Backmasking

As a teenager, I attended a religious seminar that warned of the dangers of hidden messages in songs. According to the speaker, this was the work of the devil, who was influencing us through these subliminal messages.

The hidden messages come in two forms:
Backmasking – intentionally reversing the audio so that it only makes sense when played backward. When played forward, it sounds like gibberish.
Reverse Speech (aka phonetic reversal) – actual words that happen to sound like other words when played backward.

The Beatles popularized both forms. Songs such as “Rain” and “I’m So Tired” contain backmasking. An example of reverse speech can be found in the song “Revolution 9,” where the words “number nine” played backward become “turn me on dead man.” Many of the hidden messages in Beatles songs reveal that Paul McCartney is dead, which incidentally, a lot of people still believe. Just go to YouTube and search “Paul is dead” and you’ll be amazed how many videos pop up detailing the evidence that the current Paul McCartney is an imposter.

Another famous example of backmasking can be found on Pink Floyd’s album The Wall. When you reverse the gibberish in “Empty Spaces,” it says, “Congratulations. You have just discovered the secret message. Please send your answer to Old Pink, care of the Funny Farm.”

Perhaps the most famous example of reverse speech is in Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” When you reverse the sentence “There’s still time to change the road you’re on,” it sounds a lot like “Here’s to my sweet Satan.”

Backmasking is deliberate and most of the messages are innocuous. Reverse speech is unintentional and what you hear is subjective. In the seminar I attended, many of the examples they gave came from albums that I owned. Back in the days of turntables, the only way to play a song backward was to manually spin the table in reverse, which I did. I wanted to hear Queen say “It’s fun to smoke marijuana,” which allegedly is what “Another One Bites the Dust” says once you reverse it. And yes, if I really, really force it, I can see how it sounds a bit like that. But I’m sure I’d have never thought they were saying that if someone hadn’t first planted the seed in my brain so I knew what to listen for.

During the seminar, I kept asking myself, “Who in the hell listens to songs backward?” They must have listened to hundreds of albums in reverse to come up with the dozen examples they were providing. Backmasking I get. It sounds like gibberish when played forward, so you listen to it backward to see what they’re saying. But reverse speech? Wow, that takes dedication to find lyrics that almost sound like something backward.

According to the critics, our subconscious picks up these backward messages, deciphers them, and then influences us to do bad things. Apparently, if you listen to “Another One Bites the Dust” enough, you won’t be able to control yourself from smoking pot. If you listen to “Stairway to Heaven” or “Hotel California,” you’re going to start worshipping Satan. Sorry, that’s just the way it is and you have no control over it. A 1983 California bill said backmasking “can manipulate our behavior without our knowledge or consent and turn us into disciples of the Antichrist.”

There’s no scientific evidence to prove this theory. I’ve listened to a lot of rock ‘n’ roll, including all of the songs mentioned above, and so far I have no desire to chant “Hail Satan” or to sacrifice a goat. I’m sure the true believers would argue that my disbelief is evidence enough that the subliminal brainwashing has taken its toll on my morality. I’d argue, however, that if you played religious hymns backward, you could also find just as many examples of passages that sound unwholesome or Satanic. In fact, the same would be true of all the conversations you have everyday or hear on TV. If we’re truly influenced by every sound that could be misconstrued when played in reverse, then we’re all doomed.

Do you know of any examples of hidden messages in songs? Do we need to guard ourselves against backward subliminal messages?

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