love conquers all.

You can love someone without being in the same room as them.

In fact, you’ll never really know if you love them unless you spend some time apart. How much you miss them is how you measure how much you love them.

I’m not making light of our current crisis, or suggesting that “everything will be OK”. I’m certain there are tough times ahead for us all.

But it’s good to remember Lowman Pauling and Ralph Bass’s song from all those years ago at times like this. Here’s all we need to do for someone we’re missing…they’ll feel it even if they’re not with you…

Right now, it might be hard for us all. But the darkest hour is always just before dawn.

This is dedicated to anyone you love.

Here’s The Mamas and Papas…

https://open.spotify.com/track/1mFrjW8e8fuAOowlU3Q3Dr

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Without words, it’s just a nice tune. Add words — now you’ve got a song. And songs can change your world. I write about some that changed mine.

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