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Here's To My Sweet Satan

Are there backwards messages in Stairway To Heaven?

You're far from the first to ask. This rumor has persisted ever since a California committee of parents and religious leaders set out to prove that rock music was leading our children down the path to the devil. For reasons still unknown to rational minds, they decided to play some albums backwards, and professed to hear all sorts of messages in songs like Queen's Another One Bites The Dust, anything and everything by Styx and ELO, Rush's Anthem, the Stones' 19th Nervous Breakdown, Skynyrd's Freebird, The Eagles' Hotel California, and most notably the (at that point) most-requested rock song of all time, Led Zeppelin's Stairway To Heaven.

A definition is useful here -- "backmasking" is the process of either: 1) recording a backwards message on a track meant to be played forwards, or 2) the "hiding" of messages within forward phrases so that, when played backwards, another phrase is revealed.

So does backmasking exist? Andy Johns, the producer of , says that not only is "backmasking" a myth, but that there was no such nonsense while he was present. Certainly, since the advent of the "backmasking" scandal, groups such as ELO and Pink Floyd have used the technique to poke fun at people who would actually play records backwards. Most of the bands named in such accusations tend to ignore the outcry, for as Jones commented in Rolling Stone, there's absolutely no arguing someone out of something they really want to believe. But the idea of backmasking is uniformly considered ludicrous by musicians and producers alike, and they're the ones that would be responsible for the process.

Despite the denials of the people involved, let's assume that these messages do exist. Are they effective? If they were subliminal messages played _forward_, then scientists agree that the brain could and would process the information. But scientists are also convinced that the brain cannot decipher backwards information unless it is specifically engaged for that purpose. Therefore, even if backmasking _did_ exist, it would be useless. So much for Satanic intent.

And specifically, as regards Stairway To Heaven -- there are many messages that various groups have claimed to hear while playing the song backwards, but the most uniformly cited is the phrase "Here's to my sweet Satan". Not all listeners that hear backward phrases are in agreement here, however, and not even close to all who hear the song backwards hear any message at all. Many of those who do hear "something" dismiss it as a mere phonetic coincidence. And few of those who _do_ hear the actual message were unaware of the accusations against Zeppelin and Stairway To Heaven before they listened to the song. Therefore, overwhelming evidence supports the conclusion that such messages do not exist, and if they did they would be useless, and even if they weren't they are almost assuredly accidents aided by the power of suggestion. But still, this rumor will not die.

Often, a listener will comment, "I heard the message, and it's really there, but I think it's just an accident." This is faulty reasoning. If the message is a phonetic accident, then the message is not really "there"--instead, a series of sounds that are _similar_ to the phrase "here's to my sweet Satan" are all that are embedded in the lyrics. If the message _is_ really there, then it cannot be an accident, for a phonetic reversal of the lyrics ("There's still time to change the road you're on") does not produce the correct vowel and consonant sounds (even _given_ Plant's pronunciation) for the phrase in question. So unless one believes that the message is there on purpose (despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary), one _must_ conclude that the message is not "there"--purposefully or accidentally.

Perhaps it is relevant to note that the same committee that found Stairway To Heaven to be Satanic in nature also claimed that the theme song from the "Mr. Ed" TV show is full of Satanic messages when played backwards.

When first presented with the charge, Swan Song issued this statement: "Our turntables play in only one direction". Shortly thereafter, Plant noted "...negativity of any kind is best ignored. Even asking that question encourages this kind of negative speculation. How could anyone sing backwards? It's complete bunkum--it can't be done. Only Americans would come up with something that ridiculous. [...] Why don't people take up swimming or squash if they're bored?"

Several years later, in a Rolling Stone interview, the three surviving members of Zeppelin (assembled for interviews about the first boxed set) had this to say:

Page: "Well, I don't pass any comments on them..."

Plant: "I mean, who on earth would have ever thought of doing that in the first place? You've got to have a lot of time on your hands to even consider that people would do that. Especially with 'Stairway To Heaven.' I mean, we were so proud of that thing, and its intentions are so positive... I found it foul, the whole idea...but it's very American. Nowhere else in the world has anybody ever considered it, or been concerned or bothered at all about that. I figure if backward masking really worked, every album in the store would have 'Buy this album!' hidden on it."

Page: "You've got it, you've hit the nail on the head. And that's all there is to say about it."

Jones: "Of course it's fatal, you know, because you tend to wind these people up after a while. If you go around saying, 'Oh yes, if you play track eight at thirty-six rpm, you'll definitely hear a message,' they'll go right home and try it. English bands tend to be more ironic and sarcastic, and once they discovered the average lack of American irony and humour, it's just sitting ducks, really. You just sort of have to go for it."

From: The Led Zeppelin FAQ List v9.0

Studio Version, ca. February 1971 » Island Studios, Hammersmith, London, England
March 05, 1971 » Belfast, Ireland @ Ulster Hall
April 01, 1971 » London, England @ Paris Theatre
September 03, 1971 » New York City, New York @ Madison Square Garden
September 04, 1971 » Toronto, Ontario, Canada @ Maple Leaf Gardens
September 29, 1971 » Osaka, Japan @ Osaka Festival Hall
May 18, 1973 » Dallas, Texas @ Dallas Memorial Auditorium
July 28, 1973 » New York City, New York @ Madison Square Garden
April 27, 1977 » Richfield, Ohio @ Richfield Coliseum
May 22, 1977 » Fort Worth, Texas @ Tarrant County Arena
June 23, 1977 » Inglewood, California @ The Forum
June 20, 1980 » Brussels, Belgium @ Vorst Nationaal
June 29, 1980 » Zurich, Switzerland @ Hallenstadion
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This Month in
Led Zeppelin History

May 31, 1948 - John Henry Bonham was born at Redditch, Worchestershire
May xx, 1969 - The band’s debut album enters the US Top 10
May xx, 1969 - Recording sessions for Led Zeppelin II begin
May xx, 1970 - The band works on new material at Bron-Y-Aur
May 03, 1971 - Richard Cole jams on Whole Lotta Love playing congas
May xx, 1972 - Houses Of The Holy recording sessions on location at Stargroves and Olympic studios
May 27, 1972 - Warm-up gigs kick off in Holland for an upcoming American tour
May 04, 1973 - Led Zeppelin gross nearly $250,000 for their performance in Atlanta, GA
May 05, 1973 - 56,800 attend the second show of the 1973 US tour at Tampa. This sets a record for the largest attendance for a one-act performance, previously held by the Beatlesfor their Shea Stadium show in 1965
May 10, 1974 - Swan Song Records is officially launched
May 11, 1974 - Led Zeppelin attend an Elvis concert and are thrilled when Elvis announces that Led Zeppelin is in the building
May 10, 1975 - Showco ships their PA system and video screens for the Earls Court shows from Dallas to London
May 23, 1976 - Page and Plant join Bad Company onstage at the LA Forum
May 21, 1977 - The Houston Summit claims $500,000 in damages to their venue caused by rowdy fans
May xx, 1978 - The band reunite at Clearwater Castle to rehearse
May 22, 1979 - It is officially announce that Led Zeppelin will headline at the Knebworth Festival in August
May 15, 1980 - After many revisions the European tour dates are finalized and the band is scheduled to open in Germany
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