Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame inducts The Mamas & The Papas’ classic “I Saw Her Again”

Port Cities (Photo: Cathy Irving, CBC Music)
May 1, 2017

The Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame  (CSHF) today inducted The Mamas & The Papas’ classic classic “I Saw Her Again,” written by band members Denny Doherty and John Phillips, and published by the Universal Music Publishing Group. The induction is celebrated with a tribute performance by Port Cities for the Hall of Fame’s Covered Classics series. Covered Classics honours newly inducted songs by inviting Canada’s brightest musical talents to perform their own renditions of these classics.

“I Saw Her Again” was an unlikely, but hugely successful, songwriting collaboration between two men competing for the same woman – all three being members of quartet The Mamas & The Papas, North America’s top vocal group of 1966. The hit song describes the extramarital affair between its co-composer, Denny Doherty, and Michelle Phillips, co-composer John Phillips’s wife, which inevitably led to profound tensions within the group. The lyrics profess Doherty’s involvement with the femme fatale: “I saw her again last night/And you know that I shouldn’t… But I really need that girl/Don’t know why I’m livin’ a lie.”

With “I Saw Her Again,” Doherty and Phillips capitalized on the 1960s trend toward autobiographical songwriting. The Mamas & The Papas’ third single, it was released in 1966, capitalizing on the group’s Grammy win for “Monday, Monday.” The high-energy, folk-rock tune reached No. 7 on the Cashbox chart in a few weeks, and No. 5 on Billboard shortly afterward. In Canada, the song spent a few months in the Top 10 on the RPM chart before reaching the coveted No. 1 spot. In the U.K., it reached No. 11, and the group performed it on the Top of the Pops TV show.

“I Saw Her Again” has been recognized as a classic 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, and the recording’s multiple layers borrowed from the “wall of sound” technique created by legendary producer Phil 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 Lou Adler, acting on well-honed instinct, decided to leave the error in.

The song was featured on three subsequent Mamas & Papas albums, including two compilations, between 1967 and 1970. A re-constituted edition of the group recorded a live 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 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 tough north end of Halifax to the dizzying heights of 1960s pop. He sang with such The Halifax Three and The Mugwumps before co-founding the immensely successful Mamas & 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 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 1960s music scene. In addition to hits for The Mamas & The Papas, he wrote or co-wrote such hits as “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair)” and “Kokomo.”

“I Saw Her Again”
Written by Denny Doherty and John Phillips
Performed by Port Cities
More about the song