Rock has been known as “The Devil’s Music” since the first backbeat was laid down. It was bad enough when Elvis swiveled his hips, but things went turbo-stupid a couple decades later.
The connection between rock and Satan arguably reached its peak in the ‘70s and ‘80s, when an overly-alarmist religious crowd began accusing bands of inserting hidden Satanic messages into their lyrics; one that can only be heard when the songs were played backward. This so-called phenomenon, dubbed “backmasking,” has caused massive amounts of pearl clutching ever since.
However, such fervor has been shown to be completely unwarranted (thus far). The truth is, reversed words of phrases are heard for one of two reasons. The first is the power of suggestion – people that pushed the backmasking phenomenon could always coax a message out of the gibberish before they announced their discovery to the public. The second is nothing more than studio trickery, with the artist deliberately recording a lyric and adding it to the recording so it plays backwards when you play the record forward, especially once it began to rustle jimmies.
Of course, this hasn’t stopped the accusations from coming, as the following list demonstrates. Some of the artists mentioned here have been targets since the backmasking craze began over forty years ago, while others are new entries into the dubious category. All are kind of fun to explore, in a “you’ve got to be kidding me” kind of way.
Here is a list of the six (seemed like an appropriate number) most iconic examples, old and new, showing just how far some people will reach to invent evil to be oppressed by when there's a short supply and a high demand.
Like so many other things, The Beatles came up with the notion of deliberately putting backward lyrics into their records. According to John Lennon, he came home after a night of revelry in 1966, accidentally played a take of their song “Rain” the wrong way, and was so enamored by its sound, he put a reversed version of the song’s opening line on the song’s fadeout.
Fast forward to 1969. The “Paul is dead” rumors are in full-force, and those looking for clues that Paul indeed blew his mind out in a car turn to the White Album for clues – specifically, the lengthy weird track “Revolution 9.” Word starts spreading that if you reverse the experimental tune’s signature bit of a voice repeatedly uttering “number 9,” you get the phrase:
“Turn me on, dead man.”
Some people actually buy into the myth while just enjoy the info-tainment. While the bit isn’t Satanic per se, it’s nonetheless used by fear mongers as a prime example of backmasking; a gateway to far more sinister stuff like cloning, dopplegangers, and other fun occult topics. Truly, the Beatles influence seemingly has no bounds.
Want proof that backmasking is still being purported as a tool of the devil? Look no further than this iconic Canadian pop star. While parents of teenage girls may contend that Bieber is evil incarnate as it is, some contend that his true dark power is found when you spin his breakthrough hit “Baby” backwards.
The culprit can be traced to the song's chorus, which primarily consists of the cooing words "baby, baby, baby, oh.” Purportedly, when the chorus is reversed, you get:
“Acknowledge my lord, lord. He’s here. I’m the evil one. Satanic new world, new world, new world. I want it. Let me in, let me in, yay war. Let me in, let me in, let me in, yay war.”
Not only is Bieber allegedly pledging allegiance to the Prince of Darkness, but he also seems to be giving props to the New World Order / Illuminati. This duality is about as fun as backmasking gets – even though the actual backmasking is nothing more than our ears being led by some to hear words and phrases through pattern recognition that simply don’t exist. Of course, it can still be contended that Bieber’s music still causes more dread forward than it does backward.
The band colloquially known as ELO may not be the first group that comes to mind when you forge links between rock and His Infernal Majesty. Yet the song “Eldorado” has long been one of the favorite songs for the backmasking crowd to target. So much so, it caused the band to engage in a bit of studio mockery.
Allegedly, if you reverse the lyric, “I’ll sail away on a voyage of no return to see if eternal life is meant to be,” you end up with:
“He is the nasty one. Christ, you’re infernal. It is said we’re dead men. Everyone who has the mark will live.”
It could be argued that this is an alarmist favorite because the line, when played properly, makes a quasi-allusion to heaven and the concept to eternity. Arguably this reduces the probability of it being accidental, and it's also argued that it's not purposeful but some demonic magic that makes it occur thanks to the band being vessels of the abyss, and it's even purported as a deep, undiscovered psychological phenomenon and power of humanity to encode the truth backwards when we lie speaking normally.
The band thought the accusations were nonsense, but they decided to have a little fun at the expense of their accusers. On their next album, “Face the Music,” they deliberately stuck a reversed message onto the album’s lead track, “Fire on High.” The lyric? “The music is reversible, but time is not. Turn back, turn back, turn back, turn back.” Although not Satanic, considering the reversed lyric is intermingled with dramatically sharp strings and snippets of Handel’s “Messiah,” it admittedly does come off as a bit creepy.
Nobody escapes these claims. Owl City has real controversy to worry about, like completely emulating The Postal Service. But when his single 'Fireflies' took off, of course it drew the ire of people obsessed with seeking out validation for their outrage. 'Fireflies' is so tame it might as well be a nursery rhyme song for babies to listen to in their cribs. Yet supposedly it says:
Space, a hoax. This earth turns and I helped it. Reptilian university. Swear to God, this drags me in. More evil than feels it. See y'all, reveal not know me.
