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Underneath It All

People continue to look for subliminal messages, despite what Dr. Spin tells then.

by Dr. Spin
August 23, 2004

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Dear Dr. Spin,
Are there any websites that have a list of records that have subliminal messages in them?

Sincerely, Heraldo
Dear Heraldo,
I am sure there are probably some sites somewhere that list all the recordings that supposedly have subliminal messages, but in the few Google searches I did, I found none. I did find a number of forums, articles, etc., that discussed subliminal messages and even mentioned some of the more famous songs (“Stairway to Heaven,” “Another One Bites the Dust”), but as a pure list I found nothing. One thing one of these sites pointed out was that for most of the “messages” to work, you have to know what you’re listening for; if you don’t know you’re suppose to hear “it’s fun to smoke marijuana” when you listen to “Another One Bites the Dust” backwards, you probably won’t.
I have no doubt that some bands have intentionally planted backwards messages, especially because this became such a phenomenon in the late ‘80’s (that is, “finding” hidden messages), and since the ‘60’s and earlier, musicians and sound engineers have played with speeding up and slowing down sound, playing music backwards to create new sounds (I am still waiting for someone to do something with the sound CDs make as you skip through a song).
Some of the more mischievous artists (John Lennon and the Rolling Stones come to mind) may have even installed backwards messages, just to see if any fans were clever enough to catch them. “Weird Al” reportedly installed the backwards message “if you’re listening to this, you have too much time on your hands,” on one of his songs. As I said before, the work it would take to make lyrics say something both backwards and forwards seems like a colossal waste of time and energy, more than I think most artists would subject themselves to, especially now that music is digital and can only be played one way.
Finally, there are those that believe there are “subliminal” messages buried in plain sight; the artists are using a “code” in their lyrics. I touched on this briefly in my last article (“Norwegian Wood” is a type of marijuana, the “bird” is a slang reference to a lesbian). This involves interpreting (or misinterpreting) the artist’s lyrics that the artist may or may not intend. (I read one forum where Hillary and Hailey Duff’s cover of “Our Lips Our Sealed” is nod to their closet lesbianism, overlooking that the song was written by Go-Go guitarist Jane Wiedlin about her relationship with the male guitarist of another band.) I believe the vast majority of both types of subliminal messages are of the urban legend type, as any good artist will tell you exactly what he or she means straight up.
Poets like to speak in metaphor, but they rarely want their meaning hidden.

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