Backmasking: Hidden Messages And Personal Satisfaction


Backmasking is a recording technique in which a sound or message is recorded backward onto a track that is meant to be played forward.

Backmasking has been used as a recording technique since the 1960s. The Beatles, who incorporated the techniques of concrète into their recordings, were responsible for popularizing the concept of backmasking. John Lennon claimed he discovered the backward recording technique during the recording of the 1966's single, "Rain". 

In 1980, Lennon stated:
“I got home from the studio and I was stoned out of my mind on marijuana and, as I usually do, I listened to what I'd recorded that day. Somehow I got it on backwards and I sat there, transfixed, with the earphones on, with a big hash joint. I ran in the next day and said, 'I know what to do with it, I know... Listen to this!' So I made them all play it backwards. The fade is me actually singing backwards with the guitars going backwards. [Singing backwards] Sharethsmnowthsmeaness... [Laughter] That one was the gift of God, of Jah, actually, the god of marijuana, right? So Jah gave me that one.”

In the 1973 film The Exorcist, a tape of noises from the possessed victim was discovered to contain a message when the tape was played backwards. This scene might have inspired subsequent copycat musical effects.

Backmasking is often used for aesthetics, to enhance the meaning or sound of a track. One backmasking technique is to reverse an earlier part of a song. Missy Elliott used this technique in one of her songs, "Work It", as did Jay Chou ("You Can Hear", from Ye Hui Mei).

Artists often use backmasking of sounds or instrumental audio to produce interesting sound effects. One such sound effect is the reverse echo. When done on tape, such use of backmasking is known as reverse tape effects. One example is Matthew Sweet's 1999 album In Reverse, which includes reversed guitar parts which were played directly onto a tape running in reverse. For live concerts, the guitar parts were played live on stage using a backward emulator.

A common use of backmasking is hiding a comedic or parodical message backwards in a song. Electric Light Orchestra (ELO), following their involvement in the 1980s backmasking controversy, released songs that parody the allegations made against them. 

ELO, after being accused of Satanic backmasking on their 1974 album Eldorado, included backmasked messages in two songs on their 1975 album, Face The Music: "Down Home Town" and "Fire On High". In 1983 ELO released an entire album, Secret Messages, in response to the controversy.

Backmasking was also parodied in a 2001 episode of The Simpsons entitled "New Kids on the Blecch."

Backmasking has also been used to record statements perhaps too critical or explicit to be used forwards. An example is found in Roger Waters' 1991 album Amused to Death. The message appears in the song "Perfect Sense Part 1".

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Backmasked words are unintelligible noise when played forward, but when played backwards are clear speech. Listening to backmasked audio with most turntables requires disengaging the drive and rotating the album by hand in reverse (though some can play records backwards).

With magnetic tape, the tape must be reversed and spliced back in to the cassette. Compact discs were difficult to reverse when first introduced, but digital audio editors, which were first introduced in the late 1980s and became popular during the next decade,vallow easy reversal of audio from digital sources.

Nowadays, the thing we need to be able to play a song in reverse and save it in its new form on our Windows computer is to download and install a program called Audacity. Audacity is a program that is designed to help us work with one or multiple audio files and perform sound editing.

On Android phone, there is an app called Reverse Music Player, and we can download it from Google Play Store. It features play reverse music or sound.

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The following are some songs that contain hidden messages if played backwards.

Electric Light Orchestra - Fire on High

"Fire on High" is the single from the 1975 Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) album Face the Music. The album version contains an opening with a backwards message. When the song is played in reverse, the message, in a masked heavy voice (performed by ELO drummer, Bev Bevan), can be heard stating:
"The music is reversible but time is not. Turn back. Turn back. Turn back. Turn back."

Listen "Fire on High" album version here
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Pink Floyd - Empty Spaces

"Empty Spaces" is a song by Pink Floyd, featured on their 1979 rock opera The Wall. Directly before the lyrical section, there is a hidden message. It is isolated on the left channel of the song. When heard normally, it appears to be nonsense. If played backwards, the following can be heard:
Hello, Luka [hunters]... Congratulations. You have just discovered the secret message. Please send your answer to Old Pink, care of the Funny Farm, Chalfont...
–Roger! Carolyne's on the phone!
–Okay.

Roger Waters congratulates either someone named Luka, or 'hunters' (people who deliberately look for backward messages hidden in songs for finding this message, and jokes that they can send their answer to "Old Pink"). Being either a comical reference to Syd Barrett, or a foreshadowing of Pink's eventual insanity, who lives somewhere in a funny farm (a term to describe a psychiatric hospital) in Chalfont. Before he can reveal the exact location, however, he gets interrupted by someone in the background who says Carolyne is on the phone.

Listen "Empty Spaces" album version here
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The Beatles - Rain

"Rain" is a song by the Beatles, released in June 1966 as the B-side of the "Paperback Writer" single. Written by John Lennon, "Rain" noted for its slowed-down rhythm track and backwards vocals, both of which were a hint of things to come on Revolver, released two months later.

The last verse of "Rain" includes backwards vocals, the first use of this technique on a record. The backwards vocals are Lennon singing the lyrics of the song: 
"When the sun shines," "Rain," and "If the rain comes, they run and hide their heads."

Listen "Rain" here
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Motörhead - Nightmare / The Dreamtime

"Nightmare / The Dreamtime" is a song featured on Motörhead album, 1916, which realeased on 26 February 1991. If played backwards, the message, can be heard:
"Now tell me, about your miserable little lives. I do not subscribe to your superstitious, narrow minded flights* of paranoia. I and people like me, will always prevail! You will never stifle* our free speech in any country in the world, 'coz we will fight forever*." "In a single stroke, you poor, stupid, running dogs. Why is it..." [Words followed by a * are difficult to make out, and may be incorrect]. 

It is reputedly a message to the Parents Music Resource Center.

Listen "Nightmare / The Dreamtime" album version here
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Steve Vai - Whookam

"Whookam" is a song featured on Steve Vai album, Fire Garden, which realeased on 17 September 1996. If "Whookam" played backwards, the message, can be heard:
"Oo, well, Jesus Christ, living on a little black hole in our souls and
on our feelings, God, but then you know in our hearts.
Love. spoken: Holy Mary, Mother of God, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. Oh, ak-oo, oh, ak Oh, ak-ooh, oh, ak. Ah......."

Listen "Whookam" album version here
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Prince - Darling Nikki

"Darling Nikki" is a song produced, arranged, composed and performed by Prince, released on his 1984 album, Purple Rain. Though the song was not released as a single, it gained wide notoriety for its sexual lyrics and in particular a reference to masturbation.

Near the end of the song, the music stops into the sound of rain and wind. There is singing, but played in reverse. The vocals, unreversed, are Prince singing,
"Hello, how are you? Fine fine 'cause I know that the Lord is coming soon Coming, coming soon."

Listen "Darling Nikki" album version here