Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Mamas and the Papas

  • People Like Us [Dunhill, 1971] C-
  • Farewell to the First Golden Era [MCA, 1983]
  • Greatest Hits [MCA, 1998] A
  • Gold [Geffen, 2005] A

Consumer Guide Reviews:

People Like Us [Dunhill, 1971]
You can blame this on the march of history, stylistic evolution, what have you, but it's not just that we've changed--so have they. John Phillips now reserves his inspiration for his solo LP, where his heart is, and overall the level of simple effort is so sappy it's startling. C-

Farewell to the First Golden Era [MCA, 1983]
[CG70s: A Basic Record Library; CG80: Rock Library: Before 1980]

Greatest Hits [MCA, 1998]
As with such contemporary jazz and folk harmonists as the Hi-Los and Peter, Paul & Mary, the pretensions of their elaborate schlock were strictly vocal. Rather than a wall of sound for them to emote over, Lou Adler had the Tycoon of Teen's studio studs construct a latticework for them to wend through, with strings generally left out, mixed down, or reduced to chamber music. Another corn corrective was John Phillips's detached, often acid songwriting--cf. the gentle rake's confession "I Saw Her Again," or this collection's sole serious omission, the cheerful junkie boast "Straight Shooter." Phillips got romantic only as a California dreamer, most tellingly in the late, commercially minor "Twelve Thirty," a benign description of how groovy it felt to leave New York for L.A. circa 1966. Its sense of stoned entitlement on show business's hippie fringe evokes a utopian moment too many '60s memoirists have forgotten or never knew. A

Gold [Geffen, 2005]
Influenced by the Beatles, Peter, Paul & Mary, the Hi-Los, and invisible demons who crept up on them when they didn't score the right drugs, the M&Ps were as sick as they were slick, and although this could accommodate more dark secrets, it proves how sharply their nonhits stick. Their elaborate harmonies and lattice-of-sound arrangements sound super-innocuous until you notice the love bad love of "Got a Feelin'" and "Go Where You Wanna Go," the plastic-hippie savvy of "Creeque Alley" and "Twelve-Thirty," the junkie come-on of "Straight Shooter" and the narco tips of "Free Advice" ("Vice, vice"). They play "Do You Wanna Dance" as sweet romance, "Twist and Shout" as lubricious slow jam, "The 'In' Crowd" as vicious elitism. They do show tunes. They do Shirley Temple and ersatz Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. They do one of the greatest Beatles covers ever. A

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