“Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin, one of classic rock’s most famous songs, was actually painstakingly assembled to hide Satanic messages meant to subliminally influence you! A sane person would call that theory… far-fetched. But, it remains one of the most popular legends regarding the mighty Led Zeppelin.
And since stupid theories that have been long enough deserve some form of investigation, today I’m looking at how it started, what Jimmy Page & co. think about it, and who’ll finally take all the time to hide messages when one of their hit songs is played backwards.
The Satanic Panic movement picks on Led Zeppelin
By the time Led Zeppelin ended circa 1980, the band had been the biggest concert draw for most of the previous decade. Furthermore, “Led Zeppelin IV” was to become the best-selling album of that era, just trailing Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” And that one was released sneakily during the final months of 1979.
Led Zeppelin had been a big deal. But they ceased to exist after drummer John Bonham’s tragic passing. Their myth, however, was growing.
What was active and gaining popularity in the early 1980s was the so-called “Satanic Panic.” The movement was a big deal, particularly in the U.S.A. It was spearheaded, for the most part, by extreme Christian religious groups. It contended that various satanic ritual abuses were increasing across North America. This also made the public believe that they were planned by shadowy organizations hiding the truth from the general public.
Much of this outrage had been started by the McMartin preschool incident. In 1980, the McMartin family was charged with hundreds of cases of abuse by the parents of the children who attended their preschool. The case made many headlines. Children had reported withes flying, Satanic orgies and the involvement of well-known celebrities.
After years of trials, no convictions were ever made. Despite this, it triggered an intense wave of paranoia.
Rock groups were targeted, in particular, as being bad influences. Several groups were accused of backmasking messages related to sex, violence or the occult in their music. Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne, popular in the 1980s, were hit with charges.
So was “Stairway to Heaven.” In 1981, Michael Mills, DJ for a Christian radio station, claimed that Led Zeppelin had purposely hidden satanic messages in the lyrics to the song. Playing the song was meant to have a damaging effect on the unconscious.
Playing Stairway to Heaven backwards
Of course, anyone who’s heard “Stairway to Heaven” might have missed references to the devil. But Mills argued that listeners had simply not listened to it the right way. The song had to be played backwards and at just the right speed for the message to be clear.
Naturally, this led to thousands of listeners ruining their vinyl copies of “Led Zeppelin IV” to play it backwards and decipher the broken meaning of Robert Plant’s lyrics.
The alleged backward message, the “Stairway to Heaven” backwards lyrics, “Here’s to my sweet Satan,” was said to be embedded within the song’s bridge, specifically in the lines “There’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now.”
To this day, you can find numerous YouTube videos attempting the trick of playing the song backwards. And the videos are effective. True or not, many claim to hear the words.
Led Zeppelin’s history with the occult
The lyrics to “Stairway to Heaven” were written by singer Robert Plant, a self-confessed neo-hippie, lover of nature, and of Celtic lore. If his intentions were Satanic, the musician certainly hid them in exactly one song throughout his career.
Some of the conspiracy theories, of course, have at their heart the legends of Led Zeppelin, particularly guitarist and bandleader, Jimmy Page and the occult.
Page was said to be one of the leading experts on magician Aleister Crowley. The album “Led Zeppelin IV” features the Crowley mantra of “Do What Thou Wilt.” Page later purchased the Boleskine House, which had been owned by the magician. Sadly, John Bonham’s death occurred in one of the house’s bedrooms.
While these are facts, numerous fantasy-driven stories related to Jimmy Page and the use of magic also exist. With this in mind, Zep was an easy target for the so-called “moral majority.”
Jimmy Page and Robert Plant answer critics
Led Zeppelin’s musicians, always defiant in the face of controversy, vehemently denied any intentional use of backmasking in their music. Jimmy Page dismissed the accusations as “ludicrous” and “a load of nonsense.” He explained that the backward sounds in “Stairway to Heaven” resulted from natural tape manipulation and editing techniques used in the studio.
Robert Plant has always had a difficult relationship with the song and its immense popularity. He has joked that for someone to pull something like this off, they’d need to have plenty of time on their hands. Considering the tales of debauched parties that Plant and his bandmates were frequently attending, I’d conclude that it would be highly unlikely that they’d invest so much of their time in this kind of prank.
No, Plant used his lyrics to let fans know of his hobbies. He never disguised his message. He wrote about lemon squeezing, a whole lotta love and, well, The Lord of the Rings. You don’t need to read the lyrics backwards! He was not trying to write The Cure’s “The Hanging Garden” And Satan rarely crossed the mind of the self-professed Golden God.
Did the rumours and conspiracy theories hurt Led Zeppelin or the popularity of “Stairway to Heaven”? No, if anything, those helped increase it. This remains the band’s biggest song, their most streamed song on Spotify and, regardless of not having been released as a single, the most requested song on radio stations.