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On any number of occasions we've expressed concern about modern music, and particularly the rock music that exploded in the late Fifties and throughout the Sixties.

The fruits have not always seemed so good (despite our own youthful affections for it).

As if cursed, rock stars have often died in their twenties. Usually, drugs are involved. The messages of their songs helped fuel the sexual, drug, New Age, and feminist revolutions. Even "nice" love songs often carried connotations.

This is relevant because music has a preternatural ability to bore into the soul; people are greatly impacted by it.

Music imprints itself on us. It taps deeply (sometimes with a voodoo-like beat) into instincts and emotions.

As we have reported, some musicians have directly dabbled with the occult. Rock stars have even been known to visit a rural crossroads in Mississippi where legend has it a blues rhythm guitarist who some consider to be a founding father of rock was conferred sudden talent by the devil (with whom he made a pact). Whatever the truth of that, the dark side certainly had a role to play in the music of our time (musicians have been prone to idolize a famous British satanist named Aleister Crowley).

In all this mix, there also have been the claims of "back-masking" -- that is, the alleged insertion of hidden messages in songs, messages that are decipherable only when a recording is played backwards.

When heard in reverse, it was alleged that the band Led Zeppelin's huge hit song, "Stairway to Heaven," contains the words, "Oh here’s to my sweet Satan. The one whose little path would make me sad, whose power is Satan. He will give those with him 666. There was a little tool shed where he made us suffer, sad Satan.”

Is there really any truth to this -- or do we hear what we want to: does the mind simply construe barely audible sounds in a subjective manner (as is claimed with many "miraculous" images)? The idea comes from what they call psychoacoustics, which refers to the temporal masking of quieter sounds before or after louder ones.

In the Beatles song "Number Nine," the repeated phrase “number nine” became “turn me on dead man” when played backwards, in the opinion of some who listened to it. Played forward, another song had the vague and barely audible words, "I buried Paul." In the early 1980’s, the band Queen was accused of hiding a reverse message in their hit, “Another One Bites the Dust.” Christian evangelists claimed that when played in reverse the lyrics “another one bites the dust” become “it’s fun to smoke marijuana."

"The backmasking-Satanism connection can be traced to a 1913 book by mystic Aleister Crowley, who recommended that those interested in black magic would do well to 'learn how to think and speak backwards,'" asserts one accuser. "Sixty years later, Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page moved into Crowley’s old mansion [actually a cottage]." An image of Crowley is on the cover of "Sergeant Pepper."

The question always has been: when are musicians simply trying to be  avant-garde, and when is there actual evil? And the question with back-masking is: how could a human cause lyrics that say one thing when played forward say something completely different -- using the very same sounds -- when played in reverse? And why bother? Who listens to songs in reverse? Does the subconscious really turn backward messages forward and absorb them? Could musicians really be so technologically clever (it's one thing to use reverse recording sounds, as the Beatles did in some songs; they were only understandable when played one way, but not the other; it's quite another thing to have the same sounds form two different sets of words). Is it a demonic phenomenon or a case of simple coincidences?

"An alleged practice of certain evil people, especially rock musicians, of saying or singing words which, when listened to backward contain evil messages such as 'My sweet Satan' or 'Kill yourself,'" notes a blog skeptical of the alleged phenomenon. "Or they might contain messages such as 'it's fun to smoke marijuana' or 'sleep with me, I'm not too young.' Of course, you probably won't hear these messages until somebody first points them out to you. Perception is influenced by expectation and expectation is affected by what others prime you for. Since most people do not listen to their music backward, the belief in such messages seems to be predicated upon one or two false notions. Either the brain can be influenced subliminally by garbled words whose meaning is directly grasped by the subconscious or the conscious mind translates clear speech into reverse speech where the 'true' meaning is understood by the subconscious mind. In either case, the subconscious mind allegedly then directs the conscious mind to believe bad things or do bad deeds. There is no evidence that such mechanisms exist."

Are there hidden messages in cartoons? Even Disney has been accused: in the movie "Aladdin," some hear a mysterious voice in the background when Aladdin is talking to a tiger. "Good teenagers take off your clothes" is said to be audible (in this case, nothing backward, just subdued, as in psychoacoustics).

There are claims of subliminal messages in "Pokeman" shows and merchandise. And subliminal advertising certainly does exist. Companies have long used suggestive words or images that are just barely noticeable in commercials and advertisements.

But "back-masking"?

If true, it seems preternaturally inflected -- of no conscious human design.

In one of their tracts the band Judas Priest was alleged to have formed the words "I took my life" in the lyrics that played forwardly said, "beyond the realm of death." (The words, "Do it! Do it!" are also claimed; the band was even sued when one boy who was a fan committed suicide.)

And that haunting song "Hotel California" (which some believe spoke of an underground satanic church in that state)? Hidden in these lyrics, say some, are the words (when heard in reverse), "Yeah, Satan organized his own religion."

The list goes on.

Like so many things, we're not sure what to think. We report; you discern.

We can say this: many of the songs from the Fifties and Sixties and Seventies and even more recently would have been truly lovely and even transcending works, if the lyrics -- which you can do in your own mind -- had been written as praises to God.

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