The Devil’s Playlist: 5 Most Intriguing Cases of Backmasking

Here is a new word for your dictionary of hallucinations – backmasking! It means exactly what it sounds like, but with a little intention and a little bit of delusion attached to it. It is the technique of masking secret messages on a song which can only be heard upon phonetic reversal, i.e., while playing the song backwards. While some artists do it to censor explicit words for radio edits, some legendary artists have been ‘accused’ of using the technique to lure the devil into buying their CDs!

Some call it the work of Satan, some say it’s just a publicity stunt, but we say it’s intriguing!

Read on. It might just change the way you listen to your favorite tracks!

1. Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin

In 1982, Paul Crouch, the host on a program from the Trinity Broadcasting Network, claimed that Led Zeppelin’s iconic song ‘Stairway to Heaven’ contained satanic messages throughout the song, especially in the middle section. He claimed that when played backwards, the song contained messages such as ‘Here’s to my sweet Satan. The one whose little path would make me sad, whose power is Satan. He will give those with him 666. There was a little tool-shed where he made us suffer, sad Satan.’

The claims were dismissed by Eddie Kramer, Led Zeppelin’s Audio Engineer, as ‘totally and utterly ridiculous’. Fans and critics, however, still believe that the backmasked messages were the real deal.

2. Revolution 9 – The Beatles

Revolution 9, the experimental song from The Beatles’ ‘The White Album’, is one of the most controversial case of backmasking. As the rumours of Paul McCartney’s death surfaced in 1969, the song acted as an evidence to support the entire ‘Paul is Dead’ theory. This was because the song, when played backwards contained the messages ‘Turn me on, dead man’ and ‘Let me out’. The Beatles continuously insisted that they never planted clues in order to fuel the hoax about McCartney’s death. Even then, the ‘co-incidental’ backmasking incident popularised the idea that backwards masking could really be used to hide secret messages in music tracks.

3. Highway to Hell – AC/DC

The opening track of AC/DC’s 1979 album, ‘Highway to Hell’ was released as a single. Since then, many artists have covered it and it has remained on top of the charts for a long time. The song is about a person’s life on the road, a person who tours constantly. However, the song meant different to different people. Claims have been made that the song, when reversed, contained messages like ‘I’m the law’, ‘My name is Lucifer’ and ‘She belongs in hell’. The album contained many other songs that contained subliminal messages, and criminals have claimed to have committed crimes because of such subliminal messages. Angus Young dismissed the claims by saying, “You didn’t need to play backwards, because we never hid (the messages).” To this day, ‘Highway to Hell’ is loved by the fans. Yet, the mystery of the backmasked-technique still remains.

4. Eunuch Provocateur – The Mars Volta

The progressive rock band, The Mars Volta, debuted with EP Tremulant in 2002. On this EP, a track titled ‘Eunuch Provocateur’ turned heads, not just because of the name. The 8 minute 48 seconds long track contains hidden messages which are not just eerie, they are downright audible. The last few seconds of the song, when played backwards, contains the lyrics to the famous children’s poem ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’. Creepy, isn’t it? But that’s not it. Other backwards vocals from a different section in the very same song can be heard saying, “did mommy or daddy ever have to spank you?”

5. Pink Floyd – Empty Spaces

This one is a classic. Not just the song, but also the hidden message it contains. Yes, it was intentional. Pink Floyd used backwards masking to hide a message on their song ‘Empty Spaces’ on the album, The Wall. The message, as Roger Waters said, was intentionally hidden and addressed to all those who look for hidden messages instead of listening to the song. When played backwards, ‘Empty Spaces’ contained the following message:

“Hello, Luka… Congratulations. You have just discovered the secret message. Please send your answer to Old Pink, care of the Funny Farm, Chalfont… (Roger! Carolyn’s on the phone!). Okay.”

Many believe that Old Pink was a reference to Syd Barrett, who had a psychological disorder and was thus, in the ‘Funny Farm’, i.e., a psychiatric hospital!

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