Are Subliminal Messages Backmasked in Music?

Updated on April 22, 2017
Jesse Drzal profile image

I am a music history buff, as it tells stories through evolution. Past music events leave a fascinating mark within our history.

One of the Biggest Debates in Rock Music

While possibly not a big discussion in the music of today, subliminally inserted messages in music was a hot topic in decades past. Huge and relevant artists such as Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Judas Priest and others were accused of using messages for mind control, brainwashing or possibly just to rouse their audiences for the purpose of fun. Such scandals are a huge part of our rock music history.

Vintage portable record player
Vintage portable record player | Source

What is a Subliminal Message

It is sometimes believed that the human brain is not capable of the refusal of a hypnotic suggestion. This is the basis of subliminal messaging. These messages can be visual or audio in nature, with the most widespread visual messages are thought to be used in advertising practices, for a further influence of promoting either idea or a product.

Backmasking in Recorded Music

A recorded audio message, inserted reverse into an audio track, so that this spoken message can only be heard while playing the recording backward is called backmasking. In 1878, Thomas Edison created the phonograph. This was the first device that allowed for sounds to be reproduced on a spinning cylinder with a stylus. Edison also discovered that the cylinder could be rotated, thus playing the media contained backward.

The Beatles arrive at John F. Kennedy airport 1964
The Beatles arrive at John F. Kennedy airport 1964 | Source

Paul Was Not Dead

The first notable instance of a band possibly using backmasking in popular music were The Beatles. The technique was thought to be used on the band's album, Revolver, recorded in 1966. The track ''Rain'' is thought to be the first song with a recorded backmasked message, which was the phrase ''Sunshine.Rain..When the rain comes, they all hide their heads''.

Another notable instance of the group and backmasking was the infamous "Paul Is Dead" hoax. In 1969, radio disc jockey Russ Gibb received a distressed telephone call from a college student, stating that Paul McCartney had died. The claim was that the song ''Revolution # 9'' contained a backward message confirming the rumor. The messages were thought to be "Turn me on..dead man..turn me on...turn me on, dead man''. Gibb began further promoting this to his listeners, with another message of ''Paul is dead man, miss him, miss him, miss him"' in the track ''I'm So Tired''.

Man broadcasting records over radio.
Man broadcasting records over radio. | Source

Led Zeppelin and the Stairway To Heaven Controversy

In 1982, Paul Crouch of The Trinity Broadcast Network brought up satanic backward messaging allegations against the rock band Led Zeppelin. In that same year, Stairway To Heaven was played backward at a California State Assembly Hearing. A self-proclaimed neuroscience researcher named William Yarrow concluded that the recording did, in fact, contain backward messages. One of the verses contained the lines played forward is as follows:

"If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now"

While being played backward is reported to say:

''Here's to my sweet Satan, the one who's little path would make me sad"

Members of the band have vehemently denied the accusations throughout the years, with recording engineer Eddie Kramer stating it to be ''totally and utterly ridiculous.

Fans and observers alike have questions regarding the whether backmasking was embedded in the recording, some believing messages were worked into the music. Others are very skeptical, noting that the sounds may be coincidental.

''Stairway to Heaven'' by Led Zeppelin (backwards)

The Judas Priest Trial

Back in 1990, the heavy metal band Judas Priest was brought to trial in the death of two young men. It was claimed that back in 1985, two young men by the name of Raymond Belknap and James Vance tragically formed a suicide pact after listening to the album, Stained Class, on a six-hour drug and alcohol binge.

Parents of the victims of this tragedy brought forth a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the band and their record label, CBS. The basis of the claim was that subliminal messages were backmasked into the recording, thus influencing their actions. Slogans such as 'do it'' and ''let's be dead'' were the key phrases to be reportedly in the recording. The band denied that there were any backmasked messages worked into their recordings.

Citing the victim's previous substance abuse issues, the cases ultimately dismissed and the group was not required to pay any damages.

Recording console
Recording console | Source

Conclusion

Were there backmasked messages in these examples? Really only the artists and recording engineers will ever know. While some artists do employ the technique, it is widely regarded as a frivolous task and not worth wasting recording money revenue on such practices. However, through the years, it still remains an interesting and relevant topic.

Artists and Backmasking

Which Of The Following Artists Do You Think May Have Used Backmasking In Recordings?

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Questions & Answers

    © 2015 The Write Life

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      • Jesse Drzal profile imageAUTHOR

        The Write Life 

        19 months ago from The United States

        Yes, and Judas Priest denied at that trial doing it. I believe them.

      • profile image

        Roland St Germain 

        19 months ago

        In the Judas Priest case, the judge wisely noted that the jury and those in the courtroom when the backwards messages were played didn't try to kill themselves. Case closed - next case.

      • kenneth avery profile image

        Kenneth Avery 

        23 months ago from Hamilton, Alabama

        Jesse,

        Nice going, friend. Nice!

        Love every music-related article that I can find.

        I remember the McCartney "hoax," in 1973. My cousin, who is now deceased was so engrossed with this deceptive PR stunt that he almost went insane with the possibility of Paul really being dead.

        Such are the lives of teens in the early 70's.

        Keep up the great work.

      • Kimberleyclarke profile image

        Kimberley Clarke 

        2 years ago from England

        Brilliant article - thank you! I adore the Faul McCartney conspiracy. And, a great Mind Control expert (Neil Sanders) has some brilliant views on modern music and subliminal messages. Our minds are, apparently, not our own. Fascinating stuff. Thank you for this!

      • Lipnancy profile image

        Nancy Yager 

        2 years ago from Hamburg, New York

        Do people really listen to recordings backwards? And I beg the question, "Why?". I really feel if music groups want to convey a message in their songs, they convey it in the lyrics.

      • Jesse Drzal profile imageAUTHOR

        The Write Life 

        2 years ago from The United States

        Thank you for reading, Jodah. It really is hard to say and I agree, did they really do it on these recordings?

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 

        2 years ago from Queensland Australia

        This was a very interesting article. I had heard about some of these cases of supposed backmasking. It's hard to know if it is deliberate or if some of the words are just coincidental when played backwards. I can't see how backmasking could subliminally effect anyone though.

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