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Backmasking on records: Real, or hoax?

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bullet "You know what you get when you play Twisted Sister's 'Burn in Hell' backwards? 'Go to church and pray on Sunday.' " Jay Leno, Comedian

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"Subliminal advertising" is a marketing technique which tries to manipulate people's opinion, without them becoming aware that they are being influenced. It may consist of a movie clip, image, or sound byte that is superimposed on an image, sound track or video track. It is inserted in such a way that the audience cannot detect its presence. It might be a message "Drink Coke" or "Eat Popcorn" flashed on a movie screen so quickly that it cannot be consciously sensed. It may be the word "sex" or an erotic image in ice cubes of a gin advertisement that can only consciously be seen when it is searched for.

"Backmasking" is a type of subliminal advertising. It can exist in one of two forms:

  1. Intentional backward masking: A verbal message is recorded, is reversed in direction, and is superimposed on an existing musical passage. This can only be done intentionally -- by design. It first appeared in the late 1960s as a result of an accidental tape mixing error by John Lennon in the Beatles' song "Rain." He liked it and left it in. It is easy to recognize: when the music is played normally, one hears a passage that sounds like gibberish -- vaguely word-like, as if it is in a foreign language. Played backwards, clear, understandable phrase or sentence is heard. Examples include:
    bullet "The music is reversible but Time is not. Turn back, turn back, turn back."  Electric Light Orchestra, "Face the Music" at the start of the song "Fire on High."
    bullet "Congratulations. You have just discovered the secret message. Please send your answer to old pink, care of the funny farm." Pink Floyd, "Empty Spaces," at the end of "Good-bye Blue Sky."
    bullet "Messin' with things you don't understand," Iron Maiden, "Piece of Mind" at the start of "Still Life." 8
  2. Unintentional Backward Masking: All lyrics, when played backwards, sound like gibberish. They vaguely sound like words in a foreign language. However, with a bit of imagination, one can sometimes make out sounds that resemble English words. Occasionally, these will form a phrase or sentence. If you search enough lyrics, you are bound to come across them. The phenomenon is similar to the discovery of Bible codes. Messages do seem to appear in the Bible. However, they are also found in every other large book, like Moby Dick, War in Peace, etc.

People usually search for backmasking messages in rock music. Often, listeners honestly believe that they have found Satanic or Occultic messages.

bullet Some people believe that these subliminal message are not consciously heard by the listener. They further believe that repeat playings can influence their thinking and lead them to uncritically accept Satanic or Occultic beliefs. They view subliminal messages as a form of brainwashing.
bullet Some Christians believe that Satan himself inserts backmasking messages, and that the recording company and band are unaware of this.
bullet Some believe that some lyrics are carefully written so that they will give two messages: one when played forwards, and one when played backwards.
bullet Others say that if you play song lyrics or readings from a book -- even the Bible -- backwards, you will occasionally detect words, phrases and sentences.

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What do researchers say about backmasking?

Psychologists, psychiatrists, and advertising experts have reached a near consensus that backmasking would be useless for three reasons:

bullet Subliminal messages are generally ineffective or quite limited in their influence.
bullet A message recorded backwards is unintelligible when the record played forwards. It could not be understood even if it was played apart from the music.
bullet A backmasked message superimposed on a musical passage would be itself masked by the music so that it would not readily be heard.

Experts differ about whether unintentional backmasking has ever been done commercially. Many feel that these messages only exist in the mind of the listener; others think that backmasking has been tried as a joke by some performers in the music industry. 1

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History of subliminal advertising:

