If you’ve ever owned a record player, the chances are you have been tempted to play your vinyl’s in reverse, to uncover any ‘hidden messages’ recorded within them. Popularised by rock/metal albums from the 60s, there are still many bands who use ‘backmasking’ to surprise fans with secret sounds, but not many people know how to listen to them safely.
In this article, we explore everything you need to know about playing records in reverse safely.
Can You Play Records In Reverse?
Yes, every record player is capable of playing records in reverse but only certain types are designed to do so safely. DJ turntables for example, often have a ‘reverse’ button that allows you to play records clockwise and anti-clockwise.
Will Playing My Vinyl In Reverse Damage It?
Unless your record player is designed to spin anti-clockwise, you will damage your vinyl if you force it to play in reverse. This is because most cartridges and stylus’ are only designed for clockwise playing. Cartridges hold the stylus at an angle so if you spin it in reverse, you are effectively scraping the grooves of your record with the needle. For that reason, it is highly unrecommended to play your records in reverse on a record player that doesn’t have built-in anti-clockwise functionality.
Specialist parts and turntables used by radio stations and touring DJs with this function won’t damage your records, and even allow you to safely make the ‘scratching’ noise you hear in many ’80s and ’90s rap and hip-hop tracks.
How Do You Play Vinyl Records Backwards?
If your turntable is designed to play songs backwards, it will usually have a button on the top labelled “reverse”. These are often found on DJ Turntables to provide DJs with more tricks and tools for live performances.
Most record players don’t have an in-built function to play vinyl in reverse, however, to play your records backwards, you need to do the following;
- Place your vinyl on your record player and turn it on
- Lower the stylus onto your record as normal
- Carefully, put your fingers on the centre of the record (so as not to damage the vinyl) and move it in reverse slowly
- Keep a steady pace to hear clearly or play with it and listen to it at different speeds
It is not recommended to hit the play button while moving your record to play backwards, as you have a higher risk of damaging your record by accidentally moving it up and down.
Why Do People Play Records In Reverse?
Playing records in reverse allows you to find ‘hidden messages’ that an artist has recorded using a technique called backmasking. The Beatles used this technique in their song “Free As a Bird” where you can hear the phrase “turned out nice again” at the end. See our table at the bottom for our top 25 list of hidden messages in songs using backmasking!
Some people like to play songs in reverse out of curiosity, as it gives a ‘creepy’ and interesting sound to listen to! The popularity of vinyl in the 1960s, along with the rise in rock and heavy metal music, led to the modern myth that certain songs were made by the Devil, or that rock bands were following the occult because their songs sounded ‘satanic’ when played in reverse.
Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven arguably drew the most attention to this, despite this technique never being used on the track. Any words that can be heard in this track when played backwards, like any other song not using backmasking, is because of ‘Audio Pareidolia’ – the tendency for our brain to make sense of random, unfamiliar sounds.
Why Do Bands Put Hidden Messages In Their Songs To Play Backwards?
Hidden messages are a gimmick used by bands to please their fans and add something extra to their music. It is also a unique selling point for purchasing vinyl records in the modern age, where streaming platforms like Spotify reign supreme, which generate far less revenue than conventional platforms like Vinyl, CD or Tape Cassette.
Backmasking: What Is It and How To Do It
Backmasking is a technique in music production commonly used to add vocal tracks in reverse to a song. This means the original ‘normal’ recording can be heard if the audio is played backwards, such as by spinning a vinyl anti-clockwise.
Many bands have used this technique for fun, to add ‘easter eggs’ to their songs for fans to find, and even to censor explicit words when releasing clean, or radio, releases of songs.
With modern music production tools, it is incredibly easy to create music in reverse with simple plugins. All you need to do is record your take, download the plugin into your DAW and select the settings you want. This means that you would have to play it in reverse to hear the ‘normal’ sounds. For example, listen to the intro to We Speak In Tongues’ song ‘Tendrils‘, which was created with a digital plugin in Ableton to reverse normally recorded vocals.
Why Does Playing Music In Reverse Sound ‘Creepy’?
The ‘creepy’ feeling you get when listening to music, especially vocals, in reverse is due to our brain’s reliance on familiarity to understand and navigate the world around us. From an evolutionary perspective, being in unknown territory, strange sounds, smells and sights tells your brain you could be in danger. It is this phenomenon that makes us feel uneasy when hearing vocals in reverse.
In other words, your brain is trying to creep you out to avoid potential danger from unfamiliar stimuli in your surroundings.
In many cases, people report hearing ‘satanic’ messages in songs played backwards. In fact, this is because of Pareidolia – our brain’s attempt to make sense of unfamiliar stimuli. Together, this means that we think we can hear real words where there aren’t any, whilst still experiencing unease at hearing songs played backwards. TV and Films also use this technique on purpose to give the viewer a sense of impending danger of tension.
9 Famous Hidden Messages In Songs When Played Backwards (And Where To Listen To Them)
Below is a table of 9 famous records using backmasking, that when played in reverse, reveal an intentional hidden message with an interesting backstory!
BandTrackHidden Message When Played BackwardsWhere To Find ItInteresting Facts
|The Beatles||Free As A Bird||“turned out nice again”||At the end of the track.||The Beatles added in this secret message for fun for their diehard fanbase.|
|Def Leppard||Rocket||“We are fighting with the gods of war”||Throughout the track.||The band used this as an easter egg for their upcoming album Gods of War.|
|Drowning Pool||Serpon||“Ladies and gentlemen, tell me what you believe”||In the 2nd half of the track.||This lyric acts as a throwback to the same lyrics used earlier on.|
|Electric Light Orchestra||Down Home Town||“Face the mighty waterfall”||At the start of the track.||This was used as a satirical response to a lawsuit they faced only 1 year prior for using backmasked lyrics.|
|Franz Ferdinand||Michael||“She’s worried about you, call your mother.”||Before the 2nd verse.||The band chose this to give a positive backmask, contrary to the ‘satanic’ reputation it had at the time.|
|Insane Clown Posse||Everybody Rize||“Yeah, if you flip this message cuz you think there’s some secret message, there ain’t”||At the end of the track.||This is an obvious paradox akin to the band’s satirical nature.|
|Linkin Park||Announcement Service Public||“You should brush your teeth, and you should wash your hands.”||The only lyric in the track which repeats throughout.||The title is also reversed for added effect.|
|Petra||Judas Kiss||“What are you looking for the devil for, when you ought to be looking for the Lord?||At the start of the track.||This was in response to the ‘satanic’ controversy surrounding backmasking, particularly from Christian groups in the USA.|
|Mew||New Terrain||The entire song played backwards is another song called ‘Nervous’||The entire track.||This was an attempt to create an entirely backwards track. Although clear in some parts, this track is largely inaudible.|
Playing records in reverse can be fun, and allows bands to come up with unique gimmicks to excite their fans but it is not recommended unless you have a record player designed to play a vinyl anti-clockwise. Forcing your records to spin backwards will cause damage to your record because most cartridges hold the needle at an angle, effectively causing you to scrape your record, rather than let it gently slide over the grooves.