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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Who Did It Better? Mama Told Me Not To Come

Who Did It Better? 
Mama Told Me Not To Come

Time to take a seat in the old way-back machine. This time? To 1970. AM Radio ruled and all the pop was as sweet and clean as 'pretend' America insisted it be. Vests and bellbottoms and shirts with puff sleeves were worn by both sexes, while hippy staches gave way to porn staches. Mini skirts with maxi coats. Beads and feathers and military surplus were everywhere. The colors; as bright as the sound coming from the speakers in your Dad's car. 

Today, we continue to take a look at songs written by one artist and made popular by another. 

Mama Told Me Not To Come was inspired by the L.A. music scene during the mid-60's. Written from the POV of  a sheltered, button-down youth, the song tells the tale of his first party in the city,. He is awed (and a bit taken aback) by all the pot smoking, whiskey drinking, and rock n' roll music; hence the chorus, wherein he states that his "Mama told (him) not to come" and how he really should have listened to her. 

The song was written in 1966 by singer/songwriter Randy Newman for Eric Burdon's first solo album.  

Initially cut by Eric Burdon & The Animals, the record company got cold feet and yanked the single from release in September of 1966. The group's version eventually saw the light of day when it was included on their 1967 album, Eric Is Here.

In 1970, Newman decided to try his own hand at it, including it in his 12 Songs album, released that same year. His version features the venerable Ry Cooder on slide guitar.  

Also in 1970, Three Dog Night, who always had their ears perked looking for fresh material, released their version - now titled: Mama Told Me (Not to Come) - on their It Ain't Easy album. Cory Wells, assuming one of his goofier voices, sings lead, while, who is that in the background? Why it's none other than an uncredited Donna Summer doing back-up vocals.

While Eric Burdon and The Animals would release their version on an EP, they never released the song as a single. Neither would  Randy Newman. But for Three Dog Night it proved to be magic and was chosen as the lead single from their fourth album (in 14 months).

For TDN, it would end up going all the way to #1 - and, in fact, was the first #1 ever on Kasy Kasem's American Top 40 which debuted on July 4th, 1970. The single went gold, as did the album and the song became the 11th bestselling single of that year. 

It also garnered the group something they typically never got - a bit of rock press cred. Rock critic Robert Christgau, normally rather savage, gave TDN's version high marks, saying it had"...just the right admixture of high-spirited schlock to turn it into the AM giant it deserves to be."

Oh, one more piece of trivia: the album the song was to appear on was originally to be inexplicably called The Wizards of Orange and the album cover art was also completed - featuring the band, nude and painted orange. I've included the original album art above, but here's a side by side of what was meant to be and what eventually hit the record shelves. 

 Now, I believe Dunhill was right about that title, but, boy... they surely should have gone with that original design. Grrr! I love me some hippy/granola vibe.

Oh, I am also including the version done in 2000 by Tom Jones and Stereophonics. But not as part of this competition. Jone's version reached the #4 spot in the UK and also: #7 in Iceland and #11 in Ireland in 2000. I think it's a hoot.

Well, that's the whole story... now, on to the competition.

The Song: Mama Told Me Not To Come / Mama Told Me (Not To Come)
The Competitors: Eric Burdon and The Animals vs. Newman vs. Three Dog Night

Mama Told Me Not To Come - Eric Burdon and The Animals

Mama Told Me Not To Come - Randy Newman

Mama Told Me (Not To Come) - Three Dog Night

Eric Burdon and The Animals

I love this sound. I love how basic the elements are, how they all come together to create such fun. Eric Burdon's vocals are incredibly strong - so much so, that this song immediately strikes me as a parody - something true of much of Randy Newman's catalog. Perhaps the record company was afraid that this song would become a huge hit and the band would be stuck in novelty land for the rest of their careers? I dunno. Seems to me it should have been released. 

I love the harpsichord/tremolo keyboard switch opening. Those horns are as solid as Eric Burdon's vocals and effective throughout, though they never really cut loose, which is the drawback to this version. The mix is thin and weird - those vocals are pushed to the max and all the way up front. But this was 1966 and, quite frankly, given that, I am surprised this sounds as good as it does. Cute story and all told in just over two minutes. What's not to love? 

Well, it helps to be a fan of this sound. This reminds me of one of my all-time favorite songs - The Hawks (later The Band) doing He Don't Love You. And I am a sucker for a horn section. Granted, I wish these were allowed to have some fun... it does feel a bit tame, tamped down. Still, a real missed opportunity, although it would have changed the way the band was perceived, particularly here in the states. 

