Hello there! This week we will focus on Mama Told Me (Not To Come). This is a witty and funky pop song written by Randy Newman. We will review Newman’s version, and then discuss covers by Eric Burdon & The Animals, and by Three Dog Night.
Randy Newman, Mama Told Me (Not To Come):
Randy Newman was born in Los Angeles in November, 1943. His early years were spent in New Orleans, but at age 11 his family returned to L.A.
One could have predicted Randy’s future career just by looking at his family history. His uncles Alfred, Lionel and Emil Newman were all noted composers in Hollywood.
Sure enough, Randy studied music at UCLA, although he dropped out one semester shy of earning his BA degree. Randy began writing songs in an attempt to kick-start a career in the music business.
His biggest early successes were as a songwriter for artists such as Gene Pitney, Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield and Jackie DeShannon.
Randy Newman’s first big break came in the U.K., and in particular with Alan Price. Price had originally been the keyboardist for the British Invasion blues band The Animals. In 1967, his solo album A Price On His Head included no less than seven of Newman’s songs!
Below is a photo of Randy Newman performing on the BBC in the 70s.
Randy Newman quickly established himself as a unique songwriter. For one thing, he was capable of churning out pop songs very rapidly. Another trademark was Newman’s sly wit. He poked fun at a number of issues, and showed off his sardonic humor in several songs.
In the mid-60s, Randy Newman became a member of the band The Tikis. After Newman left the band, they changed their name to Harpers Bizarre and had one big hit with a cover of the Simon and Garfunkel song The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy). Harpers Bizarre also recorded several of Randy’s songs.
Randy Newman wrote Mama Told Me (Not To Come) in 1966 for British blues singer Eric Burdon. Newman knew Burdon through his close association with Burdon’s keyboardist Alan Price in the group The Animals.
Mama Told Me Not To Come paints a vivid picture of a naïve youth who becomes paranoid while attending a party in the big city. Everything about the party – the noise, stale perfume, a joint? – bothers the narrator.
Want some whiskey with your water
Or sugar with your tea
What are these crazy questions
That they’re asking of me
This is the craziest party
That there ever could be
Don’t turn on the light
‘Cause I don’t want to see
[CHORUS] Mama told me not to come
Mama told me not to come
That ain’t the way to have fun
Open up the window
Let some air into this room
I think I’m almost choking from
The smell of stale perfume
And that cigarette you’re smoking
‘Bout to scare me half to death
Open up the window, sucka
Let me catch my breath
Here is Randy Newman in a live performance of Mama Told Me (Not To Come). This is from a BBC Live in Concert show from 1971.
Newman gives the song his trademark vocal treatment. His voice is a bit harsh and he sounds rather like a country singer. Here, the singer is clearly freaking out, and his only recourse is to repeat the warnings of his “Mama” regarding life in the big city.
Randy Newman wrote this song to poke fun at his own experiences after arriving in L.A. The idea of a social affair gone horribly wrong certainly shines through this song.
Well, Randy Newman carved out a reasonably successful career as a pop singer. But he was much more successful with his songwriting. Artists such as
Bette Midler, Alan Price, Van Dyke Parks, Dave Van Ronk, Judy Collins, Cass Elliot, Art Garfunkel, the Everly Brothers, Claudine Longet, Dusty Springfield, Nina Simone, Lynn Anderson, Wilson Pickett, [and] Pat Boone
released covers of Randy Newman songs. In 1970 Harry Nilsson issued an entire album of Newman covers, Nilsson Sings Newman.
Newman’s 1983 song I Love L.A. is a witty and somewhat caustic song about Los Angeles. Despite the numerous negative comments about L.A., this has become an incredibly popular tune in that city. It is played at home games for the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Lakers, and the NHL hockey team the L.A. Kings.
Relatively early in his career Randy Newman discovered his greatest talent, writing songs for the movies. One big success was his 1972 song You Can Leave Your Hat On, which became the closing song for the 1997 male stripper movie The Full Monty.
Also in 1972, Newman released the song Burn On,
an ode to an infamous incident in which the heavily polluted Cuyahoga River literally caught fire.
That was used as the opening song in the 1989 movie Major League, a comedy about the Cleveland Indians baseball team.
Randy Newman has become legendary for his movie scores. Here’s a brief pop quiz: how many times has Newman been nominated for an Academy Award for his original film music?
