The Big 3 Featuring Mama Cass

The Big 3

  1. Young Girl’s Lament
  2. The Banjo Song
  3. Winken, Blinken, and Nod
  4. Grandfather’s Clock
  5. Come Away Melinda
  6. Wild Women
  7. Nora’s Dove
  8. Come Along
  9. Tony and Delia
  10. Ho Honey Oh
  11. Rider
  12. I May Be Right
  13. Anna Fia (Feher)
  14. Silkie
  15. Ringo
  16. Down in the Valley
  17. All the Pretty Little Horses
  18. Glory Glory

Of course she wasn’t “Mama” Cass Elliot when these tracks were recorded, so the album’s title indicates this collection of pre-Mamas-and-Papas-era recordings was issued to cash in on the Mamas and the Papas’ popularity in 1968. The cover photo has always creeped me out—Tim Rose looks like an extra from “Deliverance” in a tux, Elliot’s hair, dress, and doily collar are just WRONG, and Jim Hendricks is equal parts mannequin and ventriloquist’s dummy—and on this release it’s given a blue background and made even worse by the addition of a glow around them so that they look like some sci-fi experiment gone horribly wrong.

But as is always the case, all of this (and more) vanishes from the mind when Elliot starts singing. That is one great singer. The arrangements and material vary in quality but she is just phenomenal throughout.

Regarding those arrangements: I had the good fortune to correspond briefly with Bob Bowers regarding this version of “Rider” in the mid-2000s, as I’d noted a solid similarity between it and the version of the song recorded by the Serendipity Singers in the same era and that his name appeared on both albums’ credits. He was in fact the arranger in both cases; to hear the two versions is fascinating, especially given the questionable subtext of the lyrics: plausibly trotted out by The Big 3 with their earthy electricity under a veneer of “respectability,” but a bit bizarre when it comes from the scrubbed-clean Serendipity Singers. I mean, really: “Did you ever wake up and find your rider gone?” sung by a pair of sweet songbird ladies? Reminds me of Billy Connolly’s criticism of kids on televised wanna-be-a-star shows: “there’s kids 12 years old singing ‘I’m gonna love you all night long.’ You haven’t even got pubic hair!”