September 30, 2020

Spinning The Hits Backward

On Sunday I said I would try to play at least one request, and that is what I got: one request. iMonk reader Steve Scott asked me to talk about what happens when you play Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven backward. Ok Steve, here’s your long-distance request.

First, a bit of background. I spent a fair amount of time (as in several decades) working in radio. I started just after Marconi invented the thing, and left it when it ceased being for the good of the community and became simply a money machine. (For the future of radio, and what radio should sound like, I point you to one of our sponsors, Broken Road Radio.) When I started in the radio biz, we played music on ancient vinyl discs known as “records.” Sound was etched into this vinyl, and recreated by a tiny diamond inserted into the groove on the record. The diamond—known by the misnomer of “needle” and by its proper name, “stylus”—was attached to a cartridge, which … oh, sorry. I taught this stuff for 15 years, and explaining it all is still second-nature to me. But this is not Wikipedia, so let’s move on.

Records could be played forward or, if you had the right kind of turntable, backward. Why would you play a record backward? To hear hidden messages. What kind of hidden messages? Ones placed their by Beelzebub, of course. Intended to lead you astray if you were listening to filthy rock and roll music. Songs that Satan could use to ensnare you against your will, because God apparently is not strong enough to protect his own against the evil one—and against a “message” you really needed some stout imagination to hear.

The Beatles started the whole backmasking thing when they recorded “clues” about Paul McCartney’s death in some of their songs in the 1960s. Christians got their undies in a bunch in the early 1980s when—sigh—Paul Crouch had some “expert” on his TV network to talk about the evils being forced on young people unaware. Suddenly, churches across the land had another horse to whip, whether or not it was dead. Rock and roll was proven—Hey! It was on Christian TV, so it had to be true, right?—to be a tool of the devil.

It was at this time I was asked to speak at a church on the evils of backmasking. I was going to be given the pulpit to share with parents how they could protect their children from subliminal messages on songs such as Stairway To Heaven. (You can hear the evil message on this song here.) I considered this request, and agreed to come and speak. “But,” I said, “my main message will be about Jesus, and how he is greater than anything seen or unseen. How that we must trust him and not get our eyes on any evil, real or imagined.” Once I shared this with the pastor of the church that had invited me, I was told they were not going to be able to use me after all. If I was not going to expose this very real danger, they really didn’t need to have me come speak.

Twenty-some years later I encountered a similar situation. I had been the editor (and ghostwriter of a good chunk) of a book debunking Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. A large church in Houston called and wanted me to come talk about the topic, and I agreed. But once again I said my main message would be Jesus and his reality as opposed to Brown’s fantasy. And once again I was promptly uninvited to speak.

See why I am not really in demand as a speaker?

Why is it that we Christians get so caught up in imagined evils rather than simply lift up the crucified Christ? What is it that he did not conquer in his death and resurrection? Am I missing something here?

Steve, there is your long-distance request. Next, up, Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. I’ve got to use the bathroom …


  1. Curiously, the forward version of the snippet in question contains the following thought:

    “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.'”

    I’ve always LOVED that line! To me, there isn’t a more spiritually-minded, potentially Christ-like message to be found in any secular song than right there!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I’ve been finding similar “spiritually-minded, potentially Christ-like messages” in certain My Little Pony fanfics for over a year now.

      “Let him who has ears to hear, hear!”

      • HUG, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry…

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          You think I’m joking? If CM or Jeff allowed a lot of links, I could probably give you half a dozen links to the fics I’m talking about. Failing that, here’s something from some correspondence as to why this reboot of MLP hit it so big:

          Some time ago on one of these blogs, I read about somebody’s direct Word of Prophecy from God. Coming from a church where Mary Channelling is the traditional way to flake out, I am very skeptical about such claims, but this one intrigued me. The claim was that God was “withdrawing his mantle” from all that Christian (TM) media and putting it on the “secular” mainstream. Henceforth, mainstream books/movies/TV were going to start saying what God wanted said, as Christian (TM) attempts at the arts sure weren’t. Maybe MLP:FIM is part of this? Princess Celestia, an approachable and benevolent god-figure? Virtues presented without Captain Planet Lectures? Coming from My Little Pony, whose earlier versions (just like Star Wars) have been denounced by Christian Culture Warriors as Satanic/Witchcraft/Occult?

  2. I always used to wonder about the whole “playing the music backwards brings a message from Satan” thing. I couldn’t understand how this was used to discourage listening to the music. If playing the music backwards made the message from Satan play forwards, then doesn’t playing the music forward play the message from Satan in reverse? That’s like undoing his words! You’d think they’d have encouraged us to listen to the music as much as possible!

