Putting backward messages into music (also known as "backmasking") was all the rage back in the 80s -- and by "all the rage" we mean "the subject of congressional inquiries." Bands such as Judas Priest and Led Zeppelin were accused of including subliminal satanic mind-control messages in their songs, in what was undoubtedly one of the stupidest moral panics in American history.
We're beginning to think these guys may not be the best role models.
The "satanic messages," of course, were complete horseshit, because it's practically impossible to purposefully sing or speak something that is intelligible both forward and backward. This is why most of the alleged messages sound like the singer is having a seizure. But backmasking has been used intentionally by bands like The Beatles ... mostly because it sounds cool. They never meant to hide anything: it was done for purely aesthetic reasons.
Hundreds of pages of blotter acid counts as an aesthetic reason, right?
In 1979, Pink Floyd became the first popular band to include a reversed message that was actually intended to be hidden. On the first half of their classic album The Wall, the song "Empty Spaces" contains what sounds like mumbling when heard forward, but is actually muffled speech that reveals itself when reversed. Any concerned citizen desperate to find something to be outraged about must have gotten pretty excited when he reached that part ... until he heard what it says (turn your speakers way up):
"Hello, hunters. Congratulations. You have just discovered the secret message. Please send your answer to Old Pink, care of the Funny Farm, Chalfont--"
... and then the speaker is interrupted by a female voice saying someone is on the phone. Not exactly "DELIVER YOUR ANUS UNTO SATAN." We're afraid that's about as exciting as real instances of backmasking get -- unless you count grunge band Ash hiding an entire song on their debut album, Trailer. When reversed, pitch-shifted and sped up, the noise at the end of Track 5 actually turns out to be a demo track of another song on the album. What's so neat about that? The album was released in 1994, when the cost of the audio equipment and/or software to hear the song would have put it out of the reach of the vast majority of listeners. That's several layers of hidden. This would all be a whole lot more impressive if anyone actually knew or cared who Ash was.
These guys look more like the roadies than the band.
Let's say you're listening to a record and you hear a track you like. In fact, you like it so much that you call some friends over to show them this amazing song. But then you play the record ... and the song isn't there. In fact, the whole record seems completely different from what you remember. Your friends laugh at you, your girlfriend leaves you, and your parents call you a disgrace. Eventually you're institutionalized and die from insanity.
That is literally the only way that scenario can play out.
That's probably (definitely) what happened to anyone who listened to Monty Python's Matching Tie & Handkerchief album (which, to add to your mental stress, did not always come with a tie or a handkerchief). One side of the album had two completely different sets of tracks, and you never knew which one you'd get until you played it. How was this possible? Well, for starters, you need to have the original vinyl version of the album, which requires being over 40 and/or a weirdo.
Lots of vinyl albums used lock grooves. That's when the needle reaches the end of the album and instead of, you know, ending, it keeps playing the last part in a loop. The Beatles did it with Sgt. Pepper's, which ended with a "sound designed to annoy your dog" and an endless loop of laughter and gibberish.
In case you were wondering why they'd do that.
But then there are double grooves, which is when the album's grooves are pressed in a way that makes it so you get a completely different set of tracks depending on where the needle lands. That's what Monty Python did, and the best part is that they didn't bother to tell anyone about it, creating real confusion in the audience. Also, the record sleeve didn't even list the album's tracks, presumably so that there was no fucking way you could prove to your friends that you weren't lying about what you heard. On top of that, both sides were labeled "Side 2," making things even more maddening.
We're fairly certain Graham Chapman was an Elder God.
Mr. Bungle later did something similar in Disco Volante: If you play the record from the beginning, you get the normal tracks, but if you drop the needle at a specific point in the middle, you can hear a secret song (as long as you have the U.S. vinyl version). But then again, chances are anyone listening to Mr. Bungle is already on drugs and won't think much of that.
On first look, the artwork to Led Zeppelin's In Through the Out Door is the most boring in their whole discography -- the front cover is just a photo of some guy sitting in a bar, and the inner sleeve shows crude black and white drawings of the contents of the table. Where are the naked aliens crawling through rocks? Where are the exploding zeppelins, bizarre obelisks and satanic references?
Why have they stopped trying to make us feel uncomfortable?!
But the album art is only boring on the surface ... literally. If you wash the inner sleeve with water, those lame black and white drawings become permanently colored. And since no one intentionally gets water on their albums, this means most people probably found out about this when his asshole roommate spilled bong water on it.
"Hey, what the fuck are you ... Whoa."
