The Mamas and The Papas second album is one shrouded in mystery and controversy, yet it still managed to spend over a year and a year and a half on the Billboard best sellers list and included two of the band’s best loved singles, ‘I Saw Her again’ and ‘Words of Love’. Both of these singles made No.5 in the US singles chart which certainly did sales of the album no harm.
Released in September 1966 the reasons for the controversy concern just how much of the record did Michelle Phillips sing on. Mid way through the recording it was discovered that 22 year old, Michelle and Denny Doherty were having an affair, given that Michelle was married to fellow band member John Phillips it made tension mount and tempers flared. So much so that Michelle was fired from the group in June 1966. Lou Adler, the band’s producer to the rescue as he suggested his girlfriend, Jill Gibson a singer/songwriter was drafted into the band. Jill had already recorded with surf duo Jan & Dean and in three weeks flat she learned Michelle’s parts while the group was away in London.
Half of the album had already been recorded when Michelle was fired, including ‘I Saw Her Again’ and ‘Words of Love’. Almost immediately Gibson went to work recording with Doherty, John Phillips and Cass Elliot, which included redoing some of Michelle’s completed vocals. Come the end of August, Michelle was asked to rejoin the group and Gibson left. It’s said that Michelle then recorded vocals on two new songs and dubbed over some of Gibson’s vocals. Given the release schedule and the time it took to manufacture then this may be stretching a point.
In the book, “Go Where you Wanna Go”, by Matthew Greenwald, Gibson claims she sang on ten of the songs. Adler suggest it was more like six, and Michelle adds that only engineer Bones Howe knows for sure who was on the final release, because she and Gibson both recorded many of the same songs, dubbing over each other’s vocals; truth is there are probably five vocals on a number of the tracks.
But let nothing take away from the sheer joy of this record which has California harmony vocals to its core; given that the Beach Boys often used five-part harmony it seems somehow appropriate that the Mamas and The Papas may well have done the same.
Many of the non-single releases are strong songs in their own right. In particular the opening track, ‘No Salt On Her Tail’ that features Ray Manzerak of the Doors on organ’ this was prior to the release of the Doors debut that was recorded over a week at the end of August 1966. Aside from the singers the album features the cream of LA session men including drummer, Hal Blaine, Larry Knechtel on organ and piano (he played on the Doors’ debut as well as the piano on Simon and Garfunkels ‘Bridge Over troubled Waters) and bass player Joe Osborn. ‘Strange Young Girls’ is one track not to be missed, very different from the group’s normal material, but haunting and beautiful.
Given the on off nature of Michelle’s membership of the group even the cover was reshot several times.
Decide for yourself who is singing what…