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I had a friend back in the early 90's who was going to give some kind of a talk in a church about the dangers in modern popular music. In this talk he had planned on spending some time discussing messages (backward or subliminal or something like that) embedded in the music.

Note: I am aware that "backward messages" are technically likely different from "subliminal messages"; I just do not remember which one of these that friend was going to discuss in his talk.

He showed me a cassette tape that he said he had gotten from some recording studio. When he played this tape I could hear a murky, somewhat unclear, voice saying something like "decide to smoke marijuana".

This friend explained to me that, in order to prepare for this talk, he had taken the song "Another one bites the dust" (by Queen) to a recording studio and that they had extracted the message out of it.

It's basically the same claim as in this old newspaper article (for reference see column 3, paragraph 3).

Note: I am aware that the label has denied that any messages like this are embedded in this song. My purpose with this question is not to prove or disprove the existence of such messages.

Years later another friend of mine told me that this guy would have had to have access to the original master for this song. Most likely he would not have had access to the studio master tape.

So I am suspecting that the recording studio had played a prank with him (or perhaps he even had asked them to produce a tape like that, in an attempt to prove something).

On another hand, extracting backwards messages from an LP may be quite simple once the location of the messages is known (as it seems to only require slowly rotating the LP backwards).

The question I wanted to ask is: to what degree would ability to extract embedded messages from a song depend on having the original studio master for the song?

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    In the case of the Queen song all that you have to do is turn it backwards. Today that is very simple with a computer. But in the early 90's most people wouldn't have anything to do that other than turning a record backwards with their finger. He probably wanted to sound more professional than that so he had a studio reverse it for him professionally. No master necessary. They might even have used some equalization to make the voice a little clearer. – SpinDownUGo Oct 4 '15 at 2:27
  • Hi @Tom, thank you for the explanation. Would you mind making it to a short answer and I will accept it? Also on a related note: what you are writing seems to imply that the "decide to smoke marijuana" message can indeed be derived from the "Another one bites the dust" song; is this correct or am I misreading what you wrote? – coderworks Oct 4 '15 at 18:57
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    These days, you can confirm this for yourself with a free audio manipulation program like Audacity, and a clip of the song in question. There are also a number of websites out there that do the work for you, however it's more convincing to do it for yourself. – Chris Sunami Oct 5 '15 at 14:36
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The song "Another One Bites the Dust" turned backwards does indeed sound very much like "decide to smoke marijuana" or "It's fun to smoke marijuana." Turning the record backwards with your finger doesn't get very consistent results, so in the early 9O's a recording studio would be the best option to have it turned backwards professionally.

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    Not entirely true. You could have done it fairly easily with widespread home recording hardware like the TASCAM P424 or any other 4-track recorder. Cassettes have 4 tracks of recorded content used 2 tracks per side; left and right channels. The flip side of the cassette uses the other 2 tracks for left and right. A 4-track deck will play the "flip side" of a cassette in reverse. This was actually widely used by garage bands in the 80's and 90's as "ambient" sound; their favorite band played in reverse, bounced down to a single track and buried in the mix. – Johnny Bones Oct 5 '15 at 17:59
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It should make no difference if it is a true backwards message. The only difference between the studio master and a purchased copy would be that the master has a slightly better sound quality.
The Queen song is simply an example of Apophenia or the perception of patterns in random information, in this case backwards audio information. Anyone who has worked with actual reversed audio can quickly it by ear due to the reversed attack and sustain features of the sounds. They typically start quietly and build to a max volume then rapidly end. A great example is the backwards portion at the end of Darling Nikki by Prince. Here is a YouTube link that plays that forward first, then backwards so you can hear the actual message.. excerpt from song

As for subliminal messages, the definition of the word subliminal alone reveals the answer to be that one cannot extract them from any audio source . Subliminal stimuli include any sensory stimuli below an individual's threshold for conscious perception. I can tell you that I put a subliminal message in a song but if it is truly subliminal, you would not be able to hear it and thus extract it.

  • " Anyone who has worked with actual reversed audio can quickly it by ear due to the reversed attack and sustain features of the sounds." A perfect example is Jimi Hendrix' guitar solo in "Are You Experienced?". – Johnny Bones Nov 2 '15 at 15:29

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