Randy Newman

Newman is an incredible songwriter. Check out things like I Think It's Going To Rain Today, Texas Girl At The Funeral of Her Father, and The Story Of A Rock And Roll Band. His insight into the human condition is flawless and anyone interested in learning how to write music needs to study his work. That said... Newman the performer is an acquired taste. He's like so many others (Tom Waites immediately springs to mind); you are either a fan or you shrug your shoulders and wonder who thought recording this dude was a good idea. 

This arrangement starts on a roll, very up tempo, and just keeps it simple and countrified; a nice warm feeling which perfectly suits Newman's nasal good old southern boy vocals. Everything he sings sounds a bit like a novelty song... but then those are his forte. Early Newman is best. He became very bitter and overly cynical as the millennium approached and lost a bit of his charm. Not sure if he recovered or not, because I stopped enjoying him about the time he though Faust was a good idea (timely, yes, good, the jury is still out). Here, he's telling a simple story; a world viewed through his keen eyes. The ending instrumental is so Nashville standard that I keep expecting him to launch into Harper Valley PTA.

But again... just over two minutes and done. So. Sweet. 

Three Dog Night

So they start with the tremolo keyboard and keep it there. The tempo is a bit down. Cory Wells is sort of doing an imitation of Newman? It doesn't matter... because that chorus kicks in and zoom... full fledge pop dynamite. Love those harmonies. And listen to their use of that slide guitar. For Newman, it was just part of the band, filling in everything. Here, second verse, TDN uses it as color commentary. Very effective. The chorus doesn't dig as deep or as funky as I wish, but it's as full-blooded as AM radio got in the day. Love the way the band drops out at the 1:10 mark. What is that weird whistle? These guys are so funny. Love all those throaty vocals. And they just ramp it up... but, know what? after the 2:30 mark, where do they have to go? This song has no bridge...something that typically adds additional melodic forms before reintroducing the chorus. TDN's version goes on to throw in the kitchen sink, and some guitar licks and lots of over-the-top growling... which makes me think this must have either been great fun live or a total mess (which can also be great fun when live). 

The Verdict

This is more of a novelty song than I remember it. But then, remember Leo Sayer's The Show Must Go On from a few weeks ago? Same territory. And think about TDN taking on Joy To The World and you see exactly where pop music was at during this time period. There was something appealing to songs like this, which is why a person like Jim Stafford (Spiders and Snakes) could suddenly become a pop star. It's about a novel story, humor and then a big sing-along chorus. 

These are basically grown up camp fire songs. 

I like all three versions. They each bring something unique to the table -  Burdon's blues, Newman's warmth, TDN's funky fun. It's nothing to write home about or get too excited by... but it is charming, in limited doses. 

By the way, Three Dog Night's Greatest Hits (the 1974 version) is the way to enjoy that band. Back to back hits, just absolute fun. No filler. 

--- --- 

Okay, your turn. Let me know what you think. 

We are rapidly running out of songs for this series (I think I have four left), but if you think of something, leave it in the comments section... it will be considered. 

Thanks for reading/listening. 

And now... Tom Jones.

Mama Told Me Not To Come - Stereophonics & Tom Jones


Bob said...

Before even seeing the choices: Three Dog Night.

That's all.

anne marie in philly said...


song suggestions - the locomotion (3 versions), you keep me hanging on (2 versions), baby it's you (2 versions).

Sixpence Notthewiser said...

Three Dog Night takes it.
It's so much more.. fun? And they should have kept that record cover! Yum.


And who's the cute boy singing with Tom Jones? I love Tom Jones' voice. Sex!

Jimmy said...

Easy, TDN.

whkattk said...

I liked 3DN...even have a couple albums (vinyl). Eric Burdon and the Animals...not so much. Randy Newman - great songwriter, and that's the lane he should've stayed in. LOL

Mistress Maddie said...

The most enjoyable version for me is Three Dog Night.

I could never take Randy Newman's' voice. Grates my last gay nerve. Id rather stick a ice pick in my ears. Buig is right....he should stick to writing songs.

Mistress Maddie said...

But after hearing the Tom Jones one with the Sterophonics....if in the running...they win!!!!! Tom Jones sounds amazing in this song.

Deedles said...

Three Dog Night, hands down! I kind of like the Tom Jones version, then again, I'm a fan of his from way back in the beginning.

SickoRicko said...

I'll always associate 3Dog's version with drinking an entire bottle of cough syrup to get high and getting very, very sick. I was young. I was stupid.