There have been four time periods in the U.S. when subliminal images or sounds were widely discussed in the media. Some have a spiritual or religious connection:

bullet At the beginning of the 20th century: The spiritual New Thought movement involved the concept that  the human mind contains a hidden power that could improve one's well being if a person could properly tap into it.
bullet In the late 1950s: Subliminal ads superimposed on a movie. This coincided with a public belief in brainwashing and mind control, as popularized in the movie The Manchurian Candidate. Almost all mental health professionals have rejected the possibility of brainwashing and mind control. However, some groups in the anti-cult movement still believe that they are effective.
bullet In the 1970s: Subliminal sexual images superimposed on a print advertising (e.g. the  word "sex" buried in the ice cubes of a Gilbey Gin ad). The rational is that the word would unconsciously arouse the reader and make the advertisement more memorable.
bullet Circa 1990: Subliminal self-help tapes. These may have become popular, in part, because of the New Age movement's interest in the potential of the human mind. Nine independent studies have failed to find these tapes effective.
bullet 1990: Judas Priest, a rock band, was on trial for allegedly placing a subliminal instruction "Do it" in one of their songs. 10 They were accused of triggering the suicide of Ray Belknap and the attempted suicide of James Vance. Judge Jerry Carr Whitehead ruled in favor of the band, saying: "The scientific research presented does not establish that subliminal stimuli, even if perceived, may precipitate conduct of this magnitude."

Repeatedly, the media report that subliminal effects have been tried, and proven successful. This is followed by less well reported accounts of subsequent unsuccessful attempts to replicate the results by independent researchers. Finally, material surfaces that debunks the original findings. Unfortunately most of the public appears to remember mainly the initial report. Thus, many conclude that subliminal advertising really works.

Perhaps the best known example was the "Eat Popcorn - Drink Coke" message that was flashed for one third of a millisecond every five seconds during the showing of the movie Picnic in Fort Lee, NJ in 1957. The duration of the message was so brief that nobody could sense its presence. Advertising expert James Vicary engineered the study. 45,699 patrons were involved. He reported that Coke sales increased 18% and popcorn scales went up by almost 58%. The study was well reported in the media. Reaction was swift: "The Federal Communications Commission immediately investigated the Vicary study and ruled that the use of subliminal messages [by radio and TV stations] could result in the loss of a broadcast license. The National Association of Broadcasters prohibited the use of subliminal advertising by its members. Australia and Britain banned subliminal advertising. A Nevada judge ruled that subliminal communications are not protected as free speech.3 "Concerns about the nature of subliminal persuasion have been the subject of a United Nations resolution in 1974 4 and a hearing before the [House] Subcommittee on Transportation, 5 1984." 6

Vicary refused to release his data. Multiple attempts to replicate his study failed. 3

Belief in Satanically inspired backmasked messages continues today, mainly within the conservative Christian community.

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Does Satanic backmasking really exist?

You can reach your own conclusion. Among the most famous example is a passage from "Stairway to Heaven." If you have a player that can handle the .wav format, listen to the passage forwards and backwards. Some claim that, played backwards, they can make out the sentence: "I will sing because I live with Satan".

Various versions of .wav players (ranging from free to nominal cost) can be downloaded from RealPlayer

The Christian Rock Music Defended web site has an additional example available. 2

In 1985, two psychologists, J. Vokey & J.D. Read, conducted an experiment using a biblical passage (Psalm 23), Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust," and passages specially created for the study. Also used was a passage from Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll; it sounds like gibberish both forwards and backwards. When their subjects heard the sentences played backwards, they were correctly able to differentiate between male and female speakers 99% of the time. They could identify with 79% accuracy whether a pair of passages were read by the same person. The two researchers played the passages backwards many times, carefully listening for sounds that might be interpreted as phrases. They found that most people can only hear a phrase when a passage is played backwards, if they are first prompted with the wording:

bullet When the subjects heard the passage backwards, few could hear anything that made sense.
bullet When the subjects were primed to hear a phrase that the researchers had found, about 90% could hear the phrase.

