Few songs have captured the contradictions and ambiguities of the 1960s as memorably as “California Dreamin’,” the iconic folk music single that catapulted the Mamas & the Papas into rock and roll history. In All the Leaves Are Brown, author Scott Shea details how John Phillips, Denny Doherty, Michelle Phillips, and “Mama Cass” Elliot became standard-bearers for California counterculture, following their transformation from folk music wannabes to rock sensations and chronicling the tumultuous events that followed their unexpected success.
Shea gives a definitive account of the group’s short time together, from their hitmaking approach with legendary producer Lou Adler to John’s unique songwriting to tours and friendships with other musicians riding the folk-rock wave.
All the Leaves Are Brown will be published on June 1, 2023. Backbeat Books, an imprint of Rowman and Littlefield Publishing provided an early galley for review.
The Mamas and the Papas are one of my wife's favorite 60's bands. I have always enjoyed their songs, with the blending harmonies and sing-along lyrics. I am familiar with their story, but I was eager to see what further facts Scott Shea would bring to the table with this book. On that count, he did not disappoint.
The framework of this entire narrative hangs on John Phillips. That really should be obvious given the cover shot of the book; it is a photo where John is front and center with the others in the supporting positions around him. The author clearly gathered a lot of research on him as several of the opening chapters are about his family history and his coming up as a folk artist. We only get introduced to Michelle, Denny and Cass as their paths cross with John; even then their background stories are much shorter compared to what we get for him.
Still, even with this particularly focused angle of the tale, Shea provides a compelling narrative of real people trying to make it in the music business despite all of the personal drama that is swirling around them and because of them. They were truly a dysfunctional group from the get-go. It is a reminder that so often the rock stars that are put on pedestals are just humans trying to make their art while dealing with the emotional and personal challenges regular people face. The book also devotes a lot of space to the Monterey Pop Festival of which John Phillips was a driving force.