When internet news sources began announcing that Satan would be releasing an album in September of this year, I was immediately interested. I thought, ‘great, now we’ll get to see what he’s really all about musically.’ After decades of collaborating with other artists, it was finally time for the Horned One to step out on his own and pursue his own unique artistic vision. But alas, the headlines actually referenced the NWOBHM band called Satan, and NOT The Father Of All Lies. So, no Beelzebub solo album after all. Damn it!
It’s a shame. Such was the impact of his work, that, in his own way, The Devil himself became one of the biggest rock starts of the 1970s. But Ol’ Scratch retired from the music biz in the early 80s, and opted to watch from the sidelines as his message devolved into shtick, leaving behind a void that was quickly filled by a seemingly endless parade of Venoms and Motleys and Slayers, all peddling phony evil and bogus damnation… What prompted his sudden departure from the world of Rock n’ Roll? My guess is that Satan retired from the music biz after the embarrassing failure of one of this most ambitious and creative projects: Writing backwards Rock and Roll lyrics with some of the biggest artists of the 70s.
The Devil’s plan was simple. He would find popular songwriters and record producers willing to collaborate with the Prince of Darkness. For the most part, Satan chose established artists and bands with ready access to large audiences and a track record of success on the radio. It was probably easy enough to find writing partners among the biggest stars of the era; the standard ‘deal with the devil’ was fairly commonplace, and if the promise of unlimited fame and fortune didn’t work, there was always the ‘strippers and blow’ approach. Satan would then insert Satanic ideas and messages into the artist’s songs, brainwash the masses into worshiping him forever, overthrow God, bring forth the Apocalypse, etc etc.
The true genius of Lucifer’s plan was his use of ‘phonetic reversal’, a key component in the theory of ‘reverse speech’. Satan subscribed to the idea that the subconscious mind will attempt to interpret messages in several different contexts, including by reversing information, and that the mind will be subliminally influenced by said messages because they are not perceived consciously and are therefore not subject to analysis and critical thinking processes available to the conscious mind. This idea finds little validation in hard science, and remains at best a grey area in the field of cognitive theory. However, this didn’t stop Satan from moving forward with the project in earnest. Science! BAH!
Crafting a lyric where Don Henley sings about rehab and also references Satanism when reversed by the brain is an enormous artistic achievement, if not Grammy-worthy. However, the Devil’s poetic voice lost much of its persuasive force in translation. Think about it: These lyrics needed to be meticulously constructed syllable-by-syllable; words and phrases carefully chosen and intricately placed so as to flow understandably forward and backward; each stanza containing not one but two ideas, each flowing simultaneously in opposite directions. This method carried with it some considerable vocabulary and grammatical limitations, and often left Satan’s message severely compromised.
Looking back at his best work decades later, it’s easy to see why Satan’s plot failed: The Devil had outsmarted himself. His message was hopelessly muddled by his process. What’s difficult to understand, however, is how these nonsensical statements actually caused such a stir; yes, they referenced the Devil; yes, they were placed in our kids’ favorite songs covertly, but… They sure don’t seem to add up to much. What follows are the top ten most-referenced instances of hidden Satanic messages found in Rock music during the 70s ‘Satanic Panic’ era. Everything gathered here is 100% pure Devilspeak; none of the intentional studio chicanery purposely created as a response to Satan’s poetic plot is included below. Now: Prepare to be underwhelmed by these Palindromes For the Damned:
AC/DC / ‘Highway to Hell’: I’m the law, my name is Lucifer, she belongs in hell.
It’s unclear exactly why AC/DC opted to work with Satan and his evil secret messages; a band with songs called ‘Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be,’ and ‘Hell’s Bells’ etc obviously doesn’t feel the need to hide their devilry. Indeed, AC/DC’s Angus Young commented on the hoo-hah surrounding ‘Highway’s hidden messages: “You didn’t need to play [the album] backwards, because we never hid [the messages]. We’d call an album ‘Highway To Hell’, there it was right in front of them.”
It’s also curious that Black Sabbath’s ‘N.I.B.’ contains the lyric ‘my name is Lucifer’ which plays out forward, while AC/DC’s ‘my name is Lucifer’ was inserted backwards. Neither song fills me with the urge to sacrifice goats or burn churches, so it’s unclear which method is more effective.
The Eagles / ‘Hotel California’: Yes, Satan organized his own religion.
This song was went to #1 in 1977 in the US, and became an international smash; the album from which it was pulled has sold 42 million copies. The song’s appearance on The Eagles Greatest Hits album ensured that record would be certified as the best selling album of the 20th century. All of this success, obviously orchestrated by the Devil himself as his part of the Eagles/Satan merger, guaranteed millions upon millions of ears would hear his message… And this is the best lyric he could muster?
Cheap Trick / ‘Gonna Raise Hell’: You know Satan holds the keys to the lock.
Rick Nielsen’s lyric concerns the Jonestown Massacre, and Satan uses the dark subject matter to craft this cryptic missive. Note the use of third person, which creates distance between the messenger and the message, while also revealing Satan to be a narcissistic, self-obsessed asshole.
Black Oak Arkansas / ‘When Electricity Came To Arkansas’: Satan Satan Satan, He is God, He is God, He is God.
Okay, okay, okay!
Queen / ‘Another One Bites the Dust’: It’s fun to smoke marijuana.
