Sunday, 29 April 2012

Satanic reversal

Ozzy prepares to bite
the head off a frog
It was thirty years ago today, back in 1982, that the California State Assembly consumer protection committee heard testimony from self-styled experts who claimed that, when Stairway To Heaven was played backward, it contained the words: "I sing because I live with Satan. The Lord turns me off, there's no escaping it. Here's to my sweet Satan, whose power is Satan. He will give you 666. I live for Satan." 

It's quite bizarre that supposedly sane adults in the USA insisted in all seriousness that rock stars would insert satanic messages backwards - a process called backmasking - in their music, although as many of these conspiracy theorists were fanatical fundamentalist evangelists, you could argue they're not sane by definition. No domestic hi fi set-up could play LPs backwards, so they claimed that listeners would subliminally pick up the backmasked message while simultaneously listening to the normal forward vocal and accompaniment. I sometimes have difficulty working out the normal message, let alone struggle with a hidden backwards one. It can probably all be traced back to The Beatles who were accused of placing a hidden message that Paul was dead in Revolution No 9. Backmasking is in itself a completely innocent process, having been used for aesthetic effect by bands from The Beatles to the present day.

Following a tragic suicide pact by two young men, Judas Priest were sued by their families for an alleged subliminal message encouraging suicide, though the case was thrown out. As the band pointed out, messages leading to the deaths of their fans would be counterproductive; if they wanted to insert a subliminal command in their music, it would probably be "Buy more of our records".

Down to earth hard rockers AC/DC rejected accusations that they had included satanic messages on one of their albums. As guitarist Angus Young pointed out, "you didn't need to play [the album] backwards, because we never hid [the messages]. We'd call an album Highway To Hell; there it was right in front of them." Can't argue with that.

The satanism of bands such as Black Sabbath was only ever theatrical, intended to shock and also to provide a dramatic backdrop of imagery suitable for doom-laden messages. At every gig I've seen Ozzy Osbourne perform (both with Sabbath and solo), he's always worn a crucifix the right way up and ended the gig with a loud "God bless you" to the audience.

There were quite a few backmasked messages inserted in songs to mock the satanic controversy that enveloped many bands: Mindless Self Indulgence included the reverse messages: "clean your room", "do your homework", "don't stay out too late", and "eat your vegetables". The B52s had, "Oh no, you're playing the record backwards. Watch out, you might ruin your needle", "Weird Al" Yankovic included the message, "Wow, you must have an awful lot of free time on your hands", while Soundgarden had a secret message about Santa Claus.

The list of bands accused of satanic backmasking is almost a Who's Who of internationally famous rock bands. Despite the controversy which led to laws passed against undeclared backmasking in California and Arkansas (although Governor Bill Clinton sent the law back to the Arkansas senate where it was subsequently defeated), scientific research has concluded, in the words of psychology professor Mark D. Allen, that "delivering subliminal messages via backward masking is totally and ridiculously impossible".

I'll just leave you with one final thought: if you phone the emergency services with your phone the wrong way round, you'll dial 666, so you'll never know until it's too late who might turn up on your doorstep!


  1. Some evangelicals are easily shocked - and often very callous. Mary Whitehouse, for instance, would fly into paroxysms of rage at the portrayal of violence on TV (Dr Who was one of her bete noirs), yet could see nothing wrong with the US bombing of North Viet-Nam during the Viet-Nam War - in fact, she heartily approved.

  2. have you discovered the satanic subliminal message in Avery & Browns video beer blogs yet?


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