It’s long been believed by some that a sure fire way to become a rich and famous rock & roll star is to sell your soul to the Devil. It’s the classic story of the Faustian Pact – the Devil’s Bargain. The idea of making a deal with the Devil is found in many Christian folktales, such as in the Norwegian story “The Blacksmith Outwits The Devil.”
Musically, though, it can be traced back to 1930s bluesman Robert Johnson. It is said that he went to a lonely crossroads in Mississippi to meet the Devil at midnight. He handed his guitar to the Devil, who re-tuned it to open G (the Devil’s tuning), and gave it back to Johnson.
Within months, the obscure bluesman’s career began to take off. Johnson made records and traveled the American South playing his music. People spoke in hushed whispers of the bluesman who had made a terrible diabolic pact. Within a few years, however, Johnson died in mysterious circumstances. People said the Devil had taken his due – Johnson’s immortal soul.
Satanic rumors used to dog legendary British rock band Led Zeppelin in their 1970s heyday. Part of this was down to the band’s guitarist Jimmy Page being a dedicated collector of the works of self-styled magician Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), who called himself the Great Beast 666.
In 1982, California assemblyman Phil Wyman claimed that the band’s classic track Stairway to Heaven, from the 1971 album Led Zeppelin 4, contained nine secret messages that could be heard if the song was played backwards. These included “Here’s to my sweet Satan” and “I sing because I live with Satan.”
Adding fuel to the fire, the band’s singer Robert Plant was said to keep a vial of dirt from the crossroads where Johnson allegedly sold his soul.
Whether you take the idea of a Devil’s bargain literally or not, doesn’t matter. The fact is, it is firmly rooted in the mythos of modern popular music.