Rock Songs With Secret Meanings & Hidden Messages
Rock music, by its nature, has always sought to subvert expectations; from urban legends of hidden satanic messages, which struck fear into the hearts of every clean-cut parent during the ‘80s, to the lascivious explanations behind seemingly non-sensical lyrics. In this article, we take a glance at some famous rock songs you shouldn’t take at face value.
1. Pink Floyd - Empty Spaces
Taken from the seminal concept album, The Wall, Empty Spaces is one of the few examples of rock songs which contain a genuine hidden message, purposely placed within the track by Roger Waters. Listen to the song and you will hear a section of, what sounds like, gibberish. When this part is reversed, the following message is revealed:
‘Congratulations. You've just discovered the secret message. Please send your answer to Old Pink, care of the Funny Farm, Chalfont’
The prevailing opinion is that the intended recipient of the message is former Pink Floyd band member, Syd Barrett. It is said that the lead character, ‘Pink’, whom is the conceptual focus of the album (a road-worn rock star who has fallen into obscurity) is more than a passing nod to Barrett himself.
Hardly the nightmare inducing cryptic messages we have been led to expect from playing records backwards!
2. Van Halen - 5150
As the title track from Van Halen’s first release with, David Lee Roth’s replacement, Sammy Hagar. Many attribute the meaning of the song’s title to the new found balance and compromise within the band.
Eddie himself attests that, while the song’s lyrics need little interpretation, 5150 refers to the building of his own recording studio. A venture which he undertook in order to gain control of the band’s musical direction. The project was such a risk that Eddie was consistently told he was crazy. 5150 is the official police code for detaining an escaped psychiatric patient and became a fitting name for both the studio, song and album.
3. Led Zeppelin - Stairway To Heaven
What sinister messaging could possibly be hiding within the vinyl grooves of this iconic song? Innocuous as it may seem, Stairway To Heaven does indeed make the top list of rock songs with, allegedly, hidden satanic messages!
The oddity of the song’s lyrics can be written off as a bi-product of ‘70s excess, but when reversed they do indeed sound present one or two lines to give church going folk cause for concern. Then again, the power of suggestion is a wonderful thing!
4. Rush - YYZ
Taking a break from hidden lyrical messages, the fan favourite, Rush track YYZ takes embedded messages to a whole new level! Trust prog rock to go one step further!
During a recording break (for the album Moving Pictures), the band decided to return home to Toronto. Whilst travelling in a small private airplane, on the approach to Toronto, Alex Lifeson heard the airport’s morse code identifier - YYZ.
The syncopated opening of YYZ mirrors the dots and dashes of its morse code equivalent.
5. Tool - Intension
Another song which notoriusosly employed the use of backmasking - the technique of embedded reversable lyrics within a recording - is the track Intension by progressive rock giants Tool.
From their fourth studio album, 10,000 Days, Intension is a moody rhythmic rollercoaster. The backwards message can be clearly heard during the tracks opening section.
Far from advocating devil worship, or encouraging us all to get up to no good, when played backwards you can hear he following:
‘Work hard, stay in school, listen to your mother, your father was right’
A wholesome enough message. But it has been said that the hidden lyrics are ironic; conveying ideas of anti conformity.
6. Bonnie Tyler - Total Eclipse Of The Heart
If you’re a closet fan of the ubiquitous ‘80s power ballad, then you’ll no doubt hold this radio hit in high regard. Even a brief glance at the Total Eclipse Of The Heart music video and you would be forgiven for thinking the subjects of this sing-along classic are billowing curtains and levitating choir boys. You’d be wrong.
Total Eclipse Of The Heart is in fact about vampires. Originally penned by composer, Jim Steinman for the vampiric Broadway musical, Nosferatu, the track was formerly titled ‘Vampires In Love’. The lyrics centre around life in eternal darkness and other standard vampire tropes.
We can be thankful that this chart topper didn’t become resigned to a life and an obscure show tune!
7. Eagles - Hotel California
Another surprising one for the backmasking list! Never mind supreme courts losing their minds over coded messages within Judas Priest albums or the influence Twister Sister were having on the youth of America. This classic rock staple has long thought (by some fans) to contain a darker connotation.
With murky and ambiguous lyrics, it’s not hard to see why so many have opined on the true meaning behind the song - the darker side of the American Dream, prison, drug use etc, have all been popular interpretations.
The band themselves later stated that the song is in fact about a literal hotel - The Beverly Hills Hotel, which is featured on the album’s cover. However, this has not guarded the song from associations with Satanic undertones and messages. From its relationship to, founder of the Church Of Satan, Anton LaVey, who is said to be clearly visible in the cover photo, to the (perhaps dubious) hidden lyrics which can be heard when playing a certain section of the song in reverse.
Given that the working title for this Eagles hit was ‘Mexican Reggae’ it is understandable why the band don’t take claims of devil worship too seriously.
Listen for yourself:
So there we have it, another round of music trivia to help you feel like a Rock & Roll history boffin! Do these songs have alternative intentions? Who knows. But don’t ruin your old vinyl records in the process of trying to find out!
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