Tuesday, August 3, 2021

"Creeque Alley" Step By Step - Hits of '67

I get a kick out of it when artists refer to other artists in song. In case of eavesdroppers, we get Steely Dan's advice to "Turn up the Eagles, the neighbors are listening," and from Neil Young's "Long May You Run": "Maybe The Beach Boys/ Have got you now/ With those waves/ Singing 'Caroline No'/ Rollin' down/ That empty ocean road/ Gettin' to the surf on time."

But it was Papa John Phillips who set the standard with "Creeque Alley" in 1967. "Creeque Alley" was released on The Mamas and The Papas third LP Deliver. It tells the story of the formation of the band and serves as an expo of the L.A. Scene that led to all that California Dreamin'. (Creeque Alley, btw (pronounced Creek-y), is a spiderweb of streets surrounding the docks on St. Thomas.)

John and Mitchie were gettin' kinda itchy just to leave the folk music behind. John Phillips was a member of folkies The Journeymen, along with Scott McKenzie ("San Francisco"). Late in '64, John and his wife, Michelle, formed The New Journeymen with and Denny Doherty, but before the end of the year John was "itchy" for something new. In a different world in the cold north, Zal and Denny [were] workin' for a penny tryin' to get a fish on the line, a reference to Denny's band The Halifax Three, which he'd started with Zal Yanovsky.

In a coffee house Sebastian sat and after every number they passed the hat. Sebastian, you've already guessed, is John Sebastian who would go on to found The Lovin’ Spoonful. "They passed the hat" is a reference to the way bands were paid in the coffee houses of the sixties. McGuinn and McGuire just are gettin' higher in L.A. you know where that's at is a reference to McGuinn's band The Byrds, and Barry McGuire had already had a hit with "Eve of Destruction"; all these references predating The Mamas and The Papas. The line is an indirect reference to drug use as well, and more directly to The Byrds' "Eight Miles High." The song's coda, And no one's getting fat except Mama Cass, only incidentally refers to Cass's weight, but more directly to Cass as the only one with any degree of success (as a jazz singer in D.C.).

John Phillips remembers, "[Cass] 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) acknowledges Denny's prowess as a singer and "south" in this case means NYC (south of Halifax). Denny said 'Zallie, golly, don't you think that I   wish I could play guitar like you' is a bit more log rolling, this time about Zal's virtuoso guitar playing.

Zal, Denny and Sebastian sat (at the Night Owl) [The Night Owl Café in the Village], 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. By this time, though, The Byrds had had two No. 1 singles with "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Turn, Turn, Turn."

When Cass was a Sophomore, planned to go to Swarthmore [a Philadelphia area college],/ But she changed her mind one day. / Standing on the turnpike (New Jersey Turnpike – equally immortalized in Simon and Garfunkel's “America.”) , thumb out to hitchhike, Take her to New York right away.

When Denny met Cass he gave her love bumps. Cass was in love with Denny from the moment she had met him during their days with The Mugwumps. During the group's visit to the Virgin Islands she learned that Michelle had slept with Dennny. This caused a ton of tension with the group. Indeed 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?" Based on Denny's and Michelle's affair, John wrote "I Saw Her Again" and made them sing it as a form of punishment. Ah, the drama - shots are fired. Called John and Zal, and that was the Mugwumps. The "John" in this reference was obviously John Sebastian, who, according to his biography, was an original member of the Mugwumps with Zal, Denny and Cass prior to forming the Spoonful.

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 refers to the inevitability of the Mugwumps' breakup. Sebastian and Zal formed the Spoonful,Michelle, John and Denny gettin' very tuneful is another reference to The New Journey Men, and then of course McGuinn and McGuire just are catchin' fire in L.A. you know where that's at is self explanatory.

Finally the refrain (in the way that Poe’s "Raven" progresses from "Nevermore" to "Evermore") explores a new take on the "fat" reference with Everybody getting fat except Mama Cass; essentially the success of all the aforementioned. Broke, busted, disgusted, agents can't be trusted,/ and Mitchie wants to go to the sea refers to Michelle’s insistence on a vacation. She spun a globe and her finger landed on the Virgin Islands.

Cass can't make it, she says we'll have to fake it is a bit more elusive in meaning. There's a ton of discord with everyone's version, but aside from a story about Cass getting hit in the head with a pipe (and gaining a greater vocal range because of it), no two stories are alike. We knew she'd come eventually (Cass had begged off on the Virgin Island trip, but then missed Denny and flew down with John's cousin Billy Throckmorten.

Greasin' on American Express card (don’t leave home without it) relates to the group having an American Express card which was used to finance the trip to the Virgin Islands. It belonged to one of the other Journeymen and was intended for Journeymen business. 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. Michelle said of the trip, "We did nothing but dropping acid, snorkeling, and smoking a lot of pot, and drinking. We would actually slice off the top of a coconut and pour rum into it."

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 tiring of life on the islands. "Duffy's" is the name of the boarding house on Creeque Alley (pronounced Creak-y Alley) in Charlotte Amali where many of the group's early songs were composed.
And California Dreaming is becoming a reality