Creeque Alley was released in 1967 and tells the story of the formation of The Mamas and The Papas. This analysis is the result of much painstaking research (by author Richard Thorpe ) some guesswork and a lot of help from many people who have written to (Richard) to add some new spin to a line or two. It continued to evolve until 2002 when the website was last updated. It’s preserved here with Mr. Thorpe’s kind permission and what a wonderful read it is.
John and Mitchie were gettin' kinda itchy just to leave the folk music behind.
John Phillips had been playing in a folk band known as The Journeymen. The band, whose lineup included Scott McKenzie, played old folk standards but, like other similar bands at the time, were going nowhere. They had split up by early 1964. Later that year John and his wife Michelle formed The New Journeymen with Marshall Brickman and Denny Doherty joined them to play at an engagement in Washington over New Year. By 1965 Phillips was getting restless and eager to try something new.
Mitchie is a reference to Phillips' wife Michelle who, as well as singing in The New Journeymen, had been doing modelling work but was to become a singer with the Mamas and Papas.
Zal and Denny workin' for a penny
tryin' to get a fish on the line
Zal Yanovsky and Dennis Doherty had been playing together in a folk trio called The Halifax Three. Halifax is a fishing port in Nova Scotia and may account for the fishing reference in this line, but some think this may be a bit deeper.(Ian Maclure )
In a coffee house Sebastian sat ...
and after every number they passed the hat
Sebastian is John Sebastian. At the time he was playing with Jim Kweskskin's Jug Band and other minor folk bands. "They passed the hat" is a reference to the way some bands were paid in the coffee houses of the sixties. They literally passed around a hat or a basket and more or less took up a collection.
McGuinn and McGuire just are gettin' higher
in L.A. you know where that's at
Jim McGuinn (changed his name to Roger McGuinn in 1967) was enjoying success with the newly formed Byrds and Barry McGuire had a hit with Eve of Destruction - all this at a time when John Phillips was still trying to form a new band.
And no one's getting fat except Mama Cass.
This may also be a reference to drugs, suggesting that before the Byrds became popular they were exploring drug use.(Aaron Stang )
This is a reference to the fact that no-one was making any money out of playing folk music but Cass Elliot who, being on the large side, was not only "getting fat" but was also having success as a solo jazz singer in Washington DC. Cass Elliot was born Ellen Naomi Cohen in 1941. Her restauranteur father nicknamed her 'Cass' after the Trojan princess, Cassandra. (Gary Holwell) She adopted the name Cass Elliot during her teens. The name Mama Cass evolved from her involvement with the Mamas and Papas.
This is what John Phillips said about Cass in an interview in August 1995 at Paramount Studios: "Her father had a deli there in New York. I remember her as a little, chubby girl, with the stained apron on, behind the counter. (Laughs) We were sort of infamous in that area, and when she got to New York, she knew who we were, but we didn’t know who she was. And she had met Denny, and Denny said, "I know this girl that sings wonderfully. We should have her over and sing with her." It happened to be that LSD was actually legal at the time. It wasn’t a banned drug or anything. We searched all over the Village and found some contemporary artist who had some and he gave it to us. We were about to take it that night, when the knock on the door came and Cass came in. So we all had it together the same night, for the first time, and I think that formed a bond between the four of us that we just never stopped singing. We just went on and on and on and on, until the trip wore off, which was about four years later."
Zallie said 'Denny, you know there aren't many
who can sing a song the way that you do' (Let's go South)
A reference to Dennis Doherty's singing abilities. "Let's go south" is a reference to leaving Canada for New York which is exactly what The Halifax Three did by way of Montreal, Toronto and then New York.
Denny said 'Zallie, golly, don't you think that I wish
I could play guitar like you'
A reference to Zal's guitar playing abilities!!
Zal, Denny and Sebastian sat (at the Night Owl)
And after every number they passed the hat
McGuinn and McGuire still are gettin' higher
in L.A. you know where that's at
And no one's getting fat except Mama Cass.
When Cass was a Sophomore, planned to go to Swarthmore,
But she changed her mind one day
This is a rather oblique reference to Cass' on-again, off-again educational career. She was a very intelligent young woman (an IQ of 165) whose uncles were mostly doctors, and her parents planned for her to go to medical school. But she discovered show business during her last year in high school and dropped out two weeks before graduating. A few years later, with her career not exactly catching fire yet, she attended American University in Washington, D.C. (on the strength of her SAT scores and on a provisional basis since she didn't have a diploma). She did not reach her sophomore year by any means -- by her own admission, she couldn't stay away from the drama department and kept hanging around there instead of concentrating on whatever it that was supposed to be her major -- and she planned to continue at Goucher College (a female college near her home in Baltimore), not Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania , but apparently John Phillips couldn't make a rhyme out of "provisional freshman" and "Goucher." In any case, she dropped out again and went back to singing after a only few weeks.
