The connection between rock ‘n’ roll and the satanic is a tale as old as time. Since iconic delta bluesman Robert Johnson allegedly met the devil at the crossroads back in the 1930s, the relationship between rock and all things hellish has been a close one. The legend of Robert Johnson is, of course, a myth, but this hasn’t stopped many from believing it real.
As society developed over the 20th century, and as music did concurrently, whispers floated around claiming that many of our favourite rockstars were Satanists to some degree or another. This has a lot to do with the fact that in the 1950s and ’60s, the rock ‘n’ roll heroes espoused an ethos that was totally at loggerheads with the WASP community and antithetical to the establishment in general. One only has to mention Chuck Berry‘s antics or John Lennon’s comments comparing The Beatles and Jesus to heed this point.
Led Zeppelin is always the band that comes up in discussions of Satanism and music. A lot of this is due to the fact that guitarist Jimmy Page has a well-known interest in all things esoteric, and in the ’70s, he bought Boleskine House, a manor in the Scottish highlands that notorious occultist Aleister Crowley once owned in the early 1900s. Although claims that Page is a Satanist have been wholly debunked in the contemporary age, this urban myth about Led Zeppelin being involved in all things satanist still exists in the far fringes of our society.
This all stems from claims made by Televangelist Paul Crouch in 1982. Crouch claimed on his TBN show that when you play Led Zeppelin’s classic ‘Stairway to Heaven’ backwards, the “bustle in your hedgerow” line of the tune actually says: “Here’s to my sweet Satan/The one whose little path would make me sad, whose power is Satan/He will give those with him 666/There was a little toolshed where he made us suffer, sad Satan”.
Although that part of the song does sound a little similar to Crouch’s interpretation if played backwards, it’s not the same and has widely been exposed as a strange coincidence. At the time, Led Zeppelin’s record label, Swan Song Records, responded by stating: “Our turntables only play in one direction; forwards”.
Legendary audio engineer, Eddie Kramer, also addressed these inflated allegations. He said: “Totally and utterly ridiculous. Why would they want to spend so much studio time doing something so dumb?”.
Frontman Robert Plant has expressed his frustration at the accusations on a number of occasions. In a 1983 interview with Musician magazine he opined: “To me it’s very sad, because ‘Stairway to Heaven’ was written with every best intention, and as far as reversing tapes and putting messages on the end, that’s not my idea of making music”.
Page himself took to dispelling the myth once and for all during his 2017 Oxford Union address. Laughing off a question about the Satanic backmasking, he explained: “I’m going to go straight back to The Beatles here because there was a time when somebody wrote a thesis about Paul McCartney being dead”.
He appended: “If you playback the records, I’m being serious here even though it’s crazy, but, if you playback the records there was something that says ‘Paul Is Dead’ and then they started to playback a whole manner of records. Of course, we were going to be main candidates for it, and somebody said, ‘It says my sweet satan in it’, and I thought, ‘Gosh, it’s hard enough writing music one way round'”.
Let’s face it, Led Zeppelin were never Satanists and they never included backmasking on ‘Stairway to Heaven‘. Yes, some in the band may have an interest in mysticism and the occult, but interest doesn’t mean you actively ascribe to it. Reading about Nazism doesn’t make you a Nazi. Furthermore, these claims came from a time when the WASP community dominated cultural discussions in America, and they had much more of a presence in the mainstream than they do today, something that seems impossible. Even if we’re not discussing Paul Crouch directly, this was also the era where Tipper Gore formed the notorious Parents Music Resource Center. These kinds of baseless claims were bound to happen, and they did.