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Stylus Counsel | Area Resident’s Records

Track 6: Wait, that's not a number!

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I’ve always been fascinated by the inner groove. You know — the inside, non-music part of the record where the grooves end and your stylus starts kicking up against the label.

Well, mine does. Some folks have automatic turntables — they never got to hear the hidden gibberish in the inner-groove of Sgt. Pepper. But, that’s a different story.

As a kid I used to watch those concentric lines as the record turned, going inward like waves of water carrying the needle across the vinyl, like driftwood in a current. Where did they go when they reached the label?

Gimme a break, I was probably five years old. But, that’s when I first noticed the writing in that space. It looked like someone had carved numbers and letters with a sharp pin or something. Years later I noticed those numbers usually corresponded to the codes on the album itself. I think it was the Yes album 90125 that clued me in. The album title was also the catalog number, and that’s the number on the spine, the label and the groove.

Or, runout matrix as I now know it’s called.

So, when I bought a copy of Matt Cameron’s excellent solo album Cavedweller in 2017 I was really interested to notice he’d included the words ‘FOR CHRIS’ in the runout for his former Soundgarden bandmate Chris Cornell, who had died not long before. The other side of the record has Cavedweller spelled backwards.

Neat.

Fast-forward to last year when I started cataloging my albums on Discogs. I discovered this has been a rare but recurring trend for many years — mostly by the mastering engineers who were responsible for cutting the album. The first, it’s believed, was George “Porky” Peckham who often left the word PORKY in the matrix runout area going back to the 1960s.

As I was cataloging, the first one I spotted was on my copy of Exile On Main St. where the words ROLLING STONES RECORDS are etched into the wax.

This past weekend I found another on Sandinista by The Clash — different words on each of the sides of the triple album, that when put together spell out: IN SPACE … NO ONE … CAN … HEAR … YOU … CLASH

I’m more of a Hüsker Dü fan, and they have a bunch of them. At least, two of my albums do. Side 1 of New Day Rising has HERE IN THE MIDST OF GRAVEYARDS THAT PUSH UP LIGHT, and on Side 2: I’LL TRADE YOU TWO GOOD SHIRLEYS FOR FOR 10,000 DEAD MIDWESTERN INDIANS. Ok, guys.

Zen Arcade is even weirder, and also mentions Shirley:
Side A: FALLING, SHIRLEY — EVERY TIME I SQUARE OