"Mama Told Me Not To Come" is Randy Newman's best party song. Originally written for Eric Burdon & The Animals in 1966, Mama became a genuine hit for Three Dog Night, after being released almost simultaenously with Newman's own version on his second album 12 Songs in 1970. Its legacy has lasted for more than 40 years thanks to a long list of covers by artists who were probably hoping to capitalize on its classic hit-song reputation.
As evidenced by the 2012 rarities compilationCome And Get It: The Rare Pearls, one group hoping to strike gold with "Mama Told Me Not To Come" was none other than Jackson 5. It's funny that the most psychedelic and trippy version of a song about LA's notorious party scene was recorded by youngsters, who had no idea what they were singing about (at least we should hope so). Perhaps that's why the label executives deemed the song too controversial to actually release it as a single.
One can see how some audiences would have a problem with it. After all, little Michael Jackson is singing about being offered whiskey (among other bizarre things). Then again, one can also make the argument that this is why Jackson 5 were the perfect artists to record it. The song is essentially about feeling alienated at a party. With lyrics like "what are these crazy questions they're asking at me?" and "that cigarette you're smoking nearly scared me half to death" there is an obvious naivete and innocence in the song, making it actually less meaningful when 27 year-old Newman performs it and more meaningful when kids like Jackson 5 do. It's like the cool high school jock invited little Michael to a party and he had no idea what he was in for.
The psychedelia is felt in the typical 70s sonics of Jackson 5's version. Among countless lush elements, the song contains plenty of wha and brass. Then—oh my god!—there is Michael's lead vocal. Obviously imitating Randy Newman, it's one of the best and funniest vocal takes this kid ever gave. It's genius—and not just in concept. His phrasing is so amazing and intuitive that you can't help but remind yourself that MJ had "It."
Mama Told Me Not To Come by Jackson 5
Mama Told Me Not To Come by Randy Newman (Studio and Live Versions)
Mama Told Me (Not To Come) by Three Dog Night