10:35 AM GMT 25/04/2013
In a second-hand book shop, I recently found an interesting little paperback called Backward Masking Unmasked. Written in 1983 by a youth minister named Jacob Aranza, it's an earnest and unintentionally funny attempt to expose the hidden Satanic messages in rock music.
For example, in the chapter called Which Way Are The Eagles Flying? Aranza condemns the definitive LA band as "occultic" [sic] and as "having had dealings with members of the Satanic church." He claims their song Hotel California, an ode to devil worship, contains this startling backward message: "Yes, Satan organized his own religion."
As Aranza denounces subliminal messages that encourage everything from homosexuality to marijuana use, he cites the usual rock suspects - Zeppelin, Stones, Sabbath - as well as such unlikely ones as Hall & Oates ("They often impersonate women and attempt to come across to their audiences as women") and the Bee Gees ("Robin Gibb confesses to the hobby of pornographic drawing").
The idea of backward sounds began with Edison's invention of the wax cylinder in 1877. Old Tom noticed that music in reverse sounded "novel and sweet but altogether different". In the early 1950s, avant-garde musicians began incorporating that difference into their compositions. They ran reel-to-reel tape recorders backward and presto - the unsettling sound of a hundred little Hoovers sucking up a melody and lyric.
A decade later, the Beatles pushed backward sounds into the mainstream with such songs as Rain and Tomorrow Never Knows. Later, their audio reversals came back to haunt them with the Paul Is Dead rumours. But that's a topic for another blog.
The backmasking-Satanism connection can be traced to a 1913 book by warlock Aleister Crowley, who recommended that those interested in black magic would do well to "learn how to think and speak backwards". Sixty years later, Led Zep's Jimmy Page moved into Crowley's old mansion, Boleskine House. To borrow one of Aranza's pet phrases: Coincidence?
Aranza reckons that Zep classic Stairway To Heaven is full of backward tributes like: "So here's to my sweet Satan". And he argues that such messages corrupt impressionable minds.
Let's pause here to ask two questions. Can any songwriter actually write lyrics that scan forwards and backwards? And does the brain even comprehend backward messages? No to the first. And despite claims by pseudo-scientists like David John Oates that the subconscious mind can decipher phonetic reversals, there is no proof that it can, or that a person's behaviour would be influenced in any way, if it could.
That said, the brain will search for recognizable patterns in noise or gibberish. A song played backwards offers many possibilities, especially when you're told what to listen for. As an experiment, I played Louis Armstrong's What A Wonderful World backwards. As unlikely a song for evil messages as I could find. I braced myself for Satchmo getting Satanic, but the only line that leapt out from the gibberish was this: "Where's the sandwich, dear Dolly?" A sly reference to an earlier hit? Coincidence?
After a decade of government attempts to legislate against backmasking (remember the PMRC?), the phenomenon peaked in 1990, when a civil action against Judas Priest alleged that they were responsible for the suicide of a teenage fan. Apparently, in the song Better By You, Better Than Me, they'd planted a backwards subliminal message of "Do it." The case was dismissed.
What makes backmasking - especially the Satanic-related stuff - seem quaint today is the plethora of malevolent songs by death metal bands who put their messages front and centre. To see what I mean, click around at random on the death metal archive site darklyrics.com.
In tribute to the golden age of backmasking, here are five of Aranza's top offenders:
Queen - Another One Bites The Dust
Styx - Snowblind
E.L.O - Fire On High
Feel free to weigh in with your own favourite backmasked songs.
Kcor evil gnol.
By Bill DeMain
Posted by Ross_Bennett at 6:00 AM GMT 10/11/2009