A long time ago I drove a car that had a cassette tape player. This player had a relatively new feature where, OH MY GOSH, it could play both sides of the tape without removing the cassette and turning it over. It doesn’t seem like a big deal anymore with all of today’s digital media. But back then it was cool. Cool until it stopped working that is.
To accomplish such a task, there were some mechanical complexities introduced into an already complex system of gears, levers, motors, and a bunch of other components. In all of this complexity, one might never expect the one part that didn’t have any moving parts to fail. The read head. Although to be fair, it did move, but it was the device it was connected to that took the wear, not the head itself. And also to be fair, even though the head itself didn’t have any moving parts, there was a magnetic tape that was drug across it in order to be read / heard (not sure which term is appropriate today given how digital media has absconded with many terms from yesteryear). But then again, how does a thin, delicate piece of plastic damage a surface made of steel? Answer: The same way that water and sand can scour a rock smooth over many years (or in a couple of days if a rock tumbler is used).
Regardless of how it happened, I had occasion to replace this read head, because it was damages. The first thing I noticed after taking it apart, was it was different than the head of an 8-Track player or other cassette players I’d taken apart. Some heads were moved up and down to align with different audio tracks. Others flipped the head around 180 degrees to another position to read the other audio tracks. The one in my tape player was two heads in one. It didn’t move at all. And that had me stuck.
In my small collection of parts, all I had were the more common single head. This was before one could easily go online and find a replacement part. So I went with what I had. After testing it and aligning the head, I hit the reverse button to see what would happen. I expected to hear nothing. But as it turned out, the single head was still able to pick up part of the audio track. But it was playing backwards. Cool!
What that meant was I could finally listen to those songs where I’d heard stuff playing in reverse. Again, it was a different era, so listening to something backwards wasn’t easy. The most accessible way required having an album that one could could use a finger to move backwards if the player could be put in neutral. My favorite group at the time was ELO (The Electric Light Orchestra), who had several tunes with backward lyrics.
This was in an era where several states in the USA, even California (still under Republican control), passed laws requiring the disclosure of backmasking. Little did they know, as pointed out by Dee Snider of Twisted Sister in regards to explicit lyrics, having a label like that was a guarantee you were going to sell more albums. None of that really concerned me. All I knew was that I could finally listen to all those things I’d been so curious about what they said. Excited and elated would be an understatement to how I felt.
One interesting thing, looking back, was in regards to a friend of mine who didn’t like ELO, precisely because of the backmasking. She was convinced there were satanic messages that were there. I was so proud to have her listen to what they really said. In the case of ELO’s most famous backmasking, this is what they said: “The music is reversible, but time is not. Turn back. Turn back. Turn back.” and “Face the mighty waterfall. Face the mighty waterfall.” Yup, pure evil. But even then, she couldn’t wrap her head around or maybe not accept that all the bull shirt (see the Good Place for that term) she’d been told was just that. Bull Shirt! She could not accept what she heard and still believed ELO backmasking to be evil.
Thinking about that today, I think two things: 1) Nothing should be held against her for that, because all human beings are like that to some degree. In her case, it was just a moment in time where everything came into clarity and she still held onto her beliefs. Sandy, I still love you and think the world of you. 2) !skcolloB (figure it out).