Reversing the recording of words or music to include a secret message on recordings that can only be understood by playing the tape or CD backward is known as backward masking (BM). In the 1980s, BM became a cause of intense debate, with TELEVANGELISTS, politicians, and private organizations such as the Parents Music Resource Center alleging that concealed plugs for sex, drugs, and SATANISM were being used to “brainwash” youngsters into listening to the music. Objections varied from categorical denials to absurd assertions of a global conspiracy involving thousands of music business executives, singers, and technicians. The reality, as is always the case, lay somewhere in the middle.
It is a proven fact that BM exists and has done so for many years. As a morbid PR gimmick, the Beatles placed backward lyrics on their Abbey Road record in 1969, alluding to Paul McCartney’s death in a cryptic message. Popular musicians David Bowie and Meat Loaf have admitted to using BM on their recordings, although they have denied that they were doing so with malicious intent. A reporter once reported that Rob Halford (lead singer of the heavy-metal band Judas Priest) had said that BM had been going on for “30 or 40 years” in 1990.
The question then becomes, to what extent will this have an impact? BM critics, who are typically extreme Christians or politicians seeking their support, believe that every record contains demons. During a visit to a local high school in April 1986, Ohio minister Jim Brown managed to persuade the students (and their presumably mature parents) that the reversal of the phrase “A horse is a horse” results in the phrase “Someone sang this song for Satan,” leading to the destruction of their records. In 1983, the Arkansas state senate established a ban on BM, but a similar federal bill was defeated in Congress the following year. In 1990, the musicians Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne were sued by parents who claimed that the musicians’ music had inspired their sons to commit or try suicide. The defendants were victorious in both trials, which were decided in the defendants’ favour.