They concluded that if backmasking exists, it is quite ineffective. Listeners [were] completely unable to

bullet get any meaning of the message when the tape was played forward,
bullet determine whether the message was a question or a statement,
bullet subconsciously get any meaning from the message,
bullet judge the "type" of message (Christian, Satanic, etc.), or
bullet be unwittingly led to behave in a certain way. 7

More information on the Vokey & Read experiments, and some of the recordings used during the study are available online. 7

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Involvement by conservative Christians and Muslims:

bullet During the late 1970s and early 1980s: "...some Christians claimed to find backward-masked messages even on albums by Christian artists. They claimed that when listened to, backward masked messages bypass the normal thought processes, but are decoded and accepted as 'true' by the brain. Rich Buhler, then host of a popular Christian talkshow on KBRT, Los Angeles, was among those who exposed this claim as an urban [folk] tale." 8
bullet 1982: Thirty teenagers in Huntersville, NC, had a record-burning at their church. It was led by a former rock musician who had left the music field to become a pastor. They believed that Satan was "possessing the singers and manipulating their voices so that subliminally implanted backward messages could be placed on the record to destroy the youth of America." 9

Backmasking mentioned on religious web sites:

bullet At Gourley writes: "Satanism is known to practice the backwards expression of messages and so it CAN NOT be considered coincidental that the use of subliminals and backmasking find themselves at home with the Rock music and disco scene." 11
bullet At Their web site contains an anti-semitic essay which has a section describing rock and roll: "But one of the most dangerous and insidious aspect of jungle noise is the use of a technique called Backtracking. Hidden messages are introduced into the recordings in reverse. These are just noise to the conscious brain but they are descrambled by the subconscious and can alter and shape behavior and promote destructive habits; often unknown to the listener." 16
bullet At They write: "If we are weak in our convictions, our moral values can be changed subliminally by suggestion in rock music, TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, posters, billboards, etc. One form of subliminal message is the sub-audio suggestions on rock records saying: Communism is the perfect form of government; hate your parents; you are no good; commit suicide; kill others: take drugs; they taste good; your parents hate you; police are pigs; and the whole world is crooked." 13
bullet End Times Links: Bro. Joe writes: "For the past thirty years science has known that subconscious (subliminal) messages are recorded and understood by the human brain. Even if these communications are garbled or spoken backwards (backmasking), with repetitive listening, they still pass on information that is remembered. The Devil, being acutely aware of this fact, is using Rock music to transmit messages which keep people in bondage to him. Some Rock groups have become open mediums for the Devil and therefore subconsciously receive satanic inspiration for their lyrics and music. Others have intentionally placed messages in their music which reveal the ultimate meaning of their songs." 15
bullet At: Knowledge of Islam: This is an Islamic web site which contains an anti-Masonic essay. It asserts that the Masons control the U.S. music industry and insert subliminal Satanic messages into sound tracks. "...the listener may be unaware that [their] subconscious mind can pick up and understand the the long term these can be stored in the subconscious mind and may actually effect the person's behavior or judgment. In many ways back tracking is a form of hypnotism or brain washing and has the power to be very destructive." 12
bullet At Ross Olson's Web Site: Dr. Olson is a conservative Christian whose web site deals with social issues. He comments: "There is the real possibility that the subliminal suggestion may include appeals to demonic powers if the results truly include such supernatural phenomena. If a person can be influenced without his conscious knowledge, then children may also be influenced by environmental factors without making conscious decisions. Today some Rock music has taken a real turn toward the occult and Satanic. Perhaps these groups started the trend as a publicity stunt, but many have gotten deeply into occult symbols and probably practice." 17
bullet At: Listed on the web site is a pair of video tapes by Stephen Dollins called: "The occult in your living room." The author "exposes the subliminal messages targeted towards youth through today's Rock music..." 14
bullet At: lists a book "Ravaged by the New Age: Satan's plan to destroy our kids," by Texe Marrs. The reviewer comments: "He thoroughly documents the dangerous, secret messages in kids' TV shows, cartoons, movies, comic books, fantasy games, toys and even coloring books. You'll also discover the demonic designs behind Rock and Roll and the hidden, subliminal messages in Satan's New Age "mood" music." Read some rather amusing reviews or order this book safely from online book store This book received the lowest rating that we have ever seen on 1 out of 5.