    [insert country music joke here]

    How about some “Dark Side of the Rainbow” next?

    • If playing the music backwards made the message from Satan play forwards, then doesn’t playing the music forward play the message from Satan in reverse? That’s like undoing his words!

      Reminds me of that old joke about playing a country song backwards… “You get your dog, your job, your pickup truck, and your girl back…”

    • Yeah! Devil-worshippers are supposed to say the Lord’s Prayer backwards, right? Which is evil. So this should be good! “Lucifer, Devil-bunnies, banana banana…”

      Once somebody announced that they had discovered backmassed messages on the theme song to “Mr. Ed.” I have always wondered what inspired the discoverers to look there in the first place.

      And during the 2008 election, somebody figured out that “Yes we can,” when reversed, becomes “Thank you Sa…” Imagine the mystical power that must have been produced by crowds chanting such blasphemies.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Once somebody announced that they had discovered backmassed messages on the theme song to “Mr. Ed.” I have always wondered what inspired the discoverers to look there in the first place.

        The week that surfaced, Dr Demento started his show with “Mr Ed” played backwards and announced the Satanic Backwards Message was in the horse whinny.

        And during the 2008 election, somebody figured out that “Yes we can,” when reversed, becomes “Thank you Sa…”

        Which added to the Obama-is-The-Antichrist mystique.

  3. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Oh, yeah. (cue reverb) BACKWARDS… MASKING… (end reverb).

    That little tidbit of The Satanic Panic started about 15 miles due west of where I live, with a “Pastor Gary” of “Eagle’s Nest”, Long Beach, CA, sometime between 1982 and 1985. I think he originated the “Play Stairway to Heaven Backwards” sermon. All part of the Grand Unified Satanic Conspiracy. My memories from that era:

    1) The day after interviewing Pastor Gary (and getting the backwards “Stairway to Heaven” sermon), afternoon talk-show host Rich Buhler started his show with an ominous announcement of Satanic Backwards Messages he found on his own:
    RB: “Here it says ‘He is Lord'”:
    RB: “Here it says ‘Satan is with you and me'”:
    RB: “This is not Led Zeppelin. This is not Black Sabbath. This is…. BENNY HESTER! Who I’ve got on the phone right now — Benny, are you into the Occult?”
    (Rich Buhler and Benny Hester both laugh)
    But that almost killed Benny Hester’s CCM career. You see, by the third or fourth retelling, it was “Benny Hester admitted to being a Satanist! On the air! With Satanic Backwards Masking in all his Christian songs!” Took Benny’s career years to recover.

    2) A Christian comedian album titled “God on Vacation”:
    “Here is apparently innocent music when played forwards:”
    (Elevator Muzak)
    “But when played…. BACKWARDS”:
    (Heavy Metal Riffs)
    Then the “Stairway to Heaven” backwards masking….
    (“And you’re playing…. This record…. BACKWARDS…”)

    3) Styx’s rock-opera album “Kilroy was Here”, set in a dystopian future where “Reverends” have outlawed all music. Had a disclaimer sticker on the album cover: BY ORDER OF REVEREND EVERETT RIGHTEOUS (i.e. the chief bad guy of the album) AND THE MAJORITY FOR MUSICAL MORALITY, THIS RECORD CONTAINS SECRET BACKWARDS MESSAGES.

    4) Weird Al Yankovic slipping in a backwards track on “Nature Trail to Hell”: “SATAN IS CHEESE WHIZZ”. And he wasn’t the only one to work in a backwards joke track.

    5) And the preacher-man a couple years later who claimed on a lot of media that he’d found Satanic Messages when playing the theme from “Mister Ed” backwards. Also claimed that ALL “Christian Music” (his definition) had backwards “Praise the LOOOORD” messages supernaturally included. You could tell the interviewer was NOT taking the guy seriously by that point. That was about the time (reverb) BACKWARDS MASKING (end reverb) faded from public view.

    Rich Buhler and Jerry Garcia said it best:
    RB: “You can tell where some of these bands are coming from when you play them forwards. Why would you need to play them backwards?”
    JG: “What a Long Strange Trip it’s been…”

  4. David Cornwell says

    “See why I am not really in demand as a speaker?”

    Just think of all the money you could have made. And– you could have combined your “truth-telling” revelations with a healing ministry, laying hands on those who were already contaminated by the music.

