Ask The Guru: Vinyl Messages

On some of my records, right next to the labels, tiny messages are scratched in the plastic. I was looking at the deadwax on my Nick Lowe Stiff single and saw that it read "Three Chord Wonder." What gives? It this someone having fun at the band's expense or are they secret messages to me from the group. Should I do their bidding like I do for my buddy Berkowitz's dog? Jordan Schweitzer

For the uninitiated, what Jordan's talking about are messages inscribed on records in the area between the end of the grooves and the label. You have to look really closely and get the light on the record just right. Normally this space is reserved for the matrix number, the number of the stampers that pressed up the disc. Frequently there is also the name of the pressing plant and sometimes the mastering engineer's mark. If you've seen the messages "Porky's Prime Cut," "Adrenaline," "Damont," "The Exchange" or "Bilbo Tape," these are well known mastering houses.

"Secret" messages scratched in the vinyl on records goes back a long, long, time, almost as far back as the record industry itself. I've seen messages scratched into the vinyl trail off area on 78s from the '20s where the artist had signed the master plates used for pressing. First pressings of Bobby Darin's greatest hits in the early '60 were signed by the artist, and some of the earliest Jan & Dean records had "Barons W.L.A" scratched in bold letters. "Barons" was the name of a local motorcycle gang. You'll find many messages on Phil Spectors' releases in the 60s too, things like "Phil & Annette" or "Tedsco & Pitman."

The messages of the past can't compare to the messages in vinyl that have appeared over the last fifteen years in the alternative community. These day's you're more likely to find one than not.

Sometimes the messages relate to the song itself like Cabaret Voltaire's "James Brown" single had "Papa's Got A Brand New Cab" etched in. The Cramps Lp "Off The Bone" will reveal "What color of panties are you wearing" on one side, on the other "And how long have you been wearing them?" Sometimes the messages can be confusing. What did Depeche Mode by putting "Aviation aid excrement device" on their 12" of "A Question Of Time." Devo was typically cryptic with their "Satisfaction" single having "Mutatto Si" and "Ugiatto No" scratched in. Joy Division, always a very serious bunch of young men, played it to the hilt with messages like "spectacle is a ritual," "I've seen the real atrocities," "buried in the sand," "don't disillusion me," and "here are the young men, but where have they been" left to intrigue us.

The last place I would expect to see a sense of humor on display is on the trail grooves of Smiths singles, but there it is. On "Ask" you'll find "Are you loathsome tonight" and "Tomb it may concern." The 7" of "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me" has bogus film listings of "The Return Of The Submissive Society (X)- starring Sheridan Whiteside" and "The Bizarre Oriental Vibrating Palm Death (X) - staring Sheridan Whiteside."

Self deprecating humor is evident with "Arty bloody farty" and "Is that clever?" on "The Boy With The Torn In His Side."

While the Smiths seemed to be so funny, why is it that Morrissey has used the message "Escape From Valium" and "Return To Valium" on two different singles. Is he out of material? The Birthday Party single for "Release The Bats" has the clich=E9 "Dirtiness is next to anti-godliness," and the Lime Spiders get in on an old rumor with "Paul is Dead" on their "Slave Girl" single.

If you have be intrigued to know that "Viva La Diva" refers to an Atlanta band that Amy Ray likes. Not all the messages are written per se. The Hoodoo Gurus' single of "Bittersweet" has etched in pictures of a platypus and a kangaroo."

So far, I have not seen an equivalent method of including secret messaged on CDs or cassette tapes. Get out those magnifying glasses and see what you can discover.

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