Unless you already know the answer, I predict your guess will be way too low. Newman has received an unbelievable 20 Oscar nominations for Best Original Song and Best Original Music Score! Alas, he has not been that successful; Newman has won only two Oscars, both for Best Original Song, and he set a record by receiving 15 nominations before his first win.
Randy Newman has written the score for seven Disney/Pixar films, and for six of those films he received at least one Academy Award nomination. Both of his Oscar wins came with Pixar films, for Monsters, Inc and Toy Story 3.
Over the years, Randy Newman has been widely recognized for his musical genius. In 2002 he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and in 2007 he was named a Disney Legend. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.
Nice going, Randy, keep up the good work! And, “you can leave your hat on.”
Eric Burdon & the Animals, Mama Told Me Not To Come:
Eric Burdon is a great British blues vocalist. He was born in 1941 in Newcastle, England to a working-class family. Early on, Burdon developed a love for music, especially the blues.
Eric had a particularly grim view of his childhood education. He had the following to say about his primary-school education:
“Some teachers were sadistic– others pretended not to notice– and sexual molestation and regular corporal punishment with a leather strap was the order of the day”.
Like so many British Invasion musicians, Burdon attended art college. He and his pals listened to as much American blues music as they could get their hands on. In 1962 Burdon joined a Newcastle band, the Alan Price Rhythm and Blues Combo. Shortly after Burdon joined, the group changed its name to The Animals.
Below is a photo of Eric Burdon and the Animals in the 60s. Eric Burdon is second from right.
The original Animals consisted of Burdon on lead vocals, Price on keyboards, Chas Chandler on bass, Hilton Valentine on guitar and John Steel on drums. The group quickly established a reputation for their fusion of blues with hard rock, and they moved to London once they developed a following.
Over the next few years, The Animals became one of the more successful British Invasion bands. Burdon’s great bluesy vocals made a great combination with Price’s inventive keyboard work and Valentine’s creative guitar solos.
The group notched a number of hits, including their cover of House of The Rising Sun that reached #1 on the Billboard pop charts, and that we discussed in an earlier blog post. They had other hits including We Gotta Get Out of This Place and Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.
Here is the audio of the record Mama Told Me Not To Come. Note that in Randy Newman’s original version, the phrase “Not To Come” is in parentheses; however, that is not the case for this recording.
This song appeared on the 1967 album Eric Is Here, credited to Eric Burdon and the Animals. It is unusual in a number of respects. First off, this song was scheduled to be released as a single in 1966; however, it was withdrawn and then included on this album in 1967.
Another unusual aspect is that, although the performers are listed as Eric Burdon and the Animals, the backing band is actually the Horace Ott Orchestra. This album was released between the time that the original band “The Animals” broke up, and the formation of the new group “Eric Burdon and The Animals.”
As mentioned previously, Randy Newman wrote this song for Eric Burdon. We included Randy Newman’s performance first, because after all Randy wrote the music and lyrics; however, the Eric Burdon song presented here is the first recorded version. Newman’s own version was first released on his 1970 album, 12 Songs.
I like Eric Burdon’s version a lot. As we will see, the smash hit from Three Dog Night closely copies Burdon’s version. The song benefits greatly from some funky keyboards, a throbbing bass guitar, and drums. Furthermore, Eric Burdon is a terrific blues vocalist. One can easily see that Burdon’s hero Ray Charles had a significant effect on Eric’s vocal style.
Unfortunately, the “golden era” of The Animals did not last long. Their first hit was in mid-1964, and one year later Alan Price left the band. He was followed by John Steel one year after that. There were a number of reasons for the rapid break-up of The Animals. For one thing, the musical rights for their big hit House of The Rising Sun belonged to Alan Price.
Burdon and the other Animals members were under the impression that this song, as well as other Animals tunes, had been a collaborative effort with participation from everyone in the band. They maintained that Price was listed as the ‘songwriter’ merely because his name (Alan) was first alphabetically.
Nevertheless, Price was the sole recipient when the royalty checks began to roll in. This caused a great deal of resentment among his bandmates. That was coupled with dodgy management of the group, so that the band members received almost no money from their hits.
Following the break-up of the band, membership of The Animals was re-shuffled, but the “New Animals” lasted only until 1969. From 1969 to 1971, Burdon moved to San Francisco and joined forces with the California funk rock band War. As “Eric Burdon and War,” the group had one big hit with the song Spill The Wine.
