A Subliminal Message from Cheap Trick

Amid all the furor over backmasking in the late LP era, one of the more noteworthy hidden messages in a recording was delivered by Cheap Trick. According to the Peters Brothers, ministers from Minnesota who waged a lengthy campaign against rock music,

Cheap Trick, another Illinois group, lived up to its name with the album Heaven Tonight (1978). The tuneful tricksters recorded The Lord’s Prayer at 1/8th speed, then overlaid the song “How Are You” so that the listener would consciously hear only a faint chipmunk-like chirp in the background. Why The Lord’s Prayer? A possible answer is found in Mike Warnke’s book, The Satan Seller. Warnke says that often in occult worship, the participants chant The Lord’s Prayer, either forward or backward, as subtle mockery of God. [Dan & Steve Peters with Cher Merrill, Rocks Hidden Persuader: The Truth About Backmasking(1983), pp. 41-42]

More likely Cheap Trick were mocking people looking for satanic messages by wearing out their turntables. It used to be that searching for subliminal messages on records was a manual process. You had to spin the record backwards with your hand by putting the turntable in a neutral setting—or just forcing the turntable to go in the wrong direction—and then listen for references to Satan. Cheap Trick took this in the opposite direction in two ways, using The Lord’s Prayer and putting it on fast forward. Cheap Trick showed little if any interest in satanic imagery throughout their career. Their rebellion was much more playful, and embedding The Lord’s Prayer on fast forward is perhaps the funniest way they could think of to mock the hysteria over evil subliminal messages in rock & roll. This tape effect is embedded between the lyrics “You talk too much/You even scare my friends/What’s with you?” and “The words you said/I know you’re lying/You lie in bed/you lie you lie”, aimed perhaps at self-appointed judges of the moral content of music, but who knows? Perhaps the placement of The Lord’s Prayer was arbitrary. Tom Werman, who produced Heaven Tonight, confirms that “it was all just a joke.

Cheap Trick – “How Are You?” [edit: slowed by 72%]

Several years later Cradle of Filth used The Lord’s Prayer in a more menacing way. The Lord’s Prayer is recited in reverse over the entire track “Dinner at Deviant’s Palace,” which appears on the 2001 release Bitter Suites to Succubi.

Cradle of Filth – “Dinner At Deviant’s Palace” [edit: reversed]

Though Cradle of Filth regularly indulged in Satanic imagery, this seems to be played for shock value rather than any sort of theological statement. The wordplay in the title of the CD, Bitter Suites to Succubi, indicates that these guys don’t really take all the Satanic imagery all that seriously, either.

Public awareness about subliminal messages was due in no small part to Wilson Bryan Key, author of a number of books on subliminal messages in media and art. Though Key’s methods were less than scientific, his books sold well and he became “the godfather of subliminal conspiracy theorists.” Key had this to say about Cheap Trick’s use of The Lord’s Prayer,

The unconscious system appears able to unscramble even certain kinds of distorted information without individuals becoming consciously aware of the perception…. [This] can be accomplished with sound by changing speed harmonics in a recording. The sound is consciously perceived as jumbled–speeded up or slowed down–but the information is perceived in its undistorted form at the unconscious level. In one recent example, a rock group called Cheap Trick embedded the Lord’s Prayer in the last part of the third verse of a song called “How Are You?” The prayer was embedded into the record at one-eighth regular speed (4 rpm) at a low volume level. The record appears to have a depressing effect upon audiences, perhaps because the prayer unconsciously triggers childhood memories of security and stability under parental domination that conflict with the struggles for autonomy during puberty. For whatever reason, the record sold primarily to early and mid-teenagers. [Wilson Bryan Key, Subliminal Ad-ventures in Erotic Art (1992), p. 87, but this was just a reissued version of Key’s 1980 book The Clam-Plate Orgy, hence his reference to Cheap Trick as a “recent example.”]

Heavy stuff. Well, as long as we’re making sweeping statements without any reference to anything resembling evidence, I would suggest that Cheap trick’s audience had a different view of parental authority, recognizing that mommy’s alright, daddy’s alright, they just seem a little weird. The real threat was from all that Indonesian junk that was going around, but that’s for another day.

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