Mama Cass’ TV pilot for ABC, which was aptly titled The Mama Cass Television Program in June 1969, saw the iconic singer joined by a star-studded cast which, unfortunately, wouldn’t be enough to save the show from being a disaster. However, the show had some great highlights with no moment topping the time when she joined the great Mary Travers and Joni Mitchell on stage for a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘I Shall Be Released’.
It’s somewhat remarkable that the Mama Cass pilot failed to gain momentum considering the great names that she had the ability to draw on the show. However, the debut episode of the former singer of The Mamas and The Papas never quite had a succinct flow to it and, at times, felt as though the show lacked clear direction. One moment Joni Mitchell was performing a gorgeous folk number, the next minute the audience then had to sit through a painfully unfunny comedy routine starring Cass and Buddy Hackett which is hard to watch.
The show would sadly remain as one of the very few missteps over the course of Cass’ otherwise fairly untarnished career. The singer would sadly pass away only five years later following a heart attack in 1974 which cut her life devastatingly short. “Records can be a bad trip,” Cass explained while taping for her ABC-TV special in an interview with the Argus. “The audience can play your mistakes over and over. In a television special, they see you once and you work hard to make sure they’re seeing you at your best,” she added.
“Of course, live audiences are the greatest of all,” Cass went on to say, adding, “You have the audience right there communicating with you.
“When the Mamas and the Papas were on TV,” she recalled, “I’d just come out, do my thing and that would be it. This, is hard work,” she added. “The wilt was real, but she is pleased with her special. “It’s low key. It would be pretentious for me to do a show that wasn’t.”
The task of presenting her own TV show was one that Cass couldn’t quite live up to and it was one step too far out of her comfort zone. There was nowhere on earth that she preferred to be than behind a microphone singing her lungs out rather than performing ill-thought-out comedy routines where it was clear for all to see that she felt out of her depth.
Mama Cass opened the special show emphatically with her hit arrangement of ‘Dream a Little Dream of Me’ which featured a little help from backup vocalists Clydie King, Carol Willis and Edna Wright. The finest moment came later on in the show when the one and only Joni Mitchell performed ‘Both Sides Now’ before she was joined by Mary Travers for a duet on ‘And When I Die’ which was then topped by the addition of Cass to sing a powerful cover of Bob Dylan song ‘I Shall Be Released’.
The moment that these three fine voices take on the classic track which Dylan originally wrote for The Band before later releasing it himself is nothing short of spellbinding. Travers, Mitchell and Elliot were gifted with three of the most golden voices of their generation and if the whole programme was just the trio harmonising, ABC would have been left with no choice but to give the show a series.