You didn't need a lot to freak out in 1968, and the Beatles pushed more than a few fans over the edge when those fans got near the end of the band's iconic 1968 masterpiece, popularly known as, "The White Album."
As the song "Revolution No. 9" begins, amid a Yoko Ono-influenced avant-garde mishmash, you hear, over and over again, a creepy British voice saying "Number 9 .... Number 9 ... Number 9 ..." along with screaming, crying, the sounds of a crash, and other disturbing sounds.
It had to mean something. But what?
And then one Beatle fanatic made the stunning decision to play the song backward. In the days of record players and reel-to-reel tape, that wasn't so hard to do.
The results were even more disturbing. "Number 9" backward sounded suspiciously like "Turn me on, dead man." Instantly, that sparked rumors that Paul McCartney was dead -- and it also created the bizarre "Reverse Speech" movement among conspiracy theorists.
To this day, some proponents of this urban legend believe that the cute Beatle was replaced by a look-alike stooge who could produce fluffy Wings hits like "Silly Love Songs," but never could have given us such classics as "Yesterday" and "Eleanor Rigby."
In celebration of HuffPost's 9th birthday, HuffPost Weird News decided to catch up with those who still give credence to Reverse Speech.
Ardent supporters of Reverse Speech moved on from Sir Paul -- as this so-called impostor is now known -- to other conspiracies. They believe that human speakers subconsciously produce hidden messages that give insights into their innermost thoughts. And with the magic of computers, reversing audio is as easy as pressing a button.
Jon Kelly, a Vancouver-based speech analyst, says the concept of "reverse speech" has existed since the Germans invented reel-to-reel recorders during World War II, but "Turn me on, dead man" turned on the public.
"That encrypted phrase -- which I believe John Lennon found at EMI studios -- was made by an engineer as an audio test. Yet, the message alluded to the counter-culture phrase 'Tune in, turn on and drop out,' as well as government mind control experiments," Kelly told HuffPost.
Skeptics suggest that any "messages" that are heard when a tape is played backward are from humans trying to identify the mystery sounds and put them in a pattern that makes sense.
A 2000 analysis of reverse speech by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry explained it this way:
After such strings of nonsense syllables were arranged, they were played for subjects at barely audible volume levels. After repeatedly listening to these sounds, subjects reported “hearing" the phonograph or the tape “say” things. These sentences, or sentence fragments, did not actually exist and, as such, were considered to be utterances that were already strong in the subject's repertoire. Put another way, they were “projecting” their own thoughts onto the sounds they were hearing.
Despite skepticism, Kelly is a true believer in the possibilities reverse speech has to reveal a person's real thoughts.
He compares his work to Isaac Newton's mapping of the moons of Jupiter in the 17th century.
"Newton was able to map the phases of Venus, and the moons of Jupiter using a reflecting telescope with a 30 percent loss rate," Kelly said. "I'm using digital mirrors that capture 100 percent of the messages."
Is Kelly correct or does he have it all backward?
HuffPost Weird News put Kelly to the test, having him reverse some of recent history's most iconic (and embarrassing) quotes.
Take this notorious one by President Barack Obama:
“If you are among the hundreds of millions of Americans who already have health insurance through your job or Medicare or Medicaid or the VA, nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have.”
When played in reverse, Obama seems to say something different: "Angry. Is bad. They lose your records."
Donald Rumsfeld is still remembered by this quote.
“You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time. You can have all the armor in the world; a tank. And a tank can be blown up. The goal we have is to have as many of those vehicles as is humanly possible with the appropriate level of armor available for the troops.”
Played in reverse, Kelly believes the former secretary of defense says something else completely: "Our children die. We’ll get in trouble."
Donald Sterling's recent racist comments were offensive to many, especially this one he made to V. Stiviano:
“I think it’s nice that you admire him [Magic Johnson]. I know him well and he should be admired. And I’m just saying that [it’s] too bad you can’t admire him privately. And during your entire f*cking life, your whole life admire him. Bring him here, feed him, f*ck him; I don’t care. You can do anything but don’t put him on an Instagram so the world has to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him into my games, OK?”
Played in reverse, it's offensive in a different way: "This devil. Stick it in ass."
Lance Armstrong made repeated comments similar to this one: “Well, if it can’t be any clearer than 'I’ve never taken drugs,' then incidents like that could never have happened. How clear is that?”
Played backwards, Armstrong seems to say: "The pill. Some secret."
Rob Ford's admission that he smoked crack cocaine seems to send a different message when reversed.
“Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine. But no. Do I? Am I an addict? No. Have I tried it? Probably in one of my drunken stupors. Probably approximately about a year ago … So I wasn’t lying. You didn’t ask the correction question. No, I’m not an addict. And no, I do not do drugs. I made mistakes in the past and all I can do is apologize.”
In reverse, he supposedly says: "This joker. Insanity."
Although the alleged reverse quotes collated by Kelly seem to fit their so-called speakers too perfect and too ironically, he's quick to point out that it doesn't always work that way.
For instance, Kelly said he was unable to find any backward message in this quote that Edward Snowden gave in his interview with the Guardian newspaper:
“I don’t want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship, is recorded.”
However, Kelly claims that when he reversed other Snowden quotes in the interview, the whistleblower seems to reveal that the CIA and NSA are mining data from Americans about their alleged contact with E.T.s
"Sometimes the reverse speech messages run parallel to what's being said, sometimes they come in advance or after the quote," he said.
Turn me on, dead man.