***Mandatory Music Post Disclaimer: I have admittedly questionable tastes in music. If you find yourself disagreeing with my musical pronouncements, know that your position is probably much more eminently defensible than my own.***
I purchased a very affordable copy of California Dreamin' a couple weeks ago, and since I don't feel like blogging about anything else and don't really feel like cleaning my apartment, I'm going to review it, track by track. After the next introductory paragraph. This paragraph is the intriguing backstory to the blog post that's usually pushed to the commentary tracks on the special edition DVD.
Prior to this purchase, I could name three songs by The Mamas and the Papas: "California Dreamin'," "Monday, Monday," and "I Saw Her Again Last Night." I love all three of these songs, so I've pretty much assumed that I'm a fan of The Mamas and the Papas. It turns out I'm both much more and much less a fan of the band than I thought. Contrary to what I believed, the delicately handled angsty lyric material and NOT the band's unique sound was the key to their success. When the lyrics are moody or sad, the band is on and delivers a catchy hit. When the lyrics are happy and carefree, the band suddenly becomes unlistenable. Observe:
1. "California Dreamin'" -- Song's premise: "I'm completely miserable in my current life, and feel I would benefit greatly by relocating to a place I've idealized in my mind, to the point that I would go without even telling my significant other." Song becomes radio staple, to the point that I doubt there's a single person reading this post thinking "I should probably listen to 'California Dreamin'' sometime to hear what he's talking about."
2. "Spanish Harlem" -- Song's premise: "I really love a girl who lives in Spanish Harlem." Song's sound: Completely 4-square rhythm, completely not fitting with the exotic sound of "Spanish Harlem." Harmonies are lame, and mostly consigned to "la's". No conviction to be found in vocalist.
3. "Glad To Be Unhappy" -- Song's premise: "An abusive relationship is better than no relationship at all." A complete oddity. Like the title, this song can't decide if it's a happy song or not. As such, the band decides to vary the level of suck frequently and without warning throughout the course of the song.
4. "Go Where You Wanna Go" -- Song's premise: "I don't want to share you, and I'm giving up on waiting for you to settle down." Really clever harmony parts. For instance, the back-up singers harmonize the words to "Go where you wanna go" but then switch to doots for "Do what you wanna do," except you don't realize it until halfway through the line. Then towards the end, they get more contrapuntal. One of the better songs on the album.
5. "Monday, Monday" -- Song's premise: Ok, actually, I'm at a loss as to exactly what this song is about. I know somebody may be getting dumped. On a Monday. Or maybe the girl's name is Monday. I don't know. Either way, it's not happy, and it's possibly an unhappy double-entendre, something I'm not really sure has ever existed. A groundbreaking song all around, I guess.
6. "My Girl" -- Hey, ever wonder what The Temptations would've sounded like if they were white and with no groove or soul whatsoever? Wonder no longer. I'd never heard of this cover before buying the album, but unlike the poor Hot House Flowers, I truly understand why this one has been buried in pop music history.
7. "No Salt On Her Tail" -- Song's premise: "The girl I love doesn't love me, so I'm going to get over it." This song sounds pretty cool, but the lyrics are terrible and pompous. Dude, you're not noble because you're going to allow her to "fly away," because she's allowed to do that with or without your permission. The alternative choice here is stalking and rape. Please get over yourself. That said, it's still moody, so still a decent sounding tune.
8. "Sing For Your Supper" -- Song's premise: "Hello my lovely avian friends. I would love to give you seed if you spread your cheery song outside my window." AHHH! Make it stop! I confess! It was me! I did it! I acted on my own too! Put me out of my misery! No more, please!
9. "Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon)" -- Song's premise: I don't really know what this one is about either. I think it's about a woman coming to terms with the fact that she's a lesbian and the uneasy yet exciting effect such an admission has on the self-image, but again, I'm not entirely sure. The song's sound fits the theme though. It sounds very much like you're being led somewhere. This is possibly my favorite song on the album, although it could be because it's new while I've heard "California Dreamin'" and "Monday, Monday" a million times or so.
10. "Words of Love" -- Premise: "It takes actions, not words, to show love." This song is also cringe-worthy. Boring rhythms and a weird, disjunct melodic line that features a singer telling her man to show her more love in a very unintended irony. Goofy accompaniment. Not particularly catchy.
So, as you can see from my review, the happier The Mamas and the Papas were, the more empty, boring, and rhythmless their songs became. Like Vincent Van Gogh, future uninformed blowhards will use them as a case study for why major depression, especially in those artistic types, should go untreated so all of society can be vicariously depressed through them without any of the nasty effects of real depression. Because that's fair and all.