Standing on the turnpike, thumb out to hitchhike,
Take her to New York right away
This refers to her return to the Big Apple to perform and her probable means of transportation - she was pretty much broke at this point, as they all were. The "turnpike" is the New Jersey Turnpike which is the road from Maryland to New York.
When Denny met Cass he gave her love bumps
Denny loved Cass as a friend. However, Cass was in love with Denny from the moment she had met him during their days with The Mugwumps (see next line). During the group's visit to the Virgin Islands she discovered that Michelle had slept with Denny behind John's back! This caused much tension with the group. In fact Cass went to Michelle and said "you can have any man you want....why did you have to sleep with the one man I love?" For Denny's and Michelle's affair John wrote "I Saw Her Again" and made them sing it as a form of punishment.
Call John and Zal, and that was the Mugwumps
The Mugwumps was a band comprising Denny Doherty, Cass Elliot, Zal Yanovsky and Jim Hendricks (Cass's first husband). "The 'John' in this reference is obviously John Sebastian, who, according to his biography, was an original member of the Mugwumps with Zal, Denny, & Cass just prior to forming the Lovin' Spoonful." (Denise Steffanus)
McGuinn and McGuire couldn't get no higher
but that's what they were aiming at
And no one's getting fat except Mama Cass.
Mugwumps, hi-jumps, low slumps, big bumps,
don't you work as hard as you play
Drink-up, break-up, everything is shake-up
Guess it had to be that way
This refers to the inevitability of the break up of the Mugwumps. In fact they only lasted about 10 months then
Sebastian and Zal formed The Lovin' Spoonful.
Zal Yanovsky now runs a restaurant in Kinsgton, Ontario called Chez Piggy. "It is in a 150 year old grey limestone building and the walls are covered with memorabilia from his days with the Lovin' Spoonful and his earlier days from the Maritimes and with Denny. Seem to remember some great pictures of the Mamas and the Papas too from his own private collection." (Brad Fallon )
Michelle, John and Denny gettin' very tuneful
Michelle and John Phillips together with Denny Doherty had formed The New Journeymen in 1964.
McGuinn and McGuire just are catchin' fire
in L.A. you know where that's at
They were doing OK in LA I guess! This is also probably a vague reference to riots in Los Angeles in 1965 when a lot of fires were set.
And everybody's gettin' fat except Mama Cass.
Cass Elliot had wanted to join the group but other members were concerned that her size would not promote the right image for the group and that her voice was considered too low to harmonize with Michelle's. This line seems to refer to the fact that McGuinn and McGuire were having more success than Cass.
"I think this reference to the Byrds implies they were beginning to get really popular (which reinforces that the first Byrds reference was a drug reference, before they got popular) And "everybody's getting fat" is a double entendre; in other words - everyone's doing great, getting popular, making money etc and Mama Cass is doing well also (because she's not getting fat). (Aaron Stang)
Broke, busted, disgusted, agents can't be trusted,
and Mitchie wants to go to the sea
This is a reference to the Virgin Islands. The New Journeymen was over and they were sitting around one day and just wanted to take a vacation - Michelle, whose home was California, despised the coldness of New York. The story goes that they spun a globe and she, with her eyes closed, pointed to a spot and they decided to go wherever her finger landed - so the Virgin Islands it was.
"I heard an interview with Michelle, (I think, but it may have been Cass,) a long time ago in which she ... said the line was 'Mitchie wants to go to the C' (a note Cass couldn't reach and hence had to 'fake it')" (Dennis Honigs)
Cass can't make it, she says we'll have to fake it
This could be a reference to Cass' inability to sing the arrangements that John wrote. As the story goes, Cass was walking down the street in the Virgin Islands when she was hit in the head by a pipe. (Someone threw it from a pile of junk they were going through.) Cass was knocked unconscious. When she awoke, it had affected her range and increased it by 2 or 3 notes. This increase in range allowed her to sing the arrangements that John wrote. Thus, the group's main excuse for keeping her out was no longer an issue. As further support for this claim, Cass once said that the arrangements were so high that at times she would become light-headed during the recording sessions. This suggests that Cass was singing at the top of her range. Furthermore, if you hear any of the Mamas and Papas live recordings, the songs are lowered considerably making the songs more comfortable to sing.
BUT... this is a transcript of an interview with Michelle Phillips which appears on the Forrest Gump CD Rom (published by Upstream Multimedia)
Question: There was a story we heard about how a pipe fell on Cass in the Virgin Islands and changed her voice.Can you tell us about that?
M.Phillips:- Well, John has claimed that Cass actually got her upper range after the pipe fell on her head (laughs). She was walking past a construction site and a small lead pipe fell on her head. And when we were singing ,later on that afternoon, she did seem to (laughs) have a much higher range. I don't know if it 's really true or of there's any reason to believe this story, but it's a lie that we (laughs) told a long time if it's not true.
