When I was really, really young, I stumbled on a book called Subliminal Seduction. Its author, Wilson Brian Key, believed that advertising was filled with hidden images and messages, all designed to sucker us into buying specific products and to believe in certain ways.
After reading the book, I started seeing penises in every single ad I looked at, something that caused my parents great concern. It was my first exposure to this vast media conspiracy.
“Wake UP, sheeple!” I’d proselytize, “Your minds are being co-opted by evil beings on Madison Avenue! You’re being manipulated into buying things you do not need and do not want! The evidence is right in front of your eyes–if you just know what to look for!” I really was a pain in the ass.
But I wasn’t the only one swept away by these theories. The idea of subliminal messaging started coming up everywhere, including with music.
Around the same time the book came out (1974), people starting hearing subliminal messages embedded in recordings. Thus began the craze of analyzing rock records for exhortations from Satan.
People had already begun spinning their records backward looking for clues. One of the most famous was the “Turn me on dead man” clue to Paul McCartney’s “death” found by reversing the “Number 9” loop on the Beatles “Revolution #9” on the white album.
If the Beatles were doing it. who else? Led Zeppelin, apparently. Black Sabbath. Pink Floyd. And the more people looked, the more messages they found (confirmation bias, anyone?). Soon it appeared as if everyone was planting Manchurian Candidate triggers on rock records.
By the early 80s, this belief (a mania, really) that “backmasking” (that’s what they called these backward messages) was out of control. Atlas Obscura picks up the story of Satan in our grooves.
On April 27, 1982, members of the California Assembly’s Consumer Protection and Toxics Committee gathered in Sacramento to hear Robert Plant endorse Satan. This was not a straightforward testimonial. For one thing, the Led Zeppelin frontman wasn’t actually in attendance. Also, his pro-devil paeans could only be heard when you played “Stairway to Heaven” backwards.
After circulating pamphlets with the “backward masked” declarations spelled out, that’s precisely what Assemblyman Phillip Wyman and panel witness William H. Yarroll II did. The relevant portion of the eight-minute classic was first played forward for committee members and then reversed. Here’s what Wyman claimedcould be heard: “I sing because I live with Satan. The Lord turns me off. There’s no escaping it. Here’s to my sweet Satan.” Yarroll, who identified himself as a “neuroscientist,” noted that a teenager need only listen to “Stairway to Heaven” three times before these backward messages were “stored as truth.”
You need to keep reading. It’s hysterical