People have been playing records backward since the creation of Edison’s phonograph, and reversed sounds have been included on music tracks dating to the 1950s. None of this mattered until Satan got involved.
In the late 1970s preachers began noticing a tendency for popular song tracks to sound suspiciously like demonic phrases when they were played backwards. “Suspiciously”, because the sound of English speech is not identical both forward and backward with rare palindromic exceptions (most palindromes don’t even sound identical when recorded and played in reverse; the mechanics of syllable formation don’t allow for it.)
The lack of clarity was excused by Satan – or satanists, or other groups who were threatening “the culture” – wanting to hide their, um, deviltry.
The human mind is a complex thing, and it is often possible to recognize sound fragments and extrapolate a meaning from them. That has, in some tests, been shown to extend to deciphering the general concept behind reversed words and simple, common phrases.
The problem here – leaving completely aside for the moment the matter of nefarious agents trying to pass along secret brainwashing messages – lies in the efforts which would be required. The songs in question were designed to be played forward, which meant they needed comprehensible lyrics. More than that, they needed music, which typically included drums, multiple guitars, and often accompanying horns or keyboards.
Deciphering a word played backward is possible because the odd sounds trigger the brain into paying attention and attempting to reconstruct those noises into a known word. It is the equivalent of seeing someone with a very obvious and poor disguise, and trying to identify who is standing there in a wig and Groucho glasses.
Identifying a backward phrase which has been integrated seamlessly into a normal forward-played recording would be the equivalent of recognizing a casual acquaintance who has been disguised by a master of cosmetics and costuming. Deciphering it amidst the abundance of other sounds on a record would be like recognizing that same professionally disguised person across a crowded train station.
The concept was fundamentally ridiculous. It did allow for a heightened level of fame and wealth for ministries which wanted to target “devil music” for their disapproving parishioners. Simultaneously it allowed musicians and music companies to ride a free publicity wave.
But does that mean that backmasking hasn’t happened? Far from it. It does exist and became popularized by the Beatles, during their “Dead Paul” controversy. Many bands have since included messages, typically humor, intended to be heard backwards in their songs.
Now, to the most famous example of “proof” of Satanic backmasking: Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. Here’s a link to a Youtube video. And a basic instruction as to how amazing our brains are. Open the link in another window and DON’T WATCH IT. Unless you have been repeatedly instructed as to what to expect, you will likely hear garbled syllables, with a few rare potential words included.
Then, afterward, feel encouraged to play it again, while watching the lyrics. You will be able to hear the lyrics on the screen clearly.
This is a function of how our brains assimilate and associate information. It’s pretty amazing, if a little bit creepy if you didn’t do as suggested and not watch the video on the first run through.
But, let’s go back to the beginning. The theory was not that the brain could be convinced to find lyrics in music played backward. The theory was that the brain was picking out lyrics while the music played normally, and that somehow influenced listeners.
As was just demonstrated, without guidance people can’t typically make out more than a handful of potential words throughout the song… which, by the odds, would be about normal for any song played backwards. The notion demanded that people not merely be able to recognize the theoretical lyrics backward, but that they do so in the metaphorical train station, after a professional disguise job.
It’s just unreasonable. On the other hand, maybe Satanists are just unusually incompetent.