Five Crazy Rock Myths: "Evil Backwards Message" Edition

One persistent rock myth is that for years bands have been secretly recording backwards messages onto their albums. Fans of a certain age will especially remember certain types of watchdogs, particularly religious individuals, who are already convinced that rock is evil and Satanic, and have been spreading the tale that bands insert these messages into their songs as either a way to subliminally seduce innocent listeners into a sinful, self-destructive path, or to subtlely reveal the artists' secret diabolical agenda.

While it might be entertaining to someone with a very naive view of good and evil to believe that there's some sort of tug-o-war between Satan and the forces of righteousness over weird "It kinda sounds like a message" snippets of sound embedded in the grooves of rock records, it's pretty ridiculous when one thinks it through.

The heyday for the "evil backwards message" hysteria seems to have been somewhere in the late 1960s to the early 1990s, which is a pretty good run for a silly rumor. Let's take a look at some of the great moments in "Backmasking" on rock albums through the years.

5. Judas Priest Tells Fans to Shoot Themselves
While they certainly weren't the first rock band to be accused of infusing their albums with secret messages to harm their fans, Judas Priest probably had to deal with some of the worst real-world consequences, when they were taken to court after two fans of theirs attempted suicide, one successfully. The parents sued Judas Priest and their record company, in a ridiculous trial where the band was eventually found not guilty. The plaintiffs claimed that a backwards message was contained in the song "Better By You, Better Than Me," from Priest's 1978 Stained Class album, which instructed listeners to "Do it." One has to think Judas Priest would prefer to put messages in their records urging fans to buy more albums instead of telling them to commit suicide.

4. Freddie Mercury Says It's Fun to Get Baked
While not directly Satanic (unless you believe marijuana really is the "devil's weed"), religious weirdos got up in arms when they played the 1980 song "Another One Bites the Dust" backwards and thought they'd discovered a message encouraging pot-smoking. It's hard to believe that by 1980 a secret message to smoke weed would be news at all, but soon the rumor spread like spilled bongwater that "Another One Bites The Dust" played backwards was saying "It's fun to smoke marijuana." Scandalous. I suppose it was a more innocent time, and maybe a rock song about smoking weed seemed scary; I don't know. These are the same types of folks who apparently missed the obvious drug reference a few years earlier when The Lawrence Welk Show featured a spiritual take on "One Toke Over the Line." I'll post that here, because while not an example of backmasking silliness, it's still hilarious.

3. Led Zeppelin Toasts the Devil
Led Zeppelin is my go-to goldmine of dumb rock-music myths, and I love them for that. They seemed to scare the hell out of a lot of parents and religious types back in the early '70s, and I have a feeling that a lot of old record players got ruined when those worrywarts spun their way backwards through the band's catalog. When those folks went looking for the devil in Zeppelin's music, they found it hiding in "Stairway to Heaven," which true believers claim contains the following backwards message:

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. Sad Satan.

I'm sure heads exploded.

2. The Beatles Tell the World Paul Died
We've already covered the long-running rumor that Paul McCartney died in a car wreck sometime in the mid-'60s, and was secretly replaced by a lookalike who has been posing as him ever since. Well, it would be secret if the remaining members of The Beatles hadn't spread countless clues in the art of their album covers and in numerous backwards messages afterwards. I'm not sure why a band participating in an enormous coverup would do that, but that's what lots of folks apparently believe. There are supposedly "Paul is dead" messages in both the Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour albums, but my personal favorites are contained in the White Album, in particular the spooky-sounding experimental track "Revolution #9.' When it's played in reverse, that song seems to have a repeating message that says "Turn me on, dead man." Creepy.

1. ELO Are All Sorts of Evil
I think a lot of things when I hear the symphonic rock music of the Electric Light Orchestra, but I've never really thought they were messengers of Satan. However, quite a few Christian fundamentalists disagreed, especially after they started playing the title track from 1974's Eldorado album backwards. According to some folks, that song contains this happy little message:

He is the nasty one
Christ you're infernal
It is said we're dead men
Everyone who has the mark will live

Clearly Jeff Lynne and company were interested in electric lights...The lights of Lucifer. The funny thing about these backwards message rumors is that even if they were somehow planned, which is a pretty big if, there's no evidence that a person could somehow discern the message subliminally, or that it would affect them if they could. Even sillier was when bands eventually appeared who claimed they were Satanic, and it kinda makes the "secret Satanism" that some religious types were afraid of look quaint. After all, who cares if The Eagles put a hidden backwards message on an album when you had bands like Slayer and Deicide on the scene?
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Chris Lane is a contributing writer who enjoys covering art, music, pop culture, and social issues.