Mama Cass and John Denver Sing a Lovely Duet of “Leaving On a Jet Plane” (1972)

My issue is that it’s all very well to sit back and complain but when it’s your country you have a responsibility. – Cass Elliot

What could be more heavenly than Cass Elliot of The Mamas & The Papas and singer-songwriter John Denver harmonizing on Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” a tune many conceived of as a protest to the Vietnam War, owing largely to folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary‘s cover version.

Maybe some voter registration added to the mix?

Before breaking into their duet on the late night TV musical variety show The Midnight Special, Denver invited Mama Cass to share a few words on her efforts to get out the vote in a presidential election year:

I’ve been traveling around the country for the past year or so, talking on a lot of college campuses and trying to find out exactly what people are thinking, and the thing that’s impressed me the most is, there is still in this country, believe it or not, after all the talk, a tremendous amount of apathy on the part of people who maybe don’t like the way things are going and maybe want to change it, but don’t do anything about it, y’know?

It was August 19, 1972. The war in Vietnam and the upcoming contest between President Richard Nixon and his Democratic challenger George McGovern were the top stories. June’s Watergate break in was a mounting concern.

Earlier in the day, the New York Times reported that “Senator George McGovern expects (South Vietnamese) President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu and his “cohorts” to flee Saigon into exile and a Communist-dominated coalition to take control of South Vietnam if Mr. McGovern is elected President of the United States on Nov. 7.”

Cass Elliot, a McGovern supporter, had become much more vocal about her political activism following the 1968 break up of The Mamas & The Papas, as in this interview with Rolling Stone:

I think everybody who has a brain should get involved in politics.  Working within. Not criticizing it from the outside.  Become an active participant, no matter how feeble you think the effort is.  I saw in the Democratic Convention in Chicago that there were more people interested in what I was interested in than I believed possible.  It made me want to work.  It made me feel my opinion and ideas were not futile, that there would be room in an organized movement of politics for me to voice myself. 

She remained diplomatic on the Midnight Special, telling viewers that “I don’t think it’s so important who you vote for, you vote for who you believe in, but the important thing is to vote,” though it’s hard to imagine that anyone tuning in from home would mistake her for a Nixon gal.

Earlier in the year she had ushered at the Four For McGovern fundraising concert at the LA Forum, was in the audience at Madison Square Warren Beatty’s Together for McGovern concert Garden, and attended a party Americans Abroad for McGovern held in London.

Shortly after the election (SPOILER: Her man lost), during an appearance on The Mike Douglas Show, above, she intimated that she might be open to a career shift:

 I think I would like to be a Senator or something in twenty years.  I don’t think I really know enough yet. I’m just 30 now and I wouldn’t even be eligible to run for office for another five years.  But I have a lot of feelings about things.  I know the way I would like to see things for this country and in my travels, when I talk to people, everybody wants pretty much the same thing:  peace, enough jobs, no poverty and good education.  And I’ve learned a lot.  It’s funny.  So many people in show business go into politics, and I used to say ‘What the heck do they know about it?’  But when you travel around, you really do get to feel–not to be cliche–the pulse of the country and what people want.  I’m concerned and it’s not good to be unconcerned and just sit there.

Listening to her discuss Watergate during her final visit to The Mike Douglas Show, shortly before her 1974 death, really makes us wish she was still here with us.

What we wouldn’t give to hear this outspoken political observer’s take on the situation our country now finds itself in, especially with another five decades of experience under her belt.

Perhaps there’s an alternate universe in which Cass Elliot is President.

If you haven’t yet registered to vote, now would be a great time to do so. It may not be too late to participate in your state’s primary elections. You know that’s what Cass would have wanted.

Related Content 

Tom Jones Performs “Long Time Gone” with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young–and Blows the Band & Audience Away (1969)

Joni Mitchell Sings an Achingly Pretty Version of “Both Sides Now” on the Mama Cass TV Show (1969)

Janis Joplin & Tom Jones Bring the House Down in an Unlikely Duet of “Raise Your Hand” (1969)

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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