Photo Credit /Greenwich Entertainment
Film Distribution /Greenwich Entertainment
Runtime 82 minutes.
John and Mitchy were gettin’ kind of itchy
Just to leave the folk music behind
Zal and Denny workin’ for a penny
Tryin’ to get a fish on the line
In a coffee house Sebastian sat
And after every number they’d pass the hat
McGuinn and McGuire just a-gettin’ higher
In L.A., you know where that’s at
And no one’s gettin’ fat except Mama Cass.
Creeque Alley, The Mamas & The Papas
That’s the way John and Michelle Phillips of The Mamas & The Papas described the start of their group, which coincided with the start of Folk Rock in the 1960s. This film is the personification of what happened after what’s described in that song. The best music of my lifetime, by far, was folk rock, which was produced in the ‘60s. This is a compelling documentary about that era, the music, and the people who produced it. Because many of them migrated to live in the Laurel Canyon area of Los Angeles in the mid-60s, that’s why the title.
It was such a shockingly short period of time, really just two years, 1965-67, but the music these people produced was more melodic and poetic and filled with folk rhythms than anything before or since.
Directed by Andrew Slater who also wrote it with Eric Barrett, these are the stories of The Mamas and the Papas, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, and Buffalo Springfield. There are performances and interviews with and by Brian Wilson, Ringo Starr, Michelle Phillips (who talks frankly of her many infidelities), Eric Clapton, Stephen Stills, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Roger McGuinn and Jackson Browne. Of course, also interviewed is the paterfamilias of Folk Rock, record producer Lou Adler. Talking us through the tale and performing the interviews is Jakob Dylan (Bob’s son) who put on a 2015 folk rock concert in downtown Los Angeles.
It was the amalgamation of the electric guitar and combining folk and rock rhythms along with the poetry that created the magic. It’s still the music that stirs my soul.
When you see Roger McGuinn sit there with his electric guitar and then starting to strum the strings, it sounds as if there’s an entire orchestra instead of just one man playing a guitar. It gives you an idea of how the electric guitar changed the music business.
The film is loaded with music, but rarely is a song played from start to finish, unfortunately. Also, missing from the film is The Byrds’ Mr. Tamborine Man, whose introduction in April of 1965 really started the Folk Rock Boom. But I guess it was not written in Laurel Canyon.
The stories of how these people interacted are fascinating. David Crosby, Roger McGuinn, Brian Wilson, and others tell a myriad of stories of how these creators melded with one another and even “borrowed” from one another and how they influenced one another. Ringo talks about how The Beatles admired The Beach Boys’ work and how Wilson’s Pet Sounds album influenced Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. Wilson talks about Chuck Berry, but doesn’t mention that he stole the melody Berry wrote for Sweet Little Sixteen and used it for Surfin’ USA. Berry ended up getting all the royalties on Surfin’ USA, (check them out; the melodies are identical) but that’s not mentioned in this film. In fact, The Beach Boys themselves didn’t know for several decades that they were not receiving royalties on that song, because Wilson’s father negotiated a settlement with Berry without telling them.
But how short it was; The Mamas & The Papas started in 1965 and broke up in 1968! If you know anything about Folk Rock, this is a film not to be missed.