(Investigator 11, 1990 March. This reprint edited)

Anti-backmasking groups were big news in 1987 and 1988. A "backmask" is a recording usually to rock music that when played backwards allegedly contains Satanic anti-Christian statements.

The anti backmasking groups postulate a subliminal (not consciously perceived) effect on the hearer's mind.

The Advertiser in 1987 reported:

Stirringly celebratory or devilishly unpatriotic? – the Bicentenary anthem has been plunged into an identity crisis.

Celebration of a Nation has come under fire from soldier Ray Keuning, who says it contains hidden satanic messages.

The 25-year-old Army corporal and musician believes the song has been "back masked" –  a technique he says conveys satanic drug-related messages through songs to the subconscious….

  In 1989 Australasian Post reported David Oates' "amazing discovery", quoting his opinions uncritically and unskeptically:

  If you want to know what people are really thinking when they speak to you, tape their talk and replay it … backwards!

Brisbane researcher David Oates claims he can help solve crimes using this method.

He has also exposed what he says are the real thoughts of politicians, an evangelist and the Duke of York…

David is using reverse phrases in psychotherapy and sees this as its most useful application.

"I can find out in a half hour tape what it takes psychiatrists months to get to." (April 8)

  The Sunday Mail (1989) reported:

 Two Adelaide researchers have claimed the use of backmasking on music records and tapes is now a widespread phenomenon…

David Oates and Greg Albrecht have published their findings in …Beyond Backward Masking

The two Adelaide men claim backmasking has been extended to TV themes, children’s songs as well as Christian music…

More startling is that speeches and comments made by some politicians contained hidden messages when their speeches were played backwards…

Using reel-to-reel tape machines the two researchers have discovered intentional reverses played on music as well as subliminal messages and unintentional backmasking by many of today’s top recording stars… (1987, November 29)

There is no psychological proof that subliminal messages even when given in normal forward manner have an effect comparable to ordinary advertising directed at people conscious of it. When messages are given backwards we would expect no effect on the subconscious mind at all and therefore no reaction to that message.

This is because few people either speak backwards or understand things spoken backwards.

An exception, who "revels in reverse rhetoric", is "Divid Rerhuf" the world's best backwards talker. At age 9 he began to say names backwards. "Tony" became "Why not". "Naomi" became "I moan". Rerhuf has been on many major television talk shows and has invented a game that involves deciphering words spoken backwards.

Talking backwards became a USA craze in 1988 and tangled American tonsils everywhere. Rerhuf can say entire paragraphs as easily backwards as forwards.

Given that a statement I can't understand can't change my attitude to whatever topic the statement was about the next question is: "Does backmasking in rock music exist at all or are Fundamentalist Christians who make such claims again blazing a wrong trail?"

The tract The Truth About Rock Music (by Robert Skynner) gives examples of alleged backmasked messages. The Beatles, for example, are said to have been the first to use backward masking in the song "Helter Skelter". When played backwards part of the song is alleged to have the words: "I like Satan yea…and I always like the way you live."

If this is the reverse or backward version of something said in the song then the frontward version – the actual words sung and written – must have been: "evil uoy yaw eht ekil syawla I dna…aey natas ekil I."

No publisher would publish a lyric like that. Nor can this particular gibberish be heard in the song.

The other examples in Mr Skynner's tract can similarly be tested.

A letter in People magazine said:  "If you record anything and play it backwards slowly enough you can make out any sort of message you like. I have tried backmasking many tunes and at various speeds and you can depict several "messages" from one track alone."

Rock and disco music often includes lyrics – in the normal forward fashion – that contradict Christian standards. The lyrics include many suggestions of immorality, drug taking and homosexuality. Such lyrics sung and danced to in the company of people whose values they represent are likely to have a negative influence on the newcomer. Guardians of Christian standards can rightfully point this out.

When Fundamentalist Christian thinkers, however, repeat too much poppycock they bring disrepute on the faith they seek to defend.