Music Radio Sixties

Play the Song – Backwards!

By Snjihcs Nehpets

The novelty effect of working with tape in the 1950s and 60s occasionally made it on record; tape could be sped up (e.g. The Chipmunks), slowed down, or run backwards for extra effect (e.g. The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” or Tomorrow’s “My White Bicycle”). Of course, running the tape backwards might yield an unlistenable mess of gibberish, or it could create a surprisingly melodic new tune. But rarely did a whole “backwards” song get released. 

There was one occasion to use a backwards song, however – most 45 rpm singles had a “plug” side that was intended to be the hit, while the “B Side” was either a filler track or a little treat for purchasers. Often the recording company made it obvious to DJs which side was which; Phil Spector was notorious for creating throwaway B sides for which he had no intention of getting radio play. So the most extreme case of a non-radio B side was when it was simply a reverse tape version of the hit A side or an unlistenable backwards song. We have a few examples here (notably, mostly from 1967 when they could be passed off as quasi-psychedelic numbers):

Aaah-ah, Yawa Em Ekat Ot Gnimoc Er’yeht T– Napoleon XIV: In “They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa”, Jerry Samuels created one of the most bizarre one-hit oddities of the Sixties, going to #1 in Cashbox, #3 in Billboard, #4 UK, and #2 Canada in the summer of 1966. The reverse version fared reasonably well on the flip side, since the martial drumming of the A side remained more or less intact, and the lyrics were only slightly less warped. That siren, though…..

Noolab Wolley – Yellow Balloon: “Yellow Balloon” was a big cheery harmony-drenched slice of sunshine pop that went to #25 in Billboard in the spring of 1967. The flip side of the single reversed the tape to create a surprisingly listenable off-kilter bit of shoopy drums and near-psychedelic “lyrics” that worked pretty well! The record label had to use “Noollab Wolley” because the “group” didn’t even exist yet and there was no other material available beyond writer/producer Gary Zekley’s recording of “Yellow Balloon”. He had originally written the song for Dean Torrence (Jan and Dean), who needed material after Jan Berry was put out of commission in a car crash; Torrence recorded and released the song as a Jan and Dean record but it stalled at #111 and was the final chart entry for Jan and Dean. Zekley wanted to do a better version and found a fan in Canterbury Records’ Ken Handler, who arranged for a new recording which cruised into the Top 40. A group was then assembled for an album; it included Don Agrati (Grady), who was a TV star at the time, in the comedy “My Three Sons”. Noolab Wolley was not included on the group’s sole LP, which was otherwise a pretty commendable collection of California pop tunes.

You For Weren’t It If – The Committee: on the flip side of this California sunshine pop group’s erstwhile hit single (“California My Way”, #110 on Billboard in late 1967), White Whale Records provided a backwards tape of a reasonably good pop song, “If It Weren’t For You”. In the psychedelic mood of the time, it sort of sounded alright if you were stoned enough. A recent compilation re-released it the right way around.

Ereh Er’ouy Sa Gnol Sa – Zalman Yanofsky: Zal was the free-spirited Canadian guitarist in mid-60s hitmakers The Lovin’ Spoonful, but split in May 1967 after “artistic differences” and a drug bust threatened him with getting kicked out of the US. He didn’t undertake a serious solo career, but did manage to produce one album in 1968 before moving on (eventually owning a restaurant in Kingston, ON, Canada). Buddah also released a single in late 1967, a commercial Bonner-Gordon number, “As Long As You’re Here”. It got enough radio and sales attention to make #63 in Cashbox and #57 in Canada, but failed to hit Billboard’s Top 100. The 45 simply had the reversed track on its obverse.

Zig Zag – The Ohio Express: This bubblegum pop “group” (more or less a studio creation by producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz) had a hit single burning in their pocket, so Buddah rushed out “Yummy Yummy Yummy” without giving too much thought to the b-side. While “Yummy” soared into Top 10 status around the world, a few intrepid buyers flipped the single over to discover a cool backwards instrumental with a vaguely psychedelic ambience. “Zig Zag” was actually “(Poor Old) Mr. Jensen” from The 1910 Fruitgum Company’s “Simon Says” album (another Kasenetz-Katz production) with the vocals stripped out and run backwards.

To You With Love – Kasenetz-Katz Super Cirkus: This “group” was a one-off live recording of all the Kasenetz-Katz bubblegum pop “groups”, including The 1910 Fruitgum Company, The Ohio Express, The Shadows Of Knight, The Music Explosion, and Professor Morrison’s Lollipop. The first single, “I’m In Love With You” got a bit of radio play at the start of 1969, and the flip side was simply an unlistenable 2’ 30” segment of slowed down and reversed tape of the erstwhile hit.

Pow Wow – 1910 Fruitgum Company: Yet another Kasenetz-Katz backwards b-side, “Pow Wow” was used to ensure that the a-side, “Indian Giver”, was given all the radio attention. It worked – the song went to #5 in the US and topped the Canadian chart in early 1969. “Pow Wow” was actually the backwards tape of an odd two-minute ode to the long-lost Howdy Doody TV show, “Bring Back Howdy Doody”

Trae Hymn I: (Eca/Lp-Ruoy) – Don Norman and The Other Four: Ottawa’s primo mid-sixties beat pop combo released a few singles in 1966-67, the third of which was “Your Place In My Heart” on the Sir John A label. It was a catchy garage rock outing, and just to make sure DJs didn’t play the wrong side of the 45, the flip was a reverse track. All for nought, though, as two of their singles charted but not this one.

And what about Eivets Rednow? Motown superstar Stevie Wonder had his name flipped for an entire album in 1968, but all the songs were played straight, albeit in an easy listening instrumental style – hence the alternative persona. His name did not appear on the album, other than (correctly) in some song credits.