As you can see, this one barely makes sense minus a few key words. It's fun because it touches on some of the currently most whacky conspiracies out there, but c'mon. If Satan exists and can cause people to speak hidden messages in reverse, I think he'd have the skill and power to make it make a bit more grammatical sense.
The country rock legends’ biggest hit is significantly more rock than it is country. It’s also another song the backmasking crowd has trotted out for years as an example of rock’s secret Satanic code. While the accusation can be dismissed as hokey, it also contributes to the song’s lore.
There are two passages that are cited as being sinister in reverse. The first one is found in the opening verse and the later line “in the middle of the night, just to hear them say," when you can allegedly hear:
“Yes, Satan organized his own religion.” & “Yeah, Satan hears this, he had me believe in him.”
The reason these silly accusations can be viewed as a feature instead of a bug is because the song itself has been accused to be evil even when it's played the right way. Some people insist that its lyrics, which reference an inability to kill a beast or not being able to leave, are allegorical to the Church of Satan. These accusations are nearly as far-flung as the backwards bits – the band is on record as saying it’s a song about living the high life in Los Angeles (if you'd actually believe the word of devil worshippers!) - but they admittedly add a layer of intrigue to the tune.
Even those unfamiliar with the depth of the backmasking craze may be familiar with the charges leveled against Led Zeppelin. That may be partially because fundamentalists have long considered the legendary band to practically be a quartet of demons made flesh – an accusation fueled by guitarist Jimmy Page’s fascination with infamous English mystic Aleister Crowley. It may also be because their signature song, “Stairway to Heaven” is one of the most popular rock tunes ever made.
There are allegedly several backward messages embedded in the song. Among the highlights:
“Here’s to my sweet Satan;” “I sing because I live with Satan;” “He will give those with him 666;” “There was a little toolshed where he made us suffer, sad Satan.”
The supposed messages do a great job of diffusing the myth behind the lyrics just by their insipid nature. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine the Prince of Darkness implementing a toolshed to inflict torment on mankind, not to mention him being sad about doing so. Nevertheless, “Stairway” is destined to be the poster child for backmasking absurdities – at least, as long as rock music is considered to be the “devil’s music.” You'd think they'd level these charges at least at someone playing heavy metal guitar and not fairly soft rock.
This one is interesting because the band was actually taken to court in the late 1980's over the charge that a very simple backmasking message led to two teens from Nevada to take their own lives. It was said that the song "Beyond the Realms of Death" contained forward lyrics that insisted the world isn't 'fit for living,' which was then followed up by subliminal messages in the song "Better By You, Better Than Me." To see how absolutely stupid this was, check out the hidden message:
That's it. You could find that message in a million songs played in reverse if you took the time. That didn't stop one of the youngsters who survived from concocting a tale of hypnotism and mesmerism (they had been using tons of drugs, but surely that had nothing to do with it). The families sued for a total of $6.2 million. Judas Priest's manager stated, and I paraphrase, "If we were to hide a message, it'd tell people to buy seven copies of the album, not harm themselves." Thankfully, the judge ultimately dismissed the case as nonsense after letting both sides say their piece.
Of course, Queen B is a tool of Satan according to the backmasking crowd, and she doesn't help the matter with her esoteric occult marketing themes. Accusers point to the song “Sweet Dreams,” which when played forward is the type of pretty love song that demonstrates why she’s at the top of the R&B mountain. When you play it backwards, however, you purportedly get a rather unique take on love.
As backmasking believers will tell you before they play you the song, you’ll hear Beyoncé sing:
“Hail Satan, hail Satan. I am worthy. I am worthy. Satan. I am sorry for the end of your sins ‘cause they’re going to live in hell, ‘cause they’re going to live in hell. Hail Satan. I am worthy. I am worthy. I follow Lucifer. Hail Satan, ‘cause they’re going to live in Hell. I follow Lucifer.”
That’s quite a mouthful. To this day, Beyoncé hasn’t ever commented on this so-called finding, presumably because this type of panic is great for sales (or it's all true!?).
There are so many more examples that there's a Wikipedia page dedicated to the topic listing off examples where artists have begun adding these messages on purpose (although less sinister) just to ride the wave. Nobody with high fame has escaped these allegations, including:
Which is funny because many of them would have no problem stating the messages flat out.
I for one, welcome our new Rock & Pop Star overlords. Just kidding. But nothing is more fascinating than taking the trip down this nearly endless rabbit hole. The conspiracy and magic communities have dug deep, even finding examples of politicians telling the truth about military installations on Mars, babies babbling backwards, and even psychic parrots doing the same. It's a fun ride if you're into that kind of thing.
Otherwise, it's truly as absurd and ridiculous as it sounds, forwards and backwards! Whether or not our favorite musicians have encountered the ruler of the fiery underworld is up for debate, but without a doubt countless musicians have seen UFOs, so who's to say just how strange the music industry can really get?