Beyond the Captain Obvious message, this one is notable for being inserted into a song about a hit man. A guy who kills people for money. A murderer. Did Satan even read the forward lyrics to any of these songs while working on them backwards?
Electric Light Orchestra / ‘Eldorado’: He is the nasty one. Christ, you’re infernal. It is said we’re dead men. Everyone who has the mark will live.
Styx / ‘Snowblind’: Satan move through our voice.
After being accused of inserting these Satanic messages into the title track of their 1974 album ‘Eldorado’, ELO included several intentionally backmasked messages on their next album, 1975’s ‘Face The Music’. Backwards messages were ‘found’ in ‘Snowblind’ as well, and Styx responded to the accusations of Satanic influence by placing backwards recordings on the follow-up ‘Killroy Was Here’.
Very funny, guys… Now can we get back to brainwashing millions of kids into doing the Devil’s bidding? Thanks.
Judas Priest / Better By You, Better Than Me’: Do it
Judas Priest / ‘Beyond the Realms of Death’: I took my life
One wonders if anyone ever checked the original Spooky Tooth version for backwards/forwards lyrics? Pro Tip: If you ever find yourself under the spell cast by the backwards instruction embedded in this song, and feel a desperate need to ‘do it’, I would suggest giving the Pink Fairies 1971 B-side ‘Do It’ a few spins, to… you know… Undo it.
And how ironic that, considering the tragic events forever connected to Priest’s version of ‘Better By You…’, that the ‘I took my life’ bit, from a song on the same album, wasn’t a major focus of that infamous 1990 court case.
Led Zeppelin / ‘Stairway to Heaven’: Oh here’s to my sweet Satan. He will give those with him 666. There was a little tool shed where he made us suffer, sad Satan. He will give you 666. Happy is the man who makes me sad whose power is Satan.
Jimmy Page’s flirtations with Black Magic, his association with Alistair Crowley and the ensuing fallout that his band and their associates suffered are well known. Thanks to Satan, the record would go on to sell 37 million copies, and currently sits in the #11 spot for biggest selling albums of all time. The album’s centerpiece, ‘Stairway to Heaven’, is widely considered the band’s greatest work, and Satan contributed some outstanding material to this grand collaboration. What it all means? How the fuck do I know. But the bit about the little tool shed is pure evil.
So: After studying his work for many… minutes, I can safely state that, while working in reverse, The Devil is no Bob Dylan. As a lyricist, he’s actually much closer to Ronnie James Dio. Let that sink in for a minute…
Lucifer’s backward poetry was often confused with backmasking, a process by which a sound or message is purposely recorded backward onto a track that is meant to be played forward, for aesthetic/artistic reasons or, later, for ironic effect. Again, BAH! His Satanic Majesty was always more poet than technician. And let’s remember that A&M’s Bob Garcia famously said ‘It must be the devil putting messages on the records because no one here knows how to do it’. Most folks regarded the phenomenon as hooey, deciding that what was being heard occurred completely by accident, but when artists began intentionally inserting humorous or ironic backwards phrases into their recordings as a response to accusations of Satanic influence, these actions confused the issue and lent a level credence to the allegations.
Regardless of the true origins of the messages, legislators and religious leaders declared that any words or lyrics that made sense when played backwards were a) placed there intentionally, and b) of Satanic origin and intent. As Satanic phraseology, both real and imagined, was gradually ‘discovered’ and exposed, it caused an uproar that included protests outside of record stores and concert venues, as well as organized record burnings. Books were written, so-called ‘experts’ lined up to appear on radio and TV talk shows, and ‘Satanic Influence in Rock Music’ was viewed as a legitimate area of public discussion and debate. Perhaps the most bizarre result of this Satanic panic was the introduction of legislation in Arkansas and California.
The California bill, H.R.6363 Phonograph Record Backward Masking Labeling Act of 1982/1983, was introduced on the Senate floor as a law that would prevent backmasking that ‘can manipulate our behavior without our knowledge or consent and turn us into disciples of the Antichrist’. Yep, that sentence is part of the Congressional record. A California State Assembly hearing was held, and ‘Stairway to Heaven’ was played backwards. None of the legislators present sprouted horns. The bill made the distribution of records with undeclared backmasking an invasion of privacy for which labels, distributors, and retailers could be sued; however, the only result of this law was that five DJs were fired for encouraging listeners to find backward messages in their record collections.
The Arkansas law passed unanimously in 1983, and referenced Satan’s work on records by Electric Light Orchestra, Queen and Styx, among others. The legislation mandated that records with backmasking include a warning sticker that read: ‘Warning: This record contains backward masking which may be perceptible at a subliminal level when the record is played forward.’ However, the bill was rejected by then-Governor Bill Clinton and ultimately defeated. Government action was also called for in the legislatures of Texas and in Canada.
Of course, all of this Lucifer-centric legislation was specific to ‘backmasking’, or material recorded backwards on purpose, and did not cover reverse phonetics, which could happen ‘accidentally’ or exist only in the mind of the listener. The Devil’s bad poetry emerged from the American legislative process unhindered. Fools! You cannot legislate against The King Ov Hell! However, as lawmakers no doubt believed they were saving the souls of a generation of young people from damnation, it was Satan’s bad grammar and sloppy syntax, along with the bogus theories of reverse phonetics, that saved countless innocent children from the never-ending torment of eternal Hellfire.