Pay, Pack and Follow - The Lost Recordings of John Phillips with the Rolling Stones By Robert E. Martin
John Phillips and Keith Richards
Songwriting legend John Phillips may have passed away from heart failure late last year, but the latest recordings from the founder of the Mamas & the Papas lives on in the form of a new CD of original material recorded and produced by Rolling Stones Mick Jagger & Keith Richards between the years of 1973 through 1979.
Entitled Pay, Pack & Follow, this posthumous release is a fascinating excursion through time that thanks to the open and spacious production values of the recordings sounds remarkably current.
Even more fascinating is the fact that the Stones actually served as a 'back-up' band on these sessions, with Richards playing guitar on every track along with former Stone Mick Taylor, Ronnie Wood on bass, and Jagger sharing the microphone on back-up vocals.
Without question most people have heard one or more of the many memorable songs Phillips penned with the Mamas & the Papas back in the sixties; but after the break-up of that band Phillips' life took a downward spiral into drug addiction, countless affairs, and the wayward inability to follow through on projects that largely defines a junkie's life. Indeed, his autobiography, Papa John, still stands as a definitive testament to the ravages of drug addiction.
But the music on Pay, Pack & Follow redeems in many ways the tortured genius of John Phillips. Back in 1973 he was living in London doing the film score for the David Bowie film, The Man Who Fell to Earth, and during that time Keith Richards and Phillips shared a house for a couple of years with their families.
According to Phillips liner notes, Mick Jagger and Phillips attended a World Championship Cricket playoff and after the game the two went back to a hotel. Phillips picked up a guitar and played Jagger a few of the songs he was working on. Jagger expressed enthusiasm about the material and told Phillips that he should record the songs, to which Phillips responded, 'Okay, I'll record them if you produce them."
Nothing more was said until a few weeks later when Richards told Phillips he had booked studio time at Olympia Studios in London and that work would begin on a Thursday.
Notes Phillips, "We had no definite schedule that we stuck to but recorded a track whenever our schedules allowed. We worked off and on from 1973 until 1979 at first in London and later in New York."
Even more fascinating, however, is the story behind the 'lost tapes' of these sessions. In the late 1970s, Phillips crossed the pond to London on the Queen Elizabeth II and disembarked the boat leaving the tapes behind. For two years they zig-zapped around the world from port to port tucked away in the cargo hold until one day a gentleman from the Cunard Line rang Phillips up and asked if he was the one that left cans of 4-track tapes behind on the boat for two years.
Truthfully, at times Pay, Pack & Follow sounds at times like the meandering work of a rock star long past his sell date; but the 'looseness' of the performances also embody its charm. The result is a flawed, loose, but always raw collection of tracks, replete with moments of melodic magic and brilliance and emotive yearning that made Phillips' work with the Mamas & the Papas so memorable.
Prior to his death last year, in an interview with Corey Levitan, Phillips commented that he thought the material "some of the best stuff Mick, Keith, and I have ever done individually or together. We did one track a year and then another track another year and it's interesting to hear how we sound 25 years ago, then five years later, and so on."
One of my favorite tracks is The Year 2001, easily the most hook-laden track on the release, and written 26 years before the new millennium. Other titles include Oh Virginia, which sounds like a re-write of Sweet Virginia from the Exile On Main Street sessions, and the track She's Only 14, which addresses a 'quickie' Jagger enjoyed with Phillips' daughter Mackenzie Phillips at a mid-70s party.
Originally the album was recorded for Atlantic Records, but Ahmet Ertegun, the label's founder, didn't think it was right for Phillips and the Stones to be on the same label, so Phillips bought the masters back from him.
Even more intriguing, however, is the work of former Stone's guitarist Mick Taylor. According to another interview Phillips did prior to his death with Matthew Greenwald, at the time Taylor was reluctant to record again with Jagger & Richards.
"I was able to get Mick Taylor to come out of hiding," said Phillips. "He had quit the Rolling Stones a few years before, and they hadn't spoken to each other. I said, 'What the hell, come out and play. It's just music.' So he showed up and it was a pretty tense situation for awhile. We recorded Very Dread and after Mick Taylor played a tremendous solo on Oh Virginia, Keith turned to him and said, ' Now I know what I never liked you!'"
Pay, Pack & Follow stands as one of the more intriguing musical releases of late. Loose yet fresh, meandering with moments of brilliance, it definitely instills the listener with a paradoxical buoyant brilliance that stands as a fitting 'ending' for one of Folk Rock's true pioneers.