The Beatles - Help!

Reversed Versions of Songs… a Writer’s Block Antidote?

Who knew that posting backwards versions of songs on YouTube was a thing? I came across a channel called “The Beatles Reversed”, and listened to a backwards version of “Help!”

I’m not sure what the reason would be, and it should be noted that the channel has only 1.7k subscribers, so it doesn’t seem to be the sort of thing that everyone is clamouring for. When I look at the comments, it seems that most listeners are amused by the new words that seem to appear in the lyric when you hear the song reversed (“Now he uses marijuana” at 1′:10″).

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And it turns out that you can hear practically any hit song you want, reversed… “Hotel California“, “Thriller“, “Rolling in the Deep“… It seems to be a strange thing to want to hear.

It’s not hard to recognize a song when it’s played backwards. That’s because many melodic shapes are comprised of small cells of notes that move up and down in a kind of mirror image, so fragments of notes that move up and down, starting and ending on the same notes, will sound the same when you play them backwards, even if the “words” sound odd.

The amusement factor aside, is there anything about reversed playback that a songwriter can use?

Well, if you’re going through a bout of writer’s block, you can definitely hear:

  1. …new melodies, ones that aren’t apparent when you hear the normal beginning-to-end playback.
  2. …what chord progressions sound like when they’re reversed.
  3. …and as mentioned, what new words and word combinations might be created.

Because we normally focus on the starts of notes (the articulation), we feel like we’re hearing instrumental notes that are a lot longer in duration in a backwards version, because when reversed we notice the long tail-off of a note first, something we’d not much notice when listening to a normal version. So listening to reversed performances might give you some new instrumental ideas for your own songs.

I’m not suggesting that listening to reversed songs is the answer to all your prayers if you suffer from writer’s block (and could be a complete waste of your time, depending on your temperament!), but there’s no doubt that you’ll hear something innovative and peculiar. And sometimes, that kind of attention-grabbing activity might be helpful if you’re stuck in the songwriting doldrums.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter. Hooks & Riffs“Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” shows you how a good hook can make the difference between songwriting success and failure. With great examples from pop music history.Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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