Claim: Singer "Mama" Cass Elliot experienced an increase in her vocal range after she was hit in the head by a pipe.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, November 2007]
Origins: A book of canonical television sitcom plots might include an entry like the following:
- a) Undergoes a radical alteration of personality, changing from meek and mild to aggressive and outgoing.
- b) Involuntarily adopts the persona of a famous historical or literary figure.
- c) Experiences total amnesia and cannot remember anything that occurred prior to the accident.
- d) Is transformed into a radio. (NOTE: Gilligan's Island only).
- e) Develops an increased vocal range and becomes a pop music star.
Oddly enough, although that last entry might seem a bit goofy even for a sitcom plot, it's something that has been claimed as happening in real life. The subject of the claim was singer "Mama" Cass Elliot, most famous for her stint with the pop group The Mamas and the Papas, who related the story behind her increased vocal on many occasions, including during a 1968 interview with
A: It's true, I did get hit on the head by a pipe that fell down and my range was increased by three notes. They were tearing this club apart in the [Virgin] Islands, revamping it, putting in a dance floor. Workmen dropped a thin metal plumbing pipe and it hit me on the head and knocked me to the ground. I had a concussion and went to the hospital. I had a bad headache for about two weeks and all of a sudden I was singing higher. It's true. Honest to God.
Although Cass Elliot apparently was hit on the head by a pipe a few months before she officially joined The Mamas and the Papas in late 1965 (at least, group member Michelle Phillips later said she remembered such an incident), the notion that the accident increased the upper end of her vocal range by three notes is quite suspect. Elliot had been singing since she was a child and had engaged in a number of professional singing ventures (both live performance and recording) prior to joining The Mamas and the Papas, but nothing from that period evidences her possessing a lesser vocal range. Her recordings with pre-Mamas and Papas groups such as the
Jerry Yester: Cass was always a great singer, even back then [in 1964]. I never noticed a difference in her voice from those days to The
Roger McGuinn: I met Cass when she was in the Big Three. I remember seeing them at The Bitter End. I used to hang out there a lot. But Cass's voice was a standout, even then. No question about it. Great lady and a great singer.
Michelle's sister, Russell Gilliam, meanwhile, remembers John being straightforward with Cass and telling her the truth straight out. "John wanted to have a Peter,
Once the Mamas and the Papas became famous, it is easy to see why Cass would have been as keen as John to gloss over some of these original facts. Rather than have to admit that her size had prevented John from letting her in the group, John's original yarn about Cass not having the right vocal range was reinstated and when journalists naturally wanted to know how she had miraculously gained the necessary notes, the well-worn, but frankly ludicrous "pipe incident" story came to the rescue, and was vigorously defended.
How many people ever believed this is questionable, and others who were there at the time dismiss the tale as the lie it clearly was. "All of that was such baloney!" says Russell. "Cass was following them around like a little puppy. Just everywhere they went, Cass popped up asking to sing with the group and John wouldn't let her." Nevertheless, once they were famous, everyone in the band seemed happy to go along with this revisionist version of events without so much as a glance back to the slightly more awkward truth.
Last updated: 5 August 2014
Fiegel, Eddi. Dream a Little Dream of Me: The Life of Cass Eliot. Chicago Review Press, 2005. ISBN 1-55652-588-5 (pp. 146-147). Greenwald, Matthew. Go Where You Wanna Go: The Oral History of The Mamas & The Papas. Lanham, MD: Cooper Square Press, 2002. ISBN 0-815-41204-5 (pp. 19, 27, 59). Rolling Stone. "The Rolling Stone Interview: Cass Elliot." 26 October 1968 (p. 20).