“My Mary”: The Mother of Backwards B-Sides

Music, when played backwards, almost invariably takes on a sinister overtone, its overall sound, more often than not, provoking within the listener feelings of unrest and disquiet.

“My Mary” by obscure Cincinnati rock band, Jade, is certainly no exception.  This track from the 1970 album, Faces of Jade, would serve as the flip side to  “My Honey” – making it also the fourth such known (to me) backwards B-side:

Link to earlier blog piece:  “B-Side As Anti-A-Side”

However, unlike the three previous B-sides, where the A-side is simply played in reverse, “My Mary” is an altogether different, and more purposeful, beast.   For one thing, you can actually discern the lyrics throughout the song – quite a technical feat when you stop to consider the intent behind it (i.e., the vocals had to be sung phonetically to emulate the sound of the lyrics being sung backward so that the words would sound forward when the entire song was played backward – make sense?)  And knowing that the song was recorded somewhat on the heels of “Revolution 9” from The Beatles’ “White Album” (and its subsequent Charles Manson associations) only adds to the creep factor.

Thanks to J. Richter at Discogs.com for the historical background and analysis:

“Cincinnati’s Jade, Jim Aumann (keyboards, vocals), Randy Morse (guitar), Tim Nixon (drums, percussion), Nick Root (bass, vocals) were another one of those elusive late 60s early 70s psychedelic acts who left behind only one album, issued on the General American label, before vanishing into the mist.

Virtually nothing is known about the band, but collectors have been swarming record fairs and pillaging eBay for years in the hopes of snagging this relic.  So does the album live up to its hype?  Mostly, yes…

Considering the modest budget of such a DIY undertaking in 1970, the mix is well done and the material is very well constructed.  This was recorded at local Jewel Recording Studio.  Blending the Beatles, Blossom Toes and a number of other pop/psych acts of the era, Jade create a formidable aural tapestry.  With slight folk leanings, each track breezes along quite nicely throughout the duration of the album.

The engineering trickery in places here are subtle reminders that Jade were foremost Beatles influenced.  Perhaps the strangest track is “My Mary” which is absolutely mindblowing.  This ingenious piece features music that runs in reverse (backward) while the vocalist uses fragmented phrasings to fit the words into the warped beat.

The outcome is like a bent merry-go-round, wobbling in circular motion while the seasick vocals spill out over the arrangement. It’s truly a sound to behold.”

Why am I not surprised to learn that Cincinnati’s fabulous Shake It Records reissued the Faces of Jade album just last year?  Shake It deems the album “one of the most highly sought-after ‘Beatles-Impact’ records among psych, power-pop and Beatles collectors” and adds that “after a bit of sleuthing we tracked down the members and are proud to give a proper and awesome-sounding vinyl reissue of their sole pop-psych / Revolver-esque classic.”

My Mary 45

Randy McNutt – music writer/historian/producer and author of The Cincinnati Sound; Little Labels, Big Sound; Guitar Towns (et al.) – was gracious enough to share this information:

“If [Jade] cut it at Jewel in 1970, then Gene Lawson was likely the engineer.  Gene was and is a terrific engineer and musician (he played drums on Lonnie Mack’s “Memphis”).  He is now the maker of the Lawson Microphone in Nashville.  I’d say he did the engineering because it sounds like his work.  He was employed by Jewel at that time.  General American operated for a year or two in Cincinnati, working out of Jewel and Counterpart studios.  I believe songwriter Bill Stith was one of the owners.”

Brian Baker wrote a feature story about the original Faces of Jade album and Shake It’s determination to help this breakthrough recording achieve its proper recognition in the December 31, 2004 edition of City Beat.  The Cincinnati Enquirer also published a nice piece about Darren Blase’s detective work in tracking down the original band members, one of whom was just elected to his third term as a Republican county treasurer, as well as the unusual ambitiousness with which Jade approached the ten songs on this criminally obscure album and the degree to which this recording stood apart from the other Cincinnati groups at that time.  The Enquirer piece humorously concludes with a quote from bandmate and chief songwriter (and county treasurer), James Aumann:  “As Darren said, if this [reissue] does really well, we can probably all go out for a nice dinner.”

Backwards B-Sides:  More Than I First Imagined

"aaH-aH yawA eM ekaT ot gnimoC er'yehT" by viX noelopaN  [1966]
"noollaB wolleY" by noollaB wolleY  [1967]
"ereH er'uoY sA gnoL sA" by yksvonaY namlaZ [1967]
"Smeta Murgaty" by Warm Sounds [1968]
"Cinap (Pirt A)" by Lloyd Green [1968]
"evoL yenoH" by Burt Walters  [1968]
"Zig Zag" by Ohio Express [1968]
"Bitter Lemon" by Ohio Express [1969]
"My Mary" by Jade  [1970]
"Yellowcake UF6" by srelgnartS ehT [1979]