Simon Whistler of Today I Found Out examined claims that musicians inserted subversive messages into songs that revealed themselves when played backwards. This practice of masking these messages is known as backmasking.
The Beatles were among the first to use back-masking in their songs.
According to John Lennon, after returning from a party in 1966, he accidentally played a take of the song “Rain” backwards. Lennon…was so enamored with the sound that he included a reversed version of the song’s opening line in the fade-out. This is widely considered to be the first use of basking in a pop song.
Unfortunately, Lennon’s use of backmasking backfired a bit with the promulgation of the widely held “Paul is dead” rumor.
Unfortunately for the Fab 4, this experimentation would lead to the first major back-masking controversy, as the technique was a cornerstone of the infamous Paul is Dead urban legend.
This question was brought to light again in 1971 when Led Zeppelin’s iconic song “Stairway to Heaven” was allegedly made with a hidden message to Satan when the record was played backwards. Although experts explain many of these interpretations as the human brain searching for something recognizable, the so-called “satanic panic” took shape in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s.
According to evangelical groups, the Church of Satan extended its influence by hiding subliminal messages in popular media, particularly rock music, long considered by Christian fundamentalists to be the music of the devil as evangelical figures claim… such messages could circumvent conscious perception by penetrating directly into the unconscious where they could be unknowingly accepted by the listener.
While the backmasking was a target, not all of the songs revealed satanic messages, some of them were downright humorous.
Not all of the masked messages praised the Prince of Darkness. For example, the 1980 Queen’s hit “Another One Bites the Dust” allegedly conceals the message “It’s fun to smoke marijuana.” Other bands accused of hiding hidden messages include Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Slayer and Motörhead. Inevitably, many artists have responded to these ridiculous claims by deliberately hiding humorous messages in their songs.
This question no longer seems relevant with the rise of CDs and digital music, however, how it all came about is still quite fascinating.
In the end, the back-masking remains what it has always been a simple case of paranoia. Hear what we want to hear.