Come with Me Back to the Days When Satan Lurked in the Grooves of Rock Records

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

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

2 thoughts on “Come with Me Back to the Days When Satan Lurked in the Grooves of Rock Records

  • October 22, 2016 at 2:21 pm

    Satanic panic arrived, albeit translated, to South America in the second half of the 80s. My Iron Maiden records were casualties of this nonsense. Rock and roll lead to sin. Listening to the stuff equaled worshiping the Enemy!

    I seriously disliked Al Gore for years, not because of anything he did, but because his wife embodied (in my head) the PMRC and everything wrong with that kind of people a few years later. Hell, i think my lack of religiosity was born as a result of things like this.


  • October 22, 2016 at 5:33 pm

    The Pentecostal church I attended as a child in the ’80’s also preached about satanic back masking. Nothing was safe! Except country music, apparently.


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