From 1967 to 1984, Eric Burdon and the Animals were in a nearly constant state of breaking up, re-forming, and then breaking up again. Following that period, Burdon has continued his career for an additional 35 years.
There were a few years in the 1980s when Burdon lost the rights to “The Animals.” However, he re-gained the rights a few years later. A pivotal issue in the lawsuit between Burdon and John Steel was that Burdon had toured as “Eric Burdon and The Animals.” The judge initially ruled that this implied that Burdon had given up the rights to the title “The Animals.” Ain’t the law weird?
Burdon also re-united briefly with War to stage a concert in 1988, at which time Rhino Records re-released all of the War albums.
The Animals were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. However, Eric Burdon did not attend the ceremony, and the band did not perform at the event. In 1996, Chas Chandler died of an aneurysm.
Eric Burdon is still performing today. And his blues vocals are still strong and hearty. Here is Eric Burdon live at the Kitchener Blues Festival in August 2016, in a live performance of Mama Told Me Not To Come.
Isn’t this great? Eric can still belt out the blues, and he is backed here with a funky group of musicians. I really enjoy his version of this song.
Following the band’s acrimonious breakup, several touring groups have used the name “The Animals.” In 2016 Eric Burdon formed a new group, “Eric Burdon and The Animals,” and this was the band seen in the video clip above.
It’s nice to see Eric still on tour, and so refreshing that his pipes are still in terrific form. “Don’t let me be misunderstood,” I hope that Eric Burdon continues on tour for a good long time.
Three Dog Night, Mama Told Me Not To Come:
Three Dog Night were a highly successful pop group in the late 60s and early 70s. The group featured three vocalists Cory Wells, Danny Hutton and Chuck Negron.
Hutton, Wells and Negron initially called themselves Redwood, and made some recordings with Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson. However, in 1967 they re-named themselves Three Dog Night and added a group of backing instrumentalists.
Supposedly, the group’s name was suggested by the girlfriend of one of the singers. She had seen a (probably fictional) account that aboriginal Australians would endure cold nights by digging a hole in the ground and covering themselves with a wild dog. The idea was that a particularly cold evening would be described as a “three dog night.”
Below is a photo of Three Dog Night. From L: Danny Hutton; Chuck Negron; Cory Wells.
In 1969, Three Dog Night released their eponymous first album. One of the singles from that album, One written by Harry Nilsson, reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles charts. The group was off and running, and then went from one pop success to the next.
Here is Three Dog Night in 1970 with a live performance of Mama Told Me Not To Come.
Cory Wells provides the funky lead vocals on this song, with assistance from Chuck Negron and Danny Hutton. The singers are ably complemented here by Jimmy Greenspoon on Wurlitzer electric piano, Michael Allsup on guitar, Joe Schermie on bass and Floyd Sneed on drums.
The Three Dog Night version of Mama Told Me Not To Come hit #1 on the Billboard pop charts in summer 1970. In fact, it was just one of a string of smash hits by these boys. During the period 1969 to 1975, Three Dog Night placed 21 songs in the Billboard Top 40 charts, including three (including Black and White and Joy To The World) that made it to #1.
An interesting aspect of this group was that each of their #1 records featured a different lead singer. Danny Hutton sang lead on Black and White, while Chuck Negron was lead vocalist on Joy To The World.
Another interesting aspect of Three Dog Night’s career was that, although the boys wrote a few of their own songs, virtually every one of their major hits was written by an outside songwriter.
I have been told that during the period 1969 – 1975, every single released by Three Dog Night made it into the Top 40. What a record of success! It seemed that the group could not fail.
However, by late 1975 the string of Three Dog Night pop hits ended, and that marked the end of the “golden era” for the band. Danny Hutton was replaced by Jay Gruska, and this began a long string of replacement members and re-shuffling of personnel.
Apparently, drug use was rampant among band members during their heyday. For various periods of time, both Chuck Negron and keyboardist Jimmy Greenspoon had to be replaced while they entered drug rehab.
This is all laid out in Chuck Negron’s autobiography, Three Dog Nightmare. This gritty account of show-biz life describes Negron’s serious heroin addiction in graphic detail. Apparently Negron entered some 30 different rehab facilities before a religious conversion enabled him to get straight.
Vocalists Danny Hutton and Cory Wells continued to perform with a replacement third vocalist for many years, until Wells died from multiple myeloma in 2015. However, Three Dog Night is still touring, with vocalists Paul Kingery and David Morgan joining Danny Hutton. That should bring some “joy to the world.”