Backmasking is the process of reversing an audio signal and placing it in something meant to be played forwards. When played normally the message will sound like gibberish, however, when the song is played in reverse the original message can be heard. Some of the first instances of reversed audio were the result of The Beatles’ experimentation during the recording of Revolver. Since then, backmasked messages have turned up in all kinds of music with messages ranging from humorous to satanic. Today, reversing audio is a popular way to censor explicit words for radio. Here is a list of 10 famous instances of backmasking.
The Mars Volta
The Mars Volta are a prog-rock band known for cryptic lyrics and messages. One instance that had fans buzzing was on the track “Eunuch Provocateur” on their EP Tremulant. At around the 5:30 mark the track transforms into echoing drums with an eerie guitar. A voice can be heard, but none of the words can be made out. Fans found that when played in reverse the gibberish could be heard as “The Itsy Bitsy Spider”. The band used an old record that contained children’s songs for the samples. Also in the track, the phrase “Did mommy or daddy ever have to spank you?” can be heard when reversed.
Missy Elliot used backmasking for aesthetic purposes on her track “Work It” from her album Under Construction. The chorus of the track is “Is it worth it, let me work it, I put my thing down flip it and reverse it” followed by backwards gibberish. When the gibberish is played in reverse, it says “I put my thing down flip it and reverse it”. Missy sampled the previous line of the chorus and reversed it. In the same song at around 2:08 Missy says “Listen up close while I take you backwards” followed by the reversed message “Watch the way Missy like to take it backwards”.
Weird Al Yankovic
I Remember Larry
In the late 80s and early 90s, parents and special interest groups began accusing artists of using backmasking to hide disturbing and even satanic messages. These accusations resulted in court cases over high profile artists. Weird Al poked fun at the issue and hid a humorous message about those searching for hidden messages on the track “I Remember Larry” off his album, Bad Hair Day. In the bridge of the song at around 3:14 Al’s voice can be heard speaking nonsense. When reversed one can hear “Wow, you must have an awful lot of free time on your hands”.
Another One Bites the Dust
In the early 1980’s, Queen was accused of hiding a reversed message in their song “Another One Bites the Dust”. Christian evangelists claimed that when played in reverse the lyrics “another one bites the dust” become “It’s fun to smoke marijuana”. Some believed since the song had other strange effects on it, it was possible the band had purposely used backmasking to hide the pro-marijuana message. A spokesperson for Hollywood Records denied that the song contained a hidden message. The message is widely considered to be unintended. Many cite this song as an example of phonetic reversal, where a word when reversed, sounds like another word.
Jay-Z is a popular rapper who is often tied to many conspiracy theories. Some popular theories are that he is linked to the illuminati/freemasons, and that he is satanic. While the theories about him are far-fetched, believers of these theories thought they found proof when the song “Lucifer 9” was reversed. Gibberish played normally was the message “666 murder murder Jesus 666” when played backwards. What many didn’t know was the track “Lucifier 9” was actually from Dangermouse’s The Grey Album. The Grey Album was a mashup of The Beatles (White Album) and Jay-Z’s The Black Album. Dangermouse chopped up Jay-Z a capellas and created the message over The Beatles “Revolution 9”.
Pink Floyd used backmasking to hide a message on their song “Empty Spaces” from the album The Wall. Gibberish is heard when listening to the song normally. When played in reverse a secret message is found:
“-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!
The message is supposedly Roger Waters addressing people who look for hidden messages. Waters congratulates them and asks them to send a response to “Old Pink” at the “Funny Farm”. Before Waters can give the full address he is notified by someone that his wife, Carolyn, is on the phone. Many think “Old Pink” is a reference to former member Syd Barrett who had mental problems and was in a psychiatric hospital (“Funny Farm”).
I’m So tired
The Beatles self-titled 1968 album (White Album) was thoroughly searched for clues about Paul’s death rumors (see #2) by fans. One of the most noticeable pieces of supposed evidence was a backmasked message at the end of “Im So Tired”. At the very end of the song, as the music is fading out, John Lennon can be heard speaking incomprehensibly. When played in reverse, some hear the words “Paul is dead man, miss him, miss him, miss him”. While many saw this as evidence of Paul’s death the rumor was denied by the band. Paul McCartney also denies the rumors of his death.
Better by You, Better than Me
In 1990, Judas Priest was involved in a court case which alleged subliminal messages in their song “Better by You, Better than Me” led to the suicide, and attempted suicide, of 2 men in 1985. Allegedly Raymond Belknap and James Vance drank beer and smoked marijuana for several hours while listening to Judas Priest. They then went to a church playground, where Belknap shot himself under the chin with a 12 gauge shotgun, dying instantly. Vance then tried to do the same. However, the gun slipped as he fired, blowing away the lower half of his face. He later told a reporter of a suicide pact he made with Belknap, saying “We had been programmed. I knew I was going to do it. I was afraid. I didn’t want to die. It’s just as if I had no choice”. He slipped into a coma three years later and died. The men’s parents filed a civil action which alleged that, when played backwards, the Judas Priest track encouraged listeners to commit suicide and “Do it”. The suit was dismissed.
*Note: I can’t hear anything that sounds like “Do it”
The Beatles (White Album) contained an avant-garde track titled “Revolution 9”. The track contained lots of effects and noise, and was noteworthy for how odd it was. In 1969, as the rumors of Paul McCartney’s death were spreading, Revolution 9 became an important piece of evidence to those claiming Paul was dead. A caller to a Detroit radio show explained possible evidence of Paul’s death, and convinced disc jockey Russ Gibb to play Revolution 9 in reverse. The repeated phrase “number nine” became “turn me on dead man” when played backwards. Listeners called in to the phone lines to voice their opinions, which further spread the rumors. When played in reverse many claim to hear other clues such as the sound of a car crash and someone screaming “Let me out”.
Stairway to Heaven
In January, 1982, Paul Crouch accused many rock artists of hiding messages in their songs through backmasking. One example he pointed out was the Led Zeppelin song “Stairway to Heaven”. When played normally one hears:
“If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now
It’s just a spring clean for the May queen
Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run
There’s still time to change the road you’re on”
When played in reverse Crouch said a satanic message could be heard:
“Oh 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 band ignored these claims, however Swan Song Records issued a statement saying “Our turntables only play in one direction…forwards”. The alleged satanic message has become, arguably, the most famous instance of backmasking, adding to the mystery and legacy of Led Zeppelin. Many however, say it’s merely a coincidence, and is simply another case of phonetic reversal.
– Andrew Cruez