Pandemic Playlist: Top 5 songs by The Mamas and the Papas' Cass Elliot that dare you to be different

The singer-actress faced years of fatphobia but continued to promote 'loving oneself' and 'loving whomever one pleases'


                            Pandemic Playlist: Top 5 songs by The Mamas and the Papas' Cass Elliot that dare you to be different
Cass Elliot, Denny Doherty, Michelle Philips and John Phillips (Wood/Getty Images)

Singer and actress Cass Elliot, known to most as "Mama Cass" of the band The Mamas and the Papas, became a gay icon during her time with the group as well as in the years following their dissolution when she continued to release music as a solo artiste. Despite not being part of the LGBTQIA+ community herself, the artiste's penchant for camp fashion and choice to pen lyrics that encouraged individuality, as well as free love, led to many seeing her as an ally.

Additionally, Elliot was a rare sight on the music scene: she was a confident, large woman with a distinctive voice and a magnetic personality, and that meant she was one of the first people to grace television screens as something other than a comedy act while not matching society's ideal standards of beauty. To add to that, she stood for being different, and proudly so.

In the acclaimed 1996 gay film, 'Beautiful Thing', her music served as a space of non-judgment for those who found themselves yearning for belonging. Her untimely passing would turn out to be an extremely painful time for those whom she helped uplift during her career.

Singer Cass Elliot, or Mama Cass, in London, during her run of sell out shows at the London Palladium, England, on July 12, 1974 (Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Elliot, following a career spanning nearly two decades, died in her sleep of heart failure at the age of 32, cutting short a blossoming career and a life dedicated to reminding other people that they were worthy of love, no matter what. In honor of what Elliot stood for, here are five tracks that teach us the importance of being different and help us remain hopeful for better tomorrows.

'Different'

Easily one of the best queer anthems out there, 'Different' sees Elliot sing about the painful loneliness and struggle that goes along with being different and following your own path. But through all that pain, she asserts that she would, "Rather be different than be the same," highlighting the unique joy that exists in being true to oneself. Elliot, who had dealt with considerable criticism for how she looked, including waves of fatphobia that continue to plague her legacy, knew quite well the struggles of daring to be different in a world that valued conformity.

So hearing her singing about choosing to be different anyway is exactly the kind of affirmation everyone needs to hear more of. The song eventually progresses from its theme of isolation to one of community: the 'different' protagonist finds friends and allies along the way, soon realizing they are stronger together, further stating that being 'different' isn't so bad.

American popular singing group 'The Mamas and the Papas' arrive at Southampton, England. From l to r; Canadian-born Denny Doherty, Mama Cass Elliot (1941 - 1974), Michelle Phillips, and John Phillips (1935 - 2001). (Wood/Getty Images)

You can watch Elliot performing 'Different' in the 1970 American adventure comedy fantasy musical film, 'Pufnstuf', on YouTube.

'It's Getting Better'

'It's Getting Better', in the simplest terms, was a love song. But in contrast to many others, this song wasn't about love at first sight or a passionate tale of romance fit for an epic, nor was it about obsessive or toxic love: it was about a slow-burning steady romance that blossomed over time. The down-to-earth song was a rare example of a healthy kind of love: not one rooted in feeling out of control, but instead, one that starts unexpectedly and grows over time.

The song kicks off speaking about the fairytale romance many are led to believe is what love ought to feel like, before recounting the experience of a love that is "natural and right" and grows "stronger every day." In a world that romanticizes and even glorifies unhealthy, often toxic relationships, Elliot reminds us that romance does not have to happen at the cost of one's own happiness, and that's something we all can learn a little something from.



 

'Make Your Own Kind Of Music'

Once again, Elliot reminds her listeners that going your own way is lonely, before reaffirming that being true to yourself is the only way to find true happiness.

The song starts out with one of the most affirming verses, "Nobody can tell you / There's only one song worth singing / They may try and sell you / Cause it hangs them up / To see someone like you," followed by an equally-uplifting chorus, "But you gotta make your own kind of music / Sing your own special song / Make your own kind of music / Even if nobody else sings along." The pop song was originally recorded in 1968 by New York City trio, the Will-O-Bees, and was later picked up by Elliot who released the song in 1969 as a follow up to 'It's Getting Better'.

Sadly, the song didn't recreate the success of its predecessor, but it did find a place in the hearts of those who needed a reminder that it was okay to 'make their own kind of music'. The song became one of the reasons Elliot was touted as a gay icon, eventually finding more success when it featured on the shows 'Lost', 'The Middle', and 'Dexter'.



 

'Don't Let The Good Life Pass You By'

When a song starts with the lyrics, "Did you ever lie and listen to a rainbow," you know that it belongs on a list of songs honoring Pride. This upbeat track sees Elliot list out the simple joys of life, reminding us to take a moment to cherish them before they 'pass you by'. In addition to these, however, the singer also reminds us to see the good in the bad, such as the "funny side of losin'," the catharsis inherent in a good cry, and the fulfillment that one can only feel in helping a neighbor.

And to top it all off, she tells us, "Man was made for lovin', not for buyin'." Elliot's words are comforting while we find ourselves dealing with the isolation brought on by a pandemic: there are still some little joys we can hold on to, the ones that make life worth living even as the world crumbles to make way for something new.



 

'New World Coming'

This 1970s hit song from Elliot, in all its slow melodic glory, is wonderfully appropriate for the times. As she gently leads into the track with the lyrics, "There's a new world comin'. and it's just around the bend / There's a new world comin', this one's comin' to an end," you can't help but feel hopeful that a new world is, in fact, just around the corner.

The track alludes to a voice that grows stronger each day, calling us towards brighter mornings, towards a future that belongs to all, one that is built on love and joy. This seemingly simple track paints a picture of a better world, one that we've all been dreaming of. And at a point in our history where movements worldwide are converging and attempting to bring that vision to reality, Elliot's song reminds us to not lose hope and to keep moving forward.



 

Pandemic Playlist is a daily list of songs that will keep you entertained while you're isolated at home. Look out for a fresh selection of great tunes from MEAWW to refresh your mood every day!

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