Ask "Mr. Music"
December 14, 2009
Backward tape technology and Rock Era Christmas tunes
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Ask "Mr. Music"
December 14, 2009 - Backward tape technology and Rock Era Christmas tunes
The History Channel recently ran a well-produced special titled "The Beatles on Record." However, I must challenge them on one point and need your guidance.
Which of the group's official releases is really the first to use backward tape technology?
I always thought it is "Rain," but "The Beatles on Record" plays "Tomorrow Never Knows," along with a audio clip of John Lennon saying it is "the first recording using backwards technology." So which is it?
Also, is there an earlier example of this technique on a hit record?
"Rain" Single Jacket
- Michael T. Breitbach, Muskego, Wisc.
You and John are both correct!
"Tomorrow Never Knows," recorded April 6th and 7th 1966, is the first Beatles "recording" containing portions of tape playing in reverse - an effect created by flipping a full-track audio tape over, then playing it forward.
On "Tomorrow Never Knows," the backward gimmick is used only during the instrumental riffs.
"Rain," from a session one week later, is the first Beatles "release" with a backward tape segment. Making "Rain" more significant in this regard is the reverse portion includes John's vocal, about six seconds worth, beginning roughly 20 seconds before the music ends.
Unlike "Tomorrow Never Knows," this tune, backed with "Paperback Writer" (Capitol 5651), is a hit single.
Finally, "Rain" came out May 27, 1966, about nine weeks earlier than the "Revolver" LP (Capitol 2576) with "Tomorrow Never Knows."
Memories and accounts of how all of this unfolded vary, but here is producer George Martin's frequently published recollection:
"I was always playing around with tapes and I thought it might be fun to do something extra with John's voice [on "Rain"]. So I lifted a bit of his main vocal off the four track, put it onto another spool, turned it around and then slid it back and forth until it fitted."
"John was out of the studio at the time but when he came back he was amazed. It was backwards forever after that."
Still, the Beatles are not the first ones with a hit record utilizing backward shenanigans.
A Top 3 hit 10 years before "Rain," Buchanan & Goodman's "The Flying Saucer (Part 2)" (Luniverse 101), includes both a forward and backward playing of the words "Washington: the Secretary of Defense."
With so many Rock Era Christmas tunes considered classics, and played every year, I am wondering how many ranked among the Top 10 sellers overall (not a separate Christmas category) when first released.
I'd guess very few.
- Josephine Lanier, Rolling Hills, Calif.
Very few indeed, especially by limiting the list to those times when Christmas records competed with all the other popular hits for survey positions.
Here they are, all four of 'em:
1955: "Nuttin' for Christmas" (Barry Gordon with the Art Mooney Orchestra); 1958: "Jingle Bell Rock" (Bobby Helms); "The Chipmunk Song" (Chipmunks with David Seville); and 1964: "Amen" (Impressions). Though "Amen" is not really a Christmas song, we include it because they do make one mention of "Christmas morning."
Your question also provides an interesting reminder of how remarkable it was for "The Chipmunk Song" to leap to No. 1 over Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, the Everly Brothers, and other late-'50s megastars.
Incredibly, "The Chipmunk Song" is the only Christmas record since 1952 to top the Pop & Rock charts.
IZ ZAT SO?
In the pre-rock 1950s, Christmas tunes frequently ranked among the Top 10. Those deserving honorable mention are:
1950: "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (Gene Autry); "I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas" and "Yingle Bells" (Yogi Yorgesson); "White Christmas" (Bing Crosby); 1951: "Christmas in Killarney" (Dennis Day); "Frosty the Snow Man" (Nat King Cole); 1952: "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" (by Jimmy Boyd as well as Spike Jones); "The Night Before Christmas Song" (Rosemary Clooney & Gene Autry); and 1953: "Santa Baby" (Eartha Kitt).
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