Queens of Vinyl:
Cass Elliot

Queens of Vinyl is a series where we will explore the sounds, styles, and impact of some of the most incredible and influential female artists ever pressed to vinyl.

This week: Cass Elliot

Cass Elliot was only 32 when she was found dead in London after two weeks of sold-out shows. In her short 15 year career, her voice can be heard across 17 studio albums with multiple groups.

Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1968, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2000, and the Hit Parade Hall of Fame in 2009 for her work with The Mamas & the Papas, there is no arguing that Cass Elliot should be honored as a Queen of Vinyl.

Born Ellen Cohen, she adopted the name Cass (never Cassandra) in high school. She left school shortly before graduation, and headed to New York to pursue acting. Influenced by the rising folk scene in America, she returned to the Washington area a few years later. After performing with The Big Three, Mugwumps, and briefly going solo, Cass Elliot got her break when she joined forces with The New Journeymen.

Made up of Denny Doherty, John Phillips, and his wife, Michelle Phillips, Elliot joined the group in 1965. Convinced that they couldn’t succeed in the music industry because of Elliot’s size, John was initially reluctant to let her join.

After changing their name based on the Hell’s Angels tradition of calling their women “mamas”, The Mamas & the Papas was born. The group quickly signed a five album contract with Dunhill Records. Over the next seven years, in the midst of major turmoil within the group and between it’s members, they managed to record some of the most iconic songs of the folk rock/ sunshine pop movement.

The debut album If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears produced the hits “California Dreamin'” and “Monday, Monday”, while their third album Deliver gave us multiple singles including, “Dedicated to the One I Love” and “Creeque Alley”.

Elliot quickly became the most notable member of the group and evolved into a sex symbol and icon for the hippie culture, even appearing nude and covered in daisies for a Cheetah magazine poster.

After fulfilling their contract with Dunhill Records, the members of The Mamas & the Papas decided to call it quits once and for all, and Mama Cass embarked on the solo career that she had been dreaming about for quite some time.

Releasing several solo albums, her biggest success came almost immediately with her recording of the song “Dream a Little Dream of Me” for her debut album of the same name.

While Elliot was recording solo albums, she became heavily involved in television. She had two of her own variety specials and was a regular guest host on talk shows and variety shows like The Julie Andrews Hour, The Andy Williams Show, Hollywood Squares, The Johnny Cash Show, The Carol Burnett Show, and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Cass Elliot continually managed to keep herself in the lime light. In 1974, at the height of her popularity and career, she performed for two weeks in London to sold-out shows and standing ovations. On the night of the last performance, she contacted Michelle Phillips to tell her the good news. Shortly after, Elliot died in her sleep of a heart attack.

Though gone physically, Mama Cass’ influence and impression on music will live on forever. Cass Elliot touched the music and film industry like very few artists have. Her style is continually emulated by new artists today and she has more than secured her place in history, and her place amongst the Queens of Vinyl.

Need anymore proof? Check out the wonderful inclusion of Mama Cass (and vinyl) in the opening sequence for the second season of critically-acclaimed TV show, Lost.

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