Jamhouse Blog

Subliminal Messaging

They say that one of the differences between humans and animals is our ability to appreciate music in a more dynamic way than say a bird – which only sees it as a way of attracting a mate, or something to that effect.

And, ever since lyrics were put to music, there has been subliminal messaging encased within it. Admittedly – although one could argue all subliminal messaging is purposeful – some lyrics are written for specific occasions, for example, hymns for church and lullabies for children. However, as we all know even lullabies can contain dark double entendre: “Atishoo atishoo, we all fall down” (which was a reference to the Black Death).

Subliminal messaging also has pride of place in popular forms of music. One popular music example that has been widely debated over its meaning is “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by The Beatles. Critics and commentators alike speculated over the meaning of the name of the song, given the title nouns spell out LSD. According to Lennon and McCartney, the song was inspired by Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland; however, the possibility of a hidden message still intrigues audiences to this day.

The Beatles were also one of the first to popularise the “back-masking” technique, which involves recording a message or sound backwards onto a track meant to be played forwards. The 1966 album Revolver included use of backwards instrumentation and the technique can also be used to mask explicit content and is a popular production tool for ‘clean’ versions. The Electric Light Orchestra, KISS and Deep Purple to Eminem, Linkin Park, Missy Elliot and Nelly Furtardo – all these artists have used the back-masking technique in at least one of their tracks.

The technique though, has garnered a lot of negative press from the 1970s onward. Back-masking has been labelled ‘satanic’ by American Christian groups and through lobbying, anti-back-masking legislation has been proposed by both state and federal governments in the USA. 

This is a well-known but often unrecognised technique and sometimes the so-called satanic subliminal messages within these songs go un-noticed. Subliminal messaging has arguably always occurred and will always occur in music, it just depends on the audience as to whether it gets detected – because really, who would have spotted that Tenacious D’s song “Karate” would contain the hidden concluding message of “Eat donkey crap”? Deep.   

 Author: G. McDonald for Jamhouse Creative
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