reversals & such 5 (non-historical ‘fringe’ linguistics 24)

Hi again, everybody!

I now turn, in concluding this section, to Backward Masking and related phenomena.

Backward masking, ‘backmasking’ or ‘backtracking’ is a phenomenon in which hidden messages are inserted into or created in music lyrics. These can be heard consciously only when the track is played in reverse, but like RS they can allegedly be heard unconsciously or subconsciously when one listens to the track in normal forward mode, and can thus affect the listener’s thinking (after the manner of ‘subliminal’ messages). Backward messages of this kind may be inserted deliberately by the lyricist, or may (supposedly) occur without any intent of the writer, indicating deep unconscious ideas on her part. (The deliberate introduction of accurate reversals is difficult in the absence of linguistic expertise but may be feasible to a degree.)

Reversals have been reported in the lyrics of AC-DC, the Beatles, Black Sabbath/Ozzy Osbourne, the Eagles, Electric Light Orchestra, Michael Jackson, KISS, Led Zeppelin, Madonna, Motley Crue, Pink Floyd, Prince, Queen, Styx, Frank Zappa, the Los Angeles metal bands the Plasmatics and W.A.S.P, and many other groups and individual performers. In many cases the force of the hidden messages is sinister, involving references to death, suicide, Satan, etc. Some cases of this kind have led to alarm on the part of Christian organizations, and indeed to legal proceedings, notably in connection with a suicide allegedly stimulated by backward masking in the lyrics of a song by the band Judas Priest.

Interestingly, listeners (including skeptics) generally find that they cannot hear the reversals in such cases until they are prompted with the alleged wording, but that after this has happened they cannot avoid hearing them.

Chris French and I are currently planning work on one such case involving the Led Zeppelin song ‘Stairway To Heaven’, which allegedly contains a reversal (very much audible after prompting) interpreted as conveying Satanic messages.

Another phenomenon which arises in music lyrics and in other contexts involving repetition – notably ‘mantras’ as chanted by followers of some religions, etc. – is the distortion of words which are repeatedly heard.

As ever, detailed references on request. New topic area next time!


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