“Backmasking” started with The Beatles’ 1966 album Revolver. John Lennon said one night while smoking pot, he mistakenly played the tapes for the song “Rain” in reverse and liked the sound. So the band began recording messages in Revolver that could only be deciphered when the record was played backwards. (One such message appears in “Rain”: “When the rain comes, they run and hide their heads.”)
CDs, personal computers and portable audio players limited the ability to listen to tracks in reverse, and fewer people have record collections today than in the 1960s, when it was the dominant medium for music. By the 1980s, backmasking had become controversial, with some Christian groups claiming the “subliminal” messages in many rock records were Satanic, censorship bills and mandated warning labels popping up in some states, and of course, the infamous trial of Judas Priest — which leads us to the first of five famous backwards messages:
Judas Priest, “Better by You, Better than Me”
Backwards message: “Do it.”
“Better by You, Better than Me” was originally recorded by the band Spooky Tooth in 1969. British metal band Judas Priest’s cover put the members in court in 1990, when the parents of two young fans of the band who attempted suicide in 1985 sued them in a civil case, alleging the song included the subliminal command “Do it.” The case was dismissed, with the judge ruling that any subliminal messages in the song, if they existed, were not culpable for the deaths.
Queen, “Another One Bites the Dust”
Backwards message: “Start to smoke marijuana”
There’s some debate about whether Freddie Mercury is singing “Start to smoke marijuana” or “It’s fun to smoke marijuana” when this hit spins backwards, but he’s definitely saying something about “smoke marijuana” — which, as we learned earlier with John Lennon, is how this whole backwards message trend started. Whatever one’s views on cannabis consumption, this message is far less creepy than some of the other utterances on backmask. For example…
The Beatles, “Revolution #9”
Backwards message: “Turn me on, dead man.”
“Revolution #9” is weird enough played forwards, but played backwards, there’s something that sounds suspiciously like John Lennon repeating the phrase “Turn me on, dead man.” This message was supposedly part of the whole “Paul is dead” storyline that started in the backtrack for “Strawberry Fields Forever” and carried through (at least for Beatles conspiracy theorists) with things like Paul McCartney not wearing shoes on the cover of Abbey Road seen as symbols of his secret death.
Electric Light Orchestra, “Fire on High”
Backwards message: “The music is reversible. Time is not. Turn back, turn back.”
The forward version of this song contains a backwards message in the instrumental opening. Over sinister-sounding synthesizers, a garbled voice says something that sounds like “Mad…ness… shnipf shnchop fyeer.” But stop the record, push it in reverse over the grooves, and the message is clear: “The music is reversible. Time is not. Turn back, turn back.” Trippy.
Slayer, “Hell Awaits”
Backwards message: “Join us.”
In 1985, when evangelical organizations were making a furor over “Satanic subliminal messages,” Slayer got blatant and recorded chants of “Join us” over the introduction to the song “Hell Awaits,” which culminates with a demonic voice booming “Welcome back!” before the song explodes in a barrage of thrash metal guitars. Slayer frontman Tom Araya explained the message was for dramatic effect, and not an actual invocation to Satan.