    But if you followed that path, we wouldn’t have you. Thanks for your integrity and honesty.

  5. “I started just after Marconi invented the thing…”

    Of course, if you had REALLY been around back then you would remember that it was Tesla who invented the thing 🙂

  6. The current special edition of Rolling Stone magazine devoted to Led Zeppelin briefly brings this up in an interview with the band.

  7. FYI – that’s how David Lynch had the man and people in Another Place do their parts and lines – they would do the reverse of their steps and motions and pronounce their words’ syllables backwards, and then the scenes would be played forwards. Creepy.

  8. One more thing that makes me thankful for having grown up as an MK overseas where the noises from the western evangelical loony bin were little more than a distant murmur. There’s a certain clarity that comes from living where new believers are socially ostracized, disowned by their families and even threatened with death, Next to that, the antics of some big-haired preacher on American TV yelling about the evils to be found in playing vinyl backward look immediately and undoubtedly inane and peurile.

    • Brianthedad says


    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      There’s a certain clarity that comes from living where new believers are socially ostracized, disowned by their families and even threatened with death, Next to that, the antics of some big-haired preacher on American TV yelling about the evils to be found in playing vinyl backward …

      Or exploring mazes filled with imaginary monsters using pencil, paper, and funny dice.

      Or voting Democrat.

      Or brightly-colored pony-shaped figurines.

      Or wearing your hair long enough to go over your ears.

  9. Adam Palmer says

    Anybody remember the backward masking Petra used in front of their song “Judas’ Kiss”? It was just backward talking, but when you listened to it, it was a voice saying, “What are you looking for the devil for, when you ought to be looking for the Lord?”

    That was awesome.

    • conanthepunctual says

      Also reminds me of their song Witch Hunt:
      Another witch hunt, looking for evil wherever we can find it
      Off on a tangent, hope the Lord won’t mind it
      Another witch hunt, takin’ a break from all our gospel labor
      On a crusade, but we forgot our Saviour

      • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

        Witch Hunt had some backmasking, also, but I think it was just the same lyrics spoken instead of sung, if I remember.

    • That just sounds so Petra. They made the best 80’s rock ever recorded in the 90’s.

      • conanthepunctual says

        Don’t get me wrong, they certainly did that, but both of these songs were released in the 80’s (with Greg X. Volz on vocals no less).

  10. Ah, yes, I remember being warned against this kinda stuff as a kid. And being warned against the subtle Satanism in the hit cartoon show “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” And against the multitudinous hordes of witches and warlocks that hung around public elementary schools waiting to commit “Satanic Ritual Abuse” against good Christian children. And…

    *sigh* I really wish we would stop spending so much time obsessing about evil and more time falling deeper in love with Jesus…

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      The Satanic Panic of the Eighties.

      Thank You Mike Warnke.

      • +1
        Warnke situation was messed up.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          You know what’s even more messed up?
          Warnke still gets speaking engagements.
          After Cornerstone exposed him as a complete fraud.
          Some of these churches pay his speaking fees and get him there KNOWING he’s a fraud.

    • Brianthedad says

      What about the good ole Procter and gamble devil’s trademark fiasco? The local 1st baptists next door had that one waiting in the wings in the early 80s when the backmasking panic of the later 70s had faded (it was hotel california in my neck of the woods). Though the chick tracts/comic books and Antichrist-revelation prophecy offensive directed at converting the lone Lutheran kid in town kind of overshadowed those.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        What about the good ole Procter and gamble devil’s trademark fiasco?

        I think that one got traced to Amway distributors bad-mouthing the competition.

        I remember “Hotel California” from my college days. Always on heavy rotation at the campus radio station, and years later saw a comic strip “poor man’s music video” done from it which had it being about a Vampire nest luring in prey.

        (Still, “Hotel California” beat “Benny and the Jets” six times an hour on my previous Junior College PA system…)

  11. I’ve likewise been asked to talk on certain subjects, and when it got back to them how I was a lot more moderate than the organizers were hoping, I too was disinvited. They wanted me to confirm the fear and paranoia they were preaching to their hearers. They didn’t want information or hope. They didn’t want good news. They’re all about the bad news.

    When fear rules your kingdom, you’re in the wrong kingdom.