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"Holy" messages in backmasked lyrics:

James Barrett reports that he found backmasking in a recording of his song "Wake-up; Wake-up; It's Christmas."

He feels that he was able to decipher English words and to detect other words that may be in Hebrew, Arabic or Latin. He has posted the forwards and backwards versions of his song on his web site.

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References used in the above essay:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Charles Rollins, Jr., "Backmasking myths" at: His essay includes the following references:
    bullet F Borgeat MD et al, "Psychophysiological response to Masked Auditory Stimuli", Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, Vol 30, 1985-FEB.
    bullet J. Vokey, & J.D. Read, "Subliminal messages between the devil and the media," American Psychologist, Vol 40, No 11, Pages 1231-1239 (1985-NOV).
    bullet T E. Moore, "Subliminal advertising: what you see is what you get," Journal of Marketing, Vol 46 (1982-Spring), Pages 38-47.
    bullet A. Greenwald, "Unconscious Cognition Reclaimed," American Psychologist Vol. 47 No 6, Pages 766-779
  2. "Backmasking, mind/body control & subliminal messages," Christian Rock Music Defended web site at:
  3. A.R. Pratkanis, "The cargo-cult science of subliminal persuasion, " Skeptical Inquirer, 1992-Spring, at: 
  4. United Nations Economic and Social Council, Commission on Human Rights, E/CN.4/1142/add.2, 1974-OCT-7
  5. Subcommittee on Transportation, Aviation and Materials of the Committee on Science and Technology, U.S. House of Representatives, 98th Congress, 1984-AUG-6.
  6. Gary P. Radford, "Subliminal persuasion and the mass media." at:
  7. "The Vokey & Read experiments," at:
  8. David Oates & Greg Albrecht, "Backward Satanic messages in rock 'n roll," at:
  9. "Backward masking," Apologetics Index, at:
  10. T.E. Moore, "Scientific consensus and expert testimony: Lessons from the Judas Priest trial," Skeptical Inquirer, 1996-NOV-DEC, at:
  11. Alan Gourley, "Singing death - Chapter 3," at:
  12. "How the world has been intelligently controlled?," at:
  13. "End-time deliverance center -," at:
  14. "Video tapes," at:
  15. Bro. Joe, "Secular demonic rock and roll: Hidden messages in rock 'n' roll," at:
  16. "How the Jews have repaid America...Introduction" at:
  17. R.S. Olson, "Satan and demons: A biblical perspective," at:
  18. James G Barrett, "Reverse Recording Deciphering," at:

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Additional references:

bullet Internet:
bullet "The truth behind today's popular music," at:
bullet "Backmasked messages," at:
bullet "Sampling & backmasking," at:
bullet Magazines:
bullet N. Epley et al, "What every skeptic should know about subliminal persuasion," Skeptical Inquirer, Vol 23, No. 5, Pages 40 - 45, & 58.
bullet Tom Byrne & Matthew Normand, "The demon-haunted sentence: A skeptical analysis of reverse speech," Skeptical Inquirer, 2000-MAR, at:
bullet Books (all by conservative Christian publishers):
bullet Jacob Aranza, "Backward Masking Unmasked," Huntington House, Inc., (1983) Out of print, but may be available used
bullet Jacob Aranza, "More Rock, Country and Backward Masking Unmasked," Huntington House, Inc., (1985). Out of print, but may be available used
bullet Jeff Godwin, "The Devil's Disciples: The truth about rock music," Chick Publications, (1985). Out of print, but may be available used
bullet Texe Marrs, "Ravaged by the New Age: Satan's plan to destroy our kids," Living Truth Publishers, (1989). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
bullet Dan & Steve Peters, "Rock's hidden persuader: The truth about backmasking," Bethany House Publishers. Out of print, but may be available used

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Copyright 2001 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Creation date: 2001-JUL-14
Last update: 2005-MAY-19
Author: B.A. Robinson

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