ALSO...The following is a transcript of an email ...which seems to support the view that the pipe incident happened but there is no real evidence that it was the cause of Cass's extended range.:
"I happened to catch a rerun of Behind the Music with the Mamas and Papas on VH-1 and they discussed it with John, Michelle, and Cass's sister.
Basically, they all agreed that the pipe hitting Cass and knocking her out happened. But while John seemed sure that it changed her ability to get "that extra note", Cass's sister didn't seem to believe it at all. Michelle said that the story had been told so often she wasn't sure of anything anymore but that, while she couldn't say that the bump on the head caused it, it did seem Cass was hitting notes afterward that she hadn't before." (David Redd and Maryann Sapanara)
We knew she'd come eventually
Cass Elliot knew that The New Journeymen were in the Virgin Islands. She missed Denny so much that, together with John's cousin Billy Throckmorton, she went down and joined them.
Greasin' on American Express card
The group had an American Express card which was used to finance the trip to the Virgin Islands. It was actually owned by one of the other Journeymen and had been intended for Journeymen business expenses. Of course, no one was making any payments on it by this time, and the group's departure from the Islands was actually precipitated by an American Express representative finally confiscating the card when John went to the local Amex office to get a cash advance on it. Amex was eventually reimbursed with from the royalties from the songs written during the group's stay on the islands.
Tents, low rents, and keepin' out the heat's hard
Duffy's good vibrations, and our imaginations,
can't go on indefinitely
These lines suggest that the group were starting to tire of their life in the Virgin Islands where, amongst other things, they had camped out on the beaches and generally acted in an unsociable way. Duffy's is the name of the boarding house on Creeque Alley (pronounced Creaky Alley but actually spelt Creque's Alley) in Charlotte Amali where some of the group's early songs were composed. (Brian Cornforth) Although Duffy himself was very encouraging and liked the group (giving out good vibrations!) they were not making a living. Their day-to-day existence on the island was very much an exercise in deficit spending and living by their wits and that COULD NOT go on indefinitely. The reference to their "imaginations" not going on indefinitely could also be a comment on how the group felt at the time Creeque Alley was released in the summer of 1967 - they knew they weren't going to last forever (but of course their music lives on all these years later!)
This is what John Phillips said about their time on the island in an interview at Paramount Studios in August 1995: "Well see, we went to the Virgin Islands the summer of ‘65, to rehearse and just put everything together. Cass and Denny and Michelle and I and the doctor who played guitar, and Peter Pilafian, who played violin. All these strange people. We took dogs with us and motorcycles and children. McKenzie, my daughter, went with us. She had her own tent on the beach. We were the last campers to arrive and we got the worst camping site. We called it Camp Torture. There was a mosquito bog right behind it. We went across the main island. We had this on St. John. Went across the main island, St. Thomas, and we got a job there, working at a club, Duffy’s - Duffy was a great help to us - singing, and we were trying to sing country pop, folk pop at that time, and we weren’t quite sure how to do it or what to do. One day we heard "Turn! Turn! Turn!" - The Byrds - and they mentioned Jim McGuinn, Roger McGuinn now. Denny said, "We can do that. What’s the big deal?" So we came back to the mainland and got a drive-away car and drove across the country to California and started recording, almost as soon as we got here."
And California Dreaming is becoming a reality.
Now back in good old New York City, paradise a fading memory, California was looking like the place to be. But this is also a neat reference to California Dreaming, the Mamas and Papas' first recording, which was released in October 1965 and was to go on to become a major hit and all time classic.
In the Paramount Studios interview John Phillips was asked how California Dreaming came to be written. He said: "It’s my recollection that we were at the Earle Hotel in New York and Michelle was asleep. I was playing the guitar. We’d been out for a walk that day and she’d just come from California and all she had was California clothing. And it snowed overnight and in the morning she didn’t know what the white stuff coming out of the sky was, because it never snowed in Southern L.A., you know, Southern California. So we went for a walk and the song is mostly a narrative of what happened that day, stopped into a church to get her warm, and so on and so on. And so as I was thinking about it later that night, I was playing and singing and I thought "California Dreamin’" was what we were doing, actually, that day. So I tried to wake Michelle up to write the lyrics down that I was doing. And she said, "Leave me alone. I want to sleep. I want to sleep." "Wake up. Write this down. You’ll never regret it. I promise you, Michelle." "Okay." Then she wrote it down and went back to sleep. (Laughs) And she told me up to this day, she’s never regretted getting up and (laughs) writing it down. Since she gets half of the royalties for the writing of the song."
CREEQUE ALLEY BY THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS:
Mamas and the Papas Guitar Songbook,Warner Brothers, date unknown.
Reproduced with permission of Richard Thorpe webmaster of:
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