    • Joseph (the original) says

      heck…have them book Mike Warnke. his sensationalisitic fictional account of warlocks, wizards, satanic cults, ritual sacrafices, super-duper secret conspiracy theories enough to raise the hair on the back of any ‘hunker-in-the-bunker’ Christian needing confirmation the devil has all the good music, the best brainwashing strategies, the most powerful claw-foothold at every level of society, the church, you name it!

      and after all the scandal years ago, i am sure his speaking fees are dirt cheap!

      anything & everything peddled to cowering Christians using the fear factor (religious, political, social, economic) elements unique to each category the reason the Church has endured much riducule & justifiable loss of credibility to those outside it. this is most obvious when those involved in the Ritual Satanic Abuse (RSA) claims will swear up-and-down & every which way from Sunday that what is being ‘exposed’ in its most horrific details is in fact true, going on all the time around the world, & nothing, absolutely nothing can stop it, intervene to prevent it, or save all those poor children involved in it from its terrors…

      conspiracy theory has an almost demonic hold on those that give in to its fear & terror. strange thing for a Christian to champion & invest great amounts of energy into. i think it is one of the obvious symptoms of a truly dysfunctional spiritual preoccupation & unhealthy interest. but uber-demonology just the lesser known step-child of all the supra-natural teachings, practices, claims, organizations, etc. promoting X-treme esoteric spiritual principles…

      Lord…have mercy… 🙁

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        “Uber-demonology”? You mean those “spiritual warfare” types who work Magick like Aliester Crowley with a Christian coat of paint?

        “There are two errors we may fall into regarding the race of devils. We can either deny their existence or take an unhealthy interest in them.” — C.S.Lewis, preface to Screwtape Letters

        conspiracy theory has an almost demonic hold on those that give in to its fear & terror. strange thing for a Christian to champion & invest great amounts of energy into.

        Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory is a completely-closed system that literally cannot be broken. Anyone who doubts the Conspiracy Theory is automatically part of The Conspiracy. Any evidence against The Conspiracy is disinformation planted by The Conspiracy, and thus proof of The Conspiracy. Lack of evidence for The Conspiracy is proof of The Conspiracy — so vast and powerful They Can Silence Anyone. And Christians seem especially prone to Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory.

        “If your Conspiracy Theory doesn’t fit the facts, Invent a Bigger Conspiracy.” — Kooks Magazine

        “The Dwarfs are for The Dwarfs! We won’t be taken in!” — C.S.Lewis, Chronicles of Narnia: The Last Battle

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      That happened when I was church-hopping in the mid- to late Eighties and the locals found out I’d played D&D. They would always try to pull me over to preach to “my kid who’s playing that Devil’s game”. I’d tell them the REAL story about D&D and my experiences with it (including how to recognize a gamer or gaming group that’s gone sour), and suddenly nobody wanted to even talk to me.

      Incidentally, in my five years heavily into what’s now called “Old School” Dee & Dee, I ran into two stoners, one occult fanboy, one occult poser, and a lot of general nuisance types. The occult fanboy was headed that way long before Gygax & Arneson; D&D might have functioned as a catalyst to bring out something already there but that was all. The poser… well, when the local Campus Crusade launched a Crusade against us gamers at the start of the Satanic Panic, threatening to infiltrate “sheep in wolves’ clothing”, we’d steer new members past the occult poser to screen out infiltrators. Wild and crazy times.

      • HUG, I’m a former long-time D&Der myself. You want to know how the Lord works? One of my D&D friends became a Christian at some point, and he ended up being a part of my accepting the Lord years later. And we played even as “believers.”

        I still have ZERO problems with D&D. If a person is gonna go down a wrong path playing D&D, they would’ve gone down the wrong path in some other way. Just my opinion.

    • “When fear rules your kingdom, you’re in the wrong kingdom.”

      Indeed! Awesome line! Maybe that’s why I am so disenfranchised with America and the political system here in the States right now. And contrary to how the world’s kingdoms operate, the Kingdom of God doesn’t operate on fear.

  12. Here I go sounding like a broken record: Christians will bite at every conspiracy theory, but then fall in line and wave their copy of “Atlas Shrugged” like the rest the heathens. They run from a sham Satanic attack right into the arms of the devil himself. I think Tolkien picked up on this in aspect of evil in “Lord of the Rings” very well.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Satan is brainwashing us with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and music played backwards, but Ayn Rand is now the Fourth Person of the Trinity. Everyone make the Sign of the Dollar along with John Galt.

    • petrushka1611 says

      Yes, Ayn Rand is the devil himself.


      • Going from mocking the fundies for demonizing rock music & fantasy games to demonizing Ayn Rand themselves….

        The looters & second-handers show themselves so easily.

