Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Electric Prunes: I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)

One of my favorite songs from the sixties is the psychedelic number by the forgotten band, The Electric Prunes. “I had too much to Dream (Last Night)” became a classic hit that one rarely hears even on oldies radio stations. The song was written by Annette Tucker and Nancie Mantz who were contracted to Four Star Music Publishing. While the writers envisioned a rock tune ala the Rolling Stones, the publisher released a demo with Jerry Fuller singing it as a ballad. Neither songwriter liked the demo. The success of the Electric Prunes rock version, which charted at #11, provides evidence that the writers were correct.

“I had too much to Dream (Last Night)” was one of the earlier uses of backwards recording techniques that continues to the present. While software can render a passage backwards today, it was physically done by reversing the reel-to-reel tape to create special effects and in some cases, hidden backwards messages. The jury is out on whether some of the songs that were accused of backwards masking occurred or the words that seem to be present came about purely coincidentally. ɯǝssɐƃǝ ǝʌıן ʇɥıs ʇo ןısʇǝu pouʇ.

In the case of this song, the backwards parts include all of the lead guitar riffs. This can be mimicked today with an effects pedal that causes the attack of the note to fade in much like it would if you flipped the tape and played it backwards. The most prominent backwards feature is found in the intro to the song and it sounds like a giant wasp is swooping down upon the listeners. The similar sounds found within the remainder of the song were created the same way as the backwards intro – only they are being run forwards.

That amazing sound is explained by Prunes vocalist James Lowe: "We were recording at Leon Russell's house, and you couldn't see the studio from the control room. We were recording on a four-track, and just flipping the tape over and re-recording when we got to the end. Dave [Hassinger - the producer] cued up a tape and didn't hit 'record,' and the playback in the studio was way up: ear-shattering vibrating jet guitar. Ken had been shaking his Bigsby wiggle stick with some fuzztone and tremolo at the end of the tape. Forward it was cool. Backward it was amazing. I ran into the control room and said, 'What was that?' They didn't have the monitors on so they hadn't heard it. I made Dave cut if off and save it for later."

Two Versions of Vibrato (also called tremolo)
used on "I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)"

Physical Vibrato- Bigsby Whammy Bar

 Electronic Vibrato from a Fender Amp with Speed & Intensity Controls

The Beatles “Rain”

While tape effects in commercial recording had been used for years by artists like Les Paul, Ferrante & Teicher, and Ross Bagdasarian (David Seville), the first use of backwards recording was utilized by the Beatles on the flip side of “Paperback Writer”: "Rain." John Lennon’s vocal at the end is flipped to create a backwards message, which is a line from the song.

Geoff Emerick who worked as the engineer also tinkered with the speed of the tape. He recorded the backing track faster than normal – which caused it to be at a slower speed and lower pitch at normal playback speed. Additionally, the lead vocals were recorded at a slower speed. When played at normal speed, the vocals were faster and higher pitched. The Beatles would experiment even further with tape speed and backwards effects – producing even more unique sounds on future recordings. ɐןן ɐʇ ɐuʎʍɥǝɹǝ uoʇ ɐɹǝ ʎon ʍɥǝu ouɔǝ ɐʇ dןɐɔǝs ʇʍo ıu qǝ ʎon ɔɐu ɥoʍ.

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