The Infinite Jukebox: Mama Cass’s ‘It’s Getting Better’

The other night, I watched a YouTube video about ’10 Songs that always make you smile’. Like all such things, I had mixed opinions about the choices, though it’s hard to argue against a top 3 of ‘ California Girls’, ‘Here comes the Sun’ and ‘My Girl’. The video itself commented that it was hard to beat the Sixties for happy songs, sunny songs, positive songs, and that’s the same point I’ve made myself: the Sixties was the last great age of optimism, a time when we looked at ourselves saw changes being made that opened things up, broadened things, extended the range of possibilities wider than they’d ever been before. And we believed, naively but honestly, that this condition was eternal, that we had broken on through to the other side, and that it not only was getting better, but it would always get better. It’s in the music at a bedrock basis: hope, belief, wonder, enthusiasm, innocence.

This song could and probably should have been put in that list. It’s not a political song, or a social song, or any kind of symbolic song, though its title and its chorus strips the atmosphere of 1969 down to its minimalist essence. It’s just a love song, by a young lady with her life and her music in front of her, unaware how little longer she would with here to make her own kind of music.

Cass Elliott went (unwillingly) by the name Mama Cass, signalling her association with The Mamas and the Papas. Her solo career left behind the folk-pop of the band, with its roots in the clubs, choosing a more direct pop approach, with lazy, gentle ballads like ‘Dream a Little Dream of Me’, mixed with the rousing, uptempo declaration of independence of ‘Make your own kind of music’.

I’ve known ‘It’s getting better’ for a long time. It was Mama Cass’s second top 10 hit over here, a beautifully balanced piece of mid-tempo jangly-pop alleviated with cleverly restrained, but still buoyant horn riffs, leading into a chorus that sucks you into joining in, singing your heart out.

Cass opens with a confession. Once I believed, she sings, that when love came to me, it would come with rockets, bells and poetry. Rockets, bells and poetry: to a lonely, naive, repressed teenager, this was manna to the expectation, though the embittered old man I am now knows that finding rockets, bells and poetry was blazing luck.

But that’s not what it’s about, not at all. Cass expected rockets, bells and poetry, but didn’t get them. Instead, what she got was infinitely quieter, calmer, and yet so much more satisfying. But with me and you, she proclaims, because you can’t keep such feelings in, it just started quietly and grew.

And it’s getting better. Getting better every day.

There’s an uplift to those words, that chorus, a powerful dignity shot through with absolute confidence that just isn’t possible in music today, because the singer cannot be that pure. Too much has happened to allow songs like this to be made today and have any credibility.

But Cass is still singing about how great things are, how natural and right it feels just to be with her man, for the two of them just to be together, and do things together, because the together elevates everything, no matter how small or banal, into a moment of grace and love.

And, best of all, it’s not hard to see that this isn’t half of what it’s gonna turn out to be.

And with those words, Mama Cass reminds us of just how much we have lost that we can no longer say that, or think it or believe it. It isn’t getting better, it’s getting worse and for many of us we will never see it become better, but for three glorious minutes we can travel back in time, and tell ourselves that we don’t mind waiting, no matter how long it takes. Because it’s getting better. Growing stronger. Warmer, wilder. It’s getting better every day.

And that’s why I have an Infinite Jukebox in my head.

2 thoughts on “The Infinite Jukebox: Mama Cass’s ‘It’s Getting Better’

  1. Great post Martin. Ostensibly about a song, but a poignant muse on the loss of optimism that died with the sixties. Danny’s speech from Withnail and I popped into my head: “They’re selling hippie wigs in Woolworths man. The greatest decade on the history of mankind is over and as Presuming Ed here has consistently pointed out, we have failed to paint it black”.

  2. Morning George. I may one day go down in history as the last person never to have seen ‘Withnail and I’, though by now I’ve probably had 98% of its dialogue quoted to me (it is a favourite source for the people who put quotes of the day on our operating system and work) and if I ever do watch it, it will probably turn out like the time someone played ‘Grease’ at me, interesting only in seeing the order in which the songs turned up (as films go, it wasn’t half as appalling as ‘Xanadu’).

    The post sparked itself from the simple love song, which has great personal meaning to me, but as so many of the best things do, it has a deeper meaning to it that doesn’t detract or distract from the love story, and which may not even have been intended by its singers, though the fact this was followed by the equally superficial/symbolic ‘Make your own kind of Music’ leads me to trust that Cass Elliot saw it. Everything that anybody creates springs in one fashion or another from the times in which it is formed: in many ways, the Sixties were better times than most.

    If you want another angle on this, check out my post on Oliver’s ‘Good Morning Starshine’.

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