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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

March 17, 1969 - A four-song performance is filmed for TV Byen in Denmark (aired on May 19, 1969)
March 21, 1969 - Zeppelin’s debut TV appearance on "How It Is"
March 25, 1969 - Filming session for the Supershow
March xx, 1970 - The band turns down many TV offers worth large sums
March 05, 1971 - Led Zeppelin started a 12-date "Thank You" tour for British fans, appearing at the clubs from their early days and charging the same admission prices as in 1968. The first show was at Ulster Hall, Belfast, Northern Ireland where they played songs from their upcoming fourth album, including the first public performances of Black Dog, Stairway To Heaven, Going To California and Rock And Roll.
March 12, 1972 - Page and Plant rehearse some songs with the Bombay Orchestra
March 25, 1973 - Led Zeppelin finally release Houses of the Holy after production issues with the album cover
March 28, 1973 - Led Zeppelin released Houses Of The Holy in the UK. The album title was a dedication by the band to their fans who appeared at venues they dubbed "houses of the holy". Houses Of The Holy has now been certified 11 times Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for US sales in excess of 11 million copies.
March xx, 1974 - The band decide to release a double album due to the amount of left over studio material
March 29, 1975 - Led Zeppelin saw all six of their albums in the US Top 100 chart in the same week, alongside their latest album Physical Graffiti at No.1. Physical Graffiti has now been certified 16 times Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for US sales in excess of 16 million copies.
March 15, 1975 - Tickets for the Earls Court shows sellout within four hours
March xx, 1976 - Jimmy speaks with reporters mentioning the new album due out called Presence
March 31, 1976 - Presence is released
March 28, 1977 - Zeppelin arrive in Dallas, Texas to rehearse before opening the eleventh tour of the US
March xx, 1978 - Robert and John spend some time hanging around the Midlands
March 26, 1979 - Robert takes lead vocal at a Bad Company gig in Birmingham
March 04, 1980 - John Bonham makes a TV appearance on "Alright Now" with Bill Connolly
March 26, 2006 - Readers of Total Guitar magazine voted the guitar solo by Jimmy Page in Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven as the greatest guitar solo of all time. The 1971 track was voted ahead of tracks by Van Halen, Queen, Jimi Hendrix and The Eagles. On the 20th anniversary of the original release of the song, it was announced via US radio sources that the song had logged up an estimated 2,874,000 radio plays - back to back, that would run for 44 years solid.
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