Review : John Phillips - John, Wolfking of L.A.
TinymixtapesIn 1970, John Phillips, chief songwriter of the recently disbanded The Mamas & the Papas released his first solo album, John, Wolfking of L.A.. The Mamas & the Papas had been a pop juggernaut and, with tracks like “California Dreaming” and other hits, had perpetrated the California-as-Eden idea that was reflected by other acts of the day. But the Mamas were anything but idyllic, torn apart by interband jealously and the tumultuous romantic relationship between John and Michelle Phillips. The stakes where high when Wolfking was released, but despite some high-chart action for “Mississippi,” the album flopped.
Sonically, the album treads the “Cosmic Americana” sound Gram Parsons was always going on about, fitting in nicely with the urban-cowboy, soft-rock sounds of The Byrds, American Beauty-era Dead, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (together and separately), and Parsons’ own Flying Burrito Brothers. Barroom pianos tinkle drunkenly, the drums maintain a soft clatter and warm pedal steel swells and moans; Phillips spared no expense in securing the best session players availabe, utilizing members of Elvis Presley’s band (Presley himself expressed interest in recording “Mississippi” but the Colonel killed the idea ). Having spent time in a premier vocal-pop group, he was understandably nervous about his own vocals and chose the, in retrospect, rather shoegaze-y approach of burying them in the mix, letting the subtle, fantastic playing of his band overshadow his modest voice.
Which is a shame, really, because in addition to his vocals being more than decent, Phillips’ lyrics are far more subversive than anyone could have expected. The album starts off with “April Anne,” rife with references to Los Angeles avatars. A “gypsy woman” implores Anne to let the "Easy Rider share her bed," but Anne chooses the “drunken gigolo instead." Meanwhile, we hear of the “jingle jacket faggot friend” who’s mysteriously "dead" (a barb directed at The Byrds’ Gene Clark, who dated Michelle when she and John were split up, "dead" essentially meaning "dumped" most likely)....full text
RollingstoneFive years before director Hal Ashby set his Watergate-era film Shampoo in a glam Los Angeles of angst and blow jobs, the late Mamas and the Papas founder John Phillips released this solo debut about hot Hollywood wives, "Topanga Canyon" and "Malibu People." The 1970 disc was greeted with shrugs. But the music holds up just as well as Phillips' prophetic picture of hip Hollywood. He brought in L.A. studio guys like drummer Hal Blaine as well as people like James Burton, famed for his guitar work with Elvis Presley and Ricky Nelson. The songs thrive on dramatic harmonies, arresting melodies, Phillips' smooth, South Carolina-sired hippie crooning, country touches, and background vocals from the Blossoms, led by the inimitable Darlene Love. Elvis himself wanted to record "Mississippi" (his dictatorial manager, Colonel Tom Parker, said no). This sensitively remastered reissue amounts to a genuine lost treasure....full text
AllmusicThe first solo album of the architect of the Mamas & Papas sound, John Phillips, was certainly one of the more heralded events at the dawn of the 1970s. Phillips, the primary songwriter and vocal arranger for all of the group's great records, however, was not exactly a great lead vocalist. Phillips knew this, and, according to his book Papa John, he purposely buried his voice in the mix. This proved to be a bit of tragedy, because underneath it all, this is an excellent album. Songs such as "April Anne," "Malibu People," and "Holland Tunnel" bear out what a fine songwriter he really was -- they are indeed some of the finest songs of his career. The performances on this record are spectacular. Backed by an all star group of musicians (most of Elvis Presley's band, including James Burton, as well as The Wrecking Crew among others), the record's decidedly country feel is crafted to the extreme. Mamas co-founder Denny Doherty has always felt that had the Mamas & Papas recorded this album, it would have been one of their finest. There's no doubt....full text
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- 1. Mississippi
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