Mama Cass: What a Set of Pipes!

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The woman (and her record label) had a sense of humor

The woman (and her record label) had a sense of humor

Boy, did she ever have a set of pipes! Our tribute to the great Cass Elliot, better known as Mama Cass, who was one of the members of the 1960s singing group the Mamas & the Papas. The quartet came to prominence in 1965 with their breakthrough hit, “California Dreamin’,” which reached #4 on the U.S. pop charts and was followed by another six Top 5 singles within the next two years. (Their biggest chart hit was “Monday, Monday” which reached #1 in 1966.)

Cass was born in Baltimore, MD on September 19, 1941 as Ellen Naomi Cohen and like so many others quit high school to seek fame and fortune in New York City. In the burgeoning folk music scene of the early ’60s, she first met Denny Doherty and for a time they teamed in a group called the Mugwumps.

After she briefly pursued a solo career, she caught up again with Doherty, who by now had linked with John Phillips and his wife, Michelle. Elliott was persuaded to make the trio a quartet.

During the group’s heyday, they were part of the popular Laurel Canyon music scene in Los Angeles and Elliot’s home was usually the place for other prominent musicians to gather, including the various members of Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Joni Mitchell.

Henry Diltz was a friend and eyewitnesses to the Laurel Canyon scene as his photography career was developing. He described Mama Cass as “one of the best voices that ever came along in our lifetime. She was just a natural phenomenon. It was something to behold.”

Watch a Cass showcase with the group on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1967

Related: Our feature on Laurel Canyon, the place to be in the late ’60s

The Mamas & the Papas’ 1968 cover of the standard, “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” was essentially a showcase for Elliot’s great vocal and phrasing. Its success is said to have led to her pursuing a full-time solo career; the song was the quartet’s final hit.

Mama Cass’ first solo album was released later that year and featured “Dream a Little Dream of Me” as the title cut. Several other albums failed to yielded any big singles but included “It’s Getting Better” (#30 in 1969) and “New World Coming” (#42 in 1970).

1969’s “Make Your Own Kind of Music” came from the husband and wife songwriting team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. As with Cass’ other solo singles, it failed to connect with radio programmers and audiences, peaking at only #36 in the U.S.

As with the Mamas & the Papas recordings, the musicians on it were largely culled from the Los Angeles-based studio musicians known as The Wrecking Crew, who performed on literally hundreds of hit singles during that era.

Our Classic Video…

Fans of the great TV series Lost might recall that Mama Cass’ “Make Your Own Kind of Music” was featured prominently in its entirety in the very first scene of the show’s second season as Desmond goes about his everyday routine.

Elliot died on July 29, 1974 at just 32. What a loss.

Best Classic Bands Staff

9 Comments so far

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  1. Guy Smiley
    #1 Guy Smiley 20 September, 2016, 21:21

    Rumors of LOST being a “great” show are also just that… Rumors.

    Reply this comment
    • Greg Brodsky
      Greg Brodsky 21 September, 2016, 00:22

      Couldn’t disagree with you more, Guy, but there are plenty of choices in this new Golden Era of television.

      Reply this comment
  2. Lorelei
    #2 Lorelei 30 July, 2021, 01:25

    Lost was a great show… until they lost their way. It’s like they ran out of ideas and were throwing what they could into the show and see if any of it stuck. And with Mama Cass’s solo stuff, it was more MOR or Easy Listening and was successful in those categories. Even though the sounds were similar, it wasn’t Rock.

    Reply this comment
  3. mick62
    #3 mick62 30 July, 2021, 17:05

    God bless this wonderful lady .
    R . I . P .

    Reply this comment
  4. Howling Rabbit
    #4 Howling Rabbit 2 August, 2021, 17:20

    Not to take anything away from Cass Elliot’s actual singing chops but the clips you provided were her lip-synching to the records.

    Reply this comment
  5. Baybluesman
    #5 Baybluesman 17 August, 2021, 20:54

    I thought this article was to be a homage to a great and unique singer, regardless of genre, format, style, etc.
    Cass Elliot had a voice that was truly in a class of it’s own, and distinguishable the moment you heard it, along the same lines as a Karen Carpenter, Rod Stewart, Cat Stevens, Steve Perry, etc. , as a few examples.
    Once you heard a few lyrics, you know immediately who the singer is.
    Cass Elliot – a truly unique voice, who’s life and career was tragically cut short.

    Reply this comment
  6. mack
    #6 mack 20 September, 2021, 09:27

    Cass Elliot and Dave Mason is one of those great albums that never got the recognition it deserved.

    Reply this comment
  7. music all day
    #7 music all day 19 September, 2022, 23:45

    Reading 1969’s “Make Your Own Kind of Music” came from husband and wife songwriting team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, was un-aware of that tidbit, thanks for sharing.

    Boy, did she ever have a set of pipes!, and that song displayed that nicely.

    Song should have done better on the charts than it did.

    Happy to say that song is in the 1960’s mix here at the house. 🙂

    Reply this comment
  8. MoodyStew
    #8 MoodyStew 20 September, 2023, 01:28

    Mama Cass remains one of the truly iconic voices of the 60s, but like with all music it comes down to the songwriting, and in this case it was the genius of John Phillips that propelled The Mamas and Papas (and Cass with them) to their success. One of my favorite groups, their sound is as fresh and unique today as it was 60 years ago. Truly one of the great American music groups of all time.

    Reply this comment

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