With I Saw Her Again, Doherty and Phillips capitalized on the 1960’s trend toward autobiographical songwriting and away from the generic ballads churned out by the older generation of professional songwriters. The Mamas & The Papas’ third single, it was released as a 45 (Dunhill 4031) in June 1966, capitalizing on their Grammy win for Monday, Monday. The B side was Even If I Could (on some later recordings, it was Go Where You Wanna Go or Words of Love).
The high-energy, folk-rock tune debuted at No. 53 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart July 2, 1966 (in contrast, the week was dominated by Frank Sinatra’s mellow ballad Strangers in the Night). I Saw Her Again was Cashbox’s top debuting song that week, leaping to Cashbox’s No. 7 on July 23 and Billboard’s No. 5 by July 30. In Canada, the song spent a month in the Top 10 on the RPM chart, and by August 8 attained the coveted No. 1 spot. In the United Kingdom, it reached No. 11, and was seen via video on the “Top of the Pops” TV show.
The following month, Dunhill released a longer version, complete with orchestra, on the album “The Mamas & The Papas” (Dunhill D50010).
I Saw Her Again has been noted as an example of “sunshine pop” or “the West Coast sound.” The vocal arrangements that made the group so popular added a rock sensibility to urban folk influences from The Weavers and The Kingston Trio and to the stylings of even earlier vocal ensembles. The recording’s multiple layers borrowed from the “wall of sound” technique created a few years earlier by legendary producer Phil Spector. I Saw Her Again producer Lou Adler explained that “I just overloaded it with production; it’s got everything on it that I could possibly think of, and just kept building and building.” The session musicians (Larry Knechtel, Joe Osborne, and Hal Blaine, known as The Wrecking Crew) had also played for Spector.
I Saw Her Again contains a famous lucky error: Engineer Bones Howe accidentally punched in one of Doherty’s vocals early, unintentionally creating a hesitation effect. Producer Adler, acting on well-honed instinct, decided to leave the error in.
The song was featured on subsequent Mamas & Papas albums “Farewell to the First Golden Era” (1967), “16 of Their Greatest Hits” (1969), and “A Gathering of Flowers: The Anthology” (1970). A reconstituted version of the group recorded a live concert version in 1982. Doherty also performed it in his stage musical, “Dream a Little Dream: The Nearly True Story of The Mamas & The Papas,” and was again heard singing it (posthumously) in Bravo!’s 2010 television film “Here I Am: Denny Doherty and The Mamas & The Papas.”
Denny Doherty (1940-2007) rose from the hard-scrabble north end of Halifax to the dizzying heights of 1960s pop with his rich tenor singing voice. He sang with such pop groups as the Halifax Three and The Mugwumps before co-founding the immensely successful The Mamas & The Papas. When the group split, Doherty became a solo recording artist and actor. He was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1996 and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 as a member of The Mamas & The Papas.
John Phillips (1935-2001) was an American singer-songwriter. He co-founded The Mamas & The Papas and was a legendary figure of the 1960’s music scene. In addition to hits for The Mamas & Papas, he wrote and co-wrote hits such as San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair) and Kokomo.