John Phillips – John, The Wolf King Of LA (1969)

“In 1970, John Phillips, chief songwriter of the recently disbanded The Mamas & the Papas released his first solo album, John, Wolfking of L.A.. The Mamas & the Papas had been a pop juggernaut and, with tracks like ‘California Dreaming’ and other hits, had perpetrated the California-as-Eden idea that was reflected by other acts of the day. But the Mamas were anything but idyllic, torn apart by interband jealously and the tumultuous romantic relationship between John and Michelle Phillips. The stakes where high when Wolfking was released, but despite some high-chart action for ‘Mississippi,’ the album flopped. Sonically, the album treads the ‘Cosmic Americana’ sound Gram Parsons was always going on about, fitting in nicely with the urban-cowboy, soft-rock sounds of The Byrds, American Beauty-era Dead, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (together and separately), and Parsons’ own Flying Burrito Brothers. Barroom pianos tinkle drunkenly, the drums maintain a soft clatter and warm pedal steel swells and moans; Phillips spared no expense in securing the best session players availabe, utilizing members of Elvis Presley’s band (Presley himself expressed interest in recording ‘Mississippi’ but the Colonel killed the idea ). Having spent time in a premier vocal-pop group, he was understandably nervous about his own vocals and chose the, in retrospect, rather shoegaze-y approach of burying them in the mix, letting the subtle, fantastic playing of his band overshadow his modest voice. Which is a shame, really, because in addition to his vocals being more than decent, Phillips’ lyrics are far more subversive than anyone could have expected. The album starts off with ‘April Anne,’ rife with references to Los Angeles avatars. A ‘gypsy woman’ implores Anne to let the ‘Easy Rider share her bed,’ but Anne chooses the ‘drunken gigolo instead.’ Meanwhile, we hear of the ‘jingle jacket faggot friend’ who’s mysteriously ‘dead’ (a barb directed at The Byrds’ Gene Clark, who dated Michelle when she and John were split up, ‘dead’ essentially meaning ‘dumped’ most likely). He makes a stop at the farmers market to justify his purchase, noting the ‘buying and selling for profit.’ But where Reed sings with fractured ambivalence, matter of fact and unashamed, Phillips pleads in the chorus, ‘Oh Mary I’m in deep water/ And it’s way over my head/ Everyone thought I was smarter/ Than to be mislead.’ While Reed sounds detached and distracted, John sounds desperate. He seeks redemption, and the chorus of angelic backup singers echo the sentiment. ‘Malibu People’ showcases Phillips’ subtle dark comedy. ‘Topanga Canyon’ recasts Lou Reed’s ‘Waiting For My Man’ junkie tale in beach-bum attire, with Phillips driving out to the canyon to score a fix. …”
Guardian: King of the wild frontier (2009)****
W – John Phillips (John, the Wolf King of L.A.)
Discogs (Video)
YouTube: John, The Wolf King Of LA 33:40

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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2 Responses to John Phillips – John, The Wolf King Of LA (1969)

  1. Kenny Wilson says:

    This is one of my favourite albums of all time. Strangely, it featured in the soundtrack of Gossip Girl!


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