  13. I like how you said we should be focused on Jesus more than any evil, real or imagined. I think I needed to hear that.

  14. Not very “masked” back-masking. Electric Light Orchestra.

  15. Richard McNeeley says

    When I was in Jr. High we tried listening to many of The Beatle’s songs backwards (most found on the Sgt. Pepper’s album). After The Beatles I was too busy listening to the music to bother playing albums backwards (besides you couldn’t do that with 8 tracks or cassettes).
    I hope you do the long version of In-A-Gadda-Di-Vida, although I am not sure what you will find in the drum solo.

  16. Jeff,

    Merci, beaucoup, for filling my request for Stairway to Heaven played backward. 🙂 I was a DJ for a local FM station in the very early 80’s. The guy who ran it did so as a hobby in his apartment living room and had volunteer DJ’s – usually high school or JC students – and he was a store manager at Radio Shack, so he listened to his DJ’s on the store stereos. Our outlying suburb of San Francisco carried FM stations (with perfect “reception”) on its TV cable; simply attach the cable leads to the FM rabbit ear screws. Brilliant idea. And since it was on cable, there was no transmission, and no requirement for a FCC license! (FWIW, the station call letters were KEGR – “the Concord Kegger” – breaking Harold Camping’s Family Radio string of successive call letters starting with KEAR. I would later be converted to Christianity via Camping’s radio ministry, for better or worse)

    I opened the broadcast day every day with Jimi Hendrix’s Star Spangled Banner. Great days.

    Oh, and yes, iMonk readers, back in the day the “long” rock songs were played when the DJ had to use the rest room. 🙂 One DJ discovered that he could put on a 27 minute version of “Dazed and Confused” live, and go swimming in the apartment pool when the owner was at work. But a backward skip developed in that song, and eventually foiled his ploy.

  17. Wow, Jeff, preaching on Jesus gets you uninvited? They ask you to preach on Satan instead, or the latest conspiracy theory? What a sad state those churches are in!
    But then, that got Jesus uninvited as well.

    Reminds me of one ministry that absolutely condemns yoga, saying it is satanic, then promotes their own moves which turn out to be yoga moves just renamed. They claim they are really dong poses according to the meaning of Hebrew letters. Duh? They talk about occultism then promote the Kaballah?

  18. Not to confuse backmasking with garbled lyrics, but when you wrote “Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” I immediately thought of the Simpson’s take on it titled “In the Garden of Eden”.

  19. I always thought that when you played “Stairway to Heaven” backwards you heard AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.”

  20. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    The urban legend story of how Backwards Masking started (around 10-15 years before the witch-hunt started) had to do with the Beatles’ psychedelic period. According to the story, John Lennon was mixing the latest Beatles album while high, got one of the tracks running backwards, and figured “This sounds weird — I like it.” He had about a minute and a half of dead air after the last track on the album, so he put in the first minute-and-a-half of the first track done backwards.

    • Played forward, their “song” Revolution #9 sounds backwards. I’m guessing they were doing some serious drugs while recording that one.

    • Try Jimi Hendrix’s 1st album… the track “Third Stone from the Sun” has some notable backmasking.

      iirc, that was earlier than the “Paul is dead” claims. (In “I Am the Walrus.”)

  21. I was part of a Baptist church as a child, and I remember the back masking thing. I remember hearing about it somewhere in the late 70’s.

  22. Look, I don’t think its very important or something that Christians should be focusing on, but fact is that “Stairway to Heaven” is an early neo-pagan anthem. The “Piper” who will “lead us to reason” is the pagan god Pan. At the time Jimmy Page was very interested in Aleister Crowley and in fact bought Crowley’s old home exactly because of its magical associations (Crowley claimed that the house and grounds were a magical gateway of kinds). There is an amazing interview of Page in Cream magazine by beat novelist William Burroughs from that period (sorry, I can’t be more exact about the reference, but I remember reading it) wherein Page indicates that Zeppelin was trying to induce magical states in its audience through music and hallucinatory effects. In fact, Zeppelin and especially Page courted the image on neo-pagan provocateurs. Too bad some Christians took the bait.

  23. Point being that whether they backmasked or not is beside the point because the paganism was right up in front. Rock’s blues pedigree has always included that juncture at the crossroads where the guitar player cuts a deal with Old Nick, thereby selling his soul in exchange for fame, fortune and musical immortality. And no band was more aware of that pedigree, or embraced it more both musically and spiritually, than Zeppelin. It was part of their swagger and, well, magic. Yes, it was all a game, but it was no less serious for that.