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Are Subliminal Messages Backmasked in Music?

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

Playing Recordings Backwards

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.

What Is a Subliminal Message?

It is sometimes believed that the human brain is not capable of resisting the power of hypnotic suggestion. This is the basis of subliminal messaging. These messages can be visual or audio in nature. Subliminal visual messages are thought to be used in advertising practices, influencing people and promoting either ideas or a products.

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 in 1964

The Beatles arrive at John F. Kennedy airport in 1964

Paul Was Not Dead

The first notable instance of a band possibly using backmasking in popular music was 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''.

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

Unsolved Mysteries

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.

© 2015 The Write Life


The Write Life (author) from The United States on March 03, 2017:

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

Roland St Germain on March 03, 2017:

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 from Hamilton, Alabama on November 04, 2016:


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.

Kimberley Clarke from England on April 01, 2016:

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!

Nancy Yager from Hamburg, New York on February 06, 2016:

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.

The Write Life (author) from The United States on January 26, 2016:

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

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on January 26, 2016:

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.