Backmasking is a recording technique that artists have been using for years in order to hide secret messages within their songs for fans to discover. Most of the time, said messages are humorous or are included ironically in order to rattle critics’ cages, though sometimes the results can be pretty unnerving.
#4 Iron Maiden – Still Life
London born heavy-metal pioneers Iron Maiden are no strangers to controversy. All throughout their career, they have suffered accusations of devil-worship and satanic tendencies brought on by the dark themes that encumber their music and image.
Drummer Nicko McBrian explained that the band were ‘sick and tired’ of such accusations and so decided to incorporate the hidden message as a direct attack on their critics who tried to look for meanings that weren’t there.
The aforementioned message can be found on the band’s fourth studio album ‘Piece of Mind’ at the beginning of the sixth track, ‘Still Life’. When played backwards, the phrase “what ho said the t’ing with the three ‘bonce’, do not meddle with things you don’t understand” can be heard spoken by McBrian and punctuated with a burp.
In it, Nicko is mimicking a line from the satirical 1975 John Bird and Alan Coren album ‘The Collected Broadcasts of Idi Amin’ in which Bird speaks the line in an impression of Idi Amin. It is undoubtedly an epic middle finger to those who read too deeply between the lines.
#3 Pink Floyd – Empty Spaces
‘The Wall’ – the epic rock opera by English prog-rock band Pink Floyd released back in 1979 – tells the tale of the fictional rockstar known as Pink and his subsequent descent into madness.
By the time the album’s eighth track ‘Empty Spaces’ comes around, Pink is contemplating the completion of his emotional ‘wall’, which he is constructing in order to shield himself from problems within his marriage. Right before the vocals kick in on the track, a garbled message can be heard that, upon first listen, comes across as completely nonsensical. However, when played backwards, a hidden message can be clearly deciphered:
“Hello, 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!”
The message is said to potentially depict one of two things: either the foreshadowing of Pink’s eventual descent into insanity, or an allusion to former lead singer Syd Barrett’s stint in a psychiatric hospital. Either way, the numb tone in which the phrase is delivered
#2 Marilyn Manson – Tourniquet
‘Antichrist Superstar’ – the second studio album by Marilyn Manson – has been the subject to heavy criticism over the years due to its controversial content and nature of Brian Warner and his band themselves. However, the album’s second single ‘Tourniquet’ deals with a surprisingly tender topic, depicting a character trapped in a merciless state of sorrow.
Within the opening few seconds of the track, the presence of a backmasked messaged is made known. When reversed, the phrase “This is my lowest point of vulnerability” can be heard.
With the topic matter of the songs on ‘Antichrist Superstar’ supposedly having been influenced by the dreams endured by Manson, such a message can be seen as slightly unnerving. The delivery of the line itself with the low, barely audible murmur is enough to send shivers down your spine.
#1 The Beatles – Free as a Bird
The Beatles’ 1995 single ‘Free as Bird’ was originally a home demo recorded by John Lennon in 1977, three years before his death. The studio version came into being twenty-five years after the band’s demise, when the surviving Beatles decided that they wanted to put out something new as part of their Anthology project, but were hesitant to do so in the absence of their band mate.
The solution saw Paul McCartney approach Yoko Ono in the hope that she might have some unreleased recordings by her late husband in her possession, with the intent of using them to build something new around as if Lennon was still alive.
Contributions from McCartney, Harrison and Starr were recorded in early 1994. Subsequently, a brief outro was added to the track, featuring Harrison on the ukulele and the ethereal voice of Lennon played backwards. McCartney stated that the reasoning behind this was “to give all those Beatles nuts something to do”, referring to those who had found none-existent meanings and messages in previous releases.
When flipped the right way around, Lennon can clearly be heard saying “Turned out nice again”, the catchphrase of George Formby, whom the Beatles were big fans of. However, in a touchingly eerie twist, the backwards version of the phrase sounds a lot like “made by John Lennon”, which McCartney has since said was completely unintentional.