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Reading the Grooves: Hidden Vinyl Messages

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There is a children’s tune called “The Song That Never Ends”:

“This is the song that doesn’t end/ Yes, it goes on and on, my friend….”

And then there are some rock stars who took this concept to the “run out grooves.”  That is, the conclusion of a record’s side, where some mischievous musicians made mini-songs and/or spoken word messages in the record’s “dead wax” area that would play ad infinitum unless the listener manually lifted the needle’s arm.

On the James Gang’s 1969 debut album, cleverly called Yer Album, Side One’s “dead wax” area suddenly blurted, “Turn me over…turn me over…turn me over…;” set in an endless loop.

And if you want to really get back at an annoying neighbor, crank a stereo to “11” and listen to Side Two of Yer Album’s “locked-in groove” ceaselessly implore:

“Play me again…play me again…play me again…”

Joan Jett, perhaps inspired by the James Gang’s imaginative album naming skills by entitling her 1983 LP Album, may have derived more pleasure from recording its single’s locked run-out groove than she did making the entire record.  No, the single wasn’t named “Single” but was entitled “Fake Friends.”  Its B-Side, called “Nitetime,” had a lock groove consisting of an electric guitar stuck on three notes.  Joan told friends that whenever she saw the single in a bar’s jukebox, she’d put on “Nitetime” just to hear her seemingly never-ending guitar and watch how no patron could put a dime in the jukebox, baby, unless the saloon owner cracked open the machine to end the droning noise.

Even insects got into the locked groove act, namely on Brian Eno’s poor-selling Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) LP. The last song on Side A (“The Great Pretender”) ends with the sound of chirping crickets.

The most famous endless loop was recorded by the Beatles and landed on the most famous album, Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. At Paul McCartney’s suggestion, the endless loop was added to the album’s second side. Barry Miles, who wrote Paul’s official biography, Many Years from Now, recalled the run-out groove session:

“It was a triple session — three three-hour sessions — which ended around 4 AM.  The Beatles stood around two microphones muttering, singing snatches of songs and yelling for what seemed like hours, with the rest of us standing round them, joining in.”

Paul later added a new twist to the run-out groove genre.  The McCartney Interview LP was first released only to radio stations in 1980 to promote Paul’s McCartney II album but was later released to the record-buying public as a limited edition LP.  Its endless loop on Side Two consisted of a backward voice. When the record was spun backward, the voice was revealed to be Paul’s, announcing: “I’m still the Walrus!”

Run-out grooves weren’t only used as a tool to release an artist’s aural message, but also acted as a message board containing in-jokes, as when Meat Loaf, a man who loved his chicken dinners, had “chicken out of hell” scrawled on his Bat Out of Hell album.

Or, you could find a band’s deep thoughts, such as when Led Zeppelin scrawled in their “Immigrant Song” single: “Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be The Whole Of The Law.

Then there was the gratuitous graffiti that was simply shout-outs to a band’s friends.  Side Two of Hotel California brags “VOL is five-piece live!”  The story goes that Eagles’ producer, Bill Szymczyk wanted to get his words out that the song “Victim of Love” was recorded live by the five-piece band … in one take.

The Eagles slightly deflated Bill’s ego by etching in their 1979 Szymczyk-produced The Long Run: “From the Polack who sailed North.”  Eagle guitarist Joe Walsh later added salt to Bill’s minor wound by doodling in his 1981 There Goes the Neighborhood album: “After 15 Years, I Still Can’t Spell Szymczyk.”

Of course, with the advent of cassettes, CD’s and MP3s, run-out groove writing has become a lost art. The days of digesting locked aural grooves have come and gone.  Then again, locked grooves (like Sloppy Joes) have a lot in common in that they all repeat on you—over and over and over again.

****( “I’m STILL the walrus).”

-Mark Daponte

Photo by KrayBoul on Unsplash

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Mark Daponte is a copy/blog writer for an advertising company and has published/sold four short stories, three full length screenplays, nine short screenplays (including two animation scripts) and punches up screenplays—because they don’t punch back. He has had six short comedic plays performed by various theater companies, including one in Los Angeles, (Sacred Fools) and Sacramento, CA (Sacramento Actors Theater Company). When he isn’t sinking down to a thirteen-year-old’s level to make his teenaged sons laugh, he can be found seeking signs of intelligent life in his hometown of Brooklyn, NY.

8 comments on “Reading the Grooves: Hidden Vinyl Messages

  1. James Davis

    Josh Winx Don’t Laugh single has a runout like this with an infinite loop of the laughing sample! Creepy shit!

  2. BeatleMatt

    Ahh, but on Matthew Sweet’s girlfriend album, the cd version has the genuine sound of a record needle coasting on the run off wax at the end of “Evangeline” and then the sound of the needle resting on run on wax to start the next track, “Day For Night”
    Seems to me some other band in the nineties did something similar also.
    Also, doesn’t Led Zeppelin III have the word “Strawberry” or something like that on the run off wax? I’m in bed now and afraid I’ll stub my toe if I go fetch my vinyl
    copy.

  3. Joe Walsh did the same with the last song, side B on his “You Bought It-You Name It” album. The song was “Theme from Island Weirdos”

  4. James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James has “That’s All Folks” on the side II run-out groove & later – I think on “That’s Why I’m Here”, Purina Ear Chow is etched on one side

  5. agent00soul10012

    The Dukes of Stratosphear aka XTC had a run-out groove on side two of their “25 O’Clock” EP but the words are unprintable!

  6. Ronnie Wood, on his album Gimme Some Neck!, the run out groove, on one side at least, has a repeating drum beat.

  7. Steve Earle, on a CD of his El Corazon (I lent it to my brother years ago and have forgotten to ask about since) has the sound of a run out groove in between songs, I think it was in the middle of the entire recording. I really have to ask my brother for that cd.
    Wikipediea helped me remember the cd’s name

  8. The Who Sell Out run out groove on the British LP “Track Records…Track Records…Track Records…”

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