The artwork uses the same special watercolors employed by some coloring books, but the band never advertised or even mentioned this feature, so you could have owned the album for decades without realizing you could do this (as a simple eBay search reveals). And even then, most painted sleeves we could find are only partially colored, like the one above, probably because so many people had heart attacks shortly after discovering this.
You probably know about hidden songs at the end of a CD, typically after a long silence or multiple blank tracks. Some, like "Endless, Nameless" from Nirvana's Nevermind, are famous in their own right. On the final track of One for the Kids, Yellowcard has a hidden song that shows up only after a silence that lasts for exactly 4:20, because they're very subtle.
It isn't easy to find photos of Yellowcard concerts that aren't obscured by billowing clouds of blunt smoke.
Most are just good for scaring the shit out of you when you forget you left your CD player on and are starting to fall asleep. There are other ways to hide a song, though, like before the CD even starts.
Before the first track on any CD, there's a section of data called the pregap, which is typically used to store structuring data for the disc itself. But a few enterprising artists found a way to place audio in the pregap, which is like putting the salami on top of the bread. To access the pregap, you must go against your every instinct by pressing and holding the rewind button at the beginning of the first track, until it can't go back any further. This will often show a "-1" in the display window, with all the creepy associations that brings to Super Mario Bros. players.
Lots of bands have hidden stuff in the pregap, and they're not always limited to the first track, either. Progressive rock band Dream Theater hid instrumental intros on half the songs on their album Octavarium. Most pregap tracks are stuff like that -- short intros or band chatter -- but then there are bands who try to get more creative with it, like Public Enemy did in their 1994 album Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age.
Public Enemy is usually associated with old-school hip-hop, but in this album, Chuck D recorded and hid a full freestyle rap titled "Ferocious Soul," with lyrics mocking the critics who had accused the band of being "anti-black" for saying that gangster rap had negative messages, since it promotes unrealistic things like ridiculous wealth, being constantly surrounded by titties and owning insane amounts of jewelry (shaped like titties). Old-school hip-hop's lyrics were considered silly in comparison by rap fans.
Pictured: A far less silly representation of life in urban America.
And all you have to do to listen to this rare gem is press rewind. Simple, right? Well, it would be, if it wasn't for the fact that most pregap songs aren't accessible anymore. Nowadays, electronics manufacturers have to build their products to a standard known as Red Book audio, and pregap audio goes against those standards. As a result, the majority of stand-alone CD players and computer optical disc drives can't read pregap audio. ITunes and other media players won't recognize it and the tracks are typically not available for sale from online music retailers. On the upside, this means those tracks the artists meant to hide are really well-hidden now.
Information Society is pretty much the definition of the one-hit wonder, with 1988's "What's On Your Mind (Pure Energy)" basically being their only major single. So you probably don't give a fuck about some New Wave band -- we get that. We totally don't either.
Cracked offices, circa 1988.
But despite utterly failing in the hair and scarf department, they did do one amazing thing no other band managed to do: hide a text file on a vinyl record. On their 1992 release Peace and Love, Inc., the band included a track titled "300bps N, 8, 1 (Terminal Mode or Ascii Download)." What probably seemed like a load of gibberish to most listeners was actually a set of instructions: If you take a standard modem, configure it with those settings, dial into it with a phone and play the track from the album into the receiver, you'll end up with a plaintext file detailing an insanely exaggerated story about the band being extorted by the Brazilian government. Here's a sample:
If this is as urgent as they say, you sort of question the logic of why they'd hide it in such an impossible-to-retrieve format. Most listeners at the time had no idea something like this was possible (shit, we live in 2010 and we didn't either), so even if they were computer-savvy enough to understand the title of the song, they probably thought it was an obscure joke.
"How do we make sure that only huge, huge nerds listen to our music?"
Before Information Society, other bands had used a similar method to encode stuff like lyric sheets, promotional information about the band and even a full adventure videogame in all its pixelated glory (you can play in your browser by clicking here). In those cases, you had to record the songs into an ordinary audio tape and then play the tape in a Sinclair ZX Spectrum computer to watch the results (provided your mom didn't yell at you while you were recording the audio, because then you were fucked). None of these were actually hidden, since they were all intentional and advertised features, but they're still pretty awesome.
Artists from decades ago were so much more productive. All we get out of Kanye are a bunch of retarded tweets.
To read more of Ashe's work, check out weirdshitblog.com.
For more creepiness discovered in music, check out 6 Musicians Who Predicted Their Own Death in Song. Or learn about some artists with skeletons they hope you forget about, in 7 Beloved Celebrities And The Awful Shit You Forgot They Did.
And stop by Linkstorm to discover the hidden messages we leave in all our articles. (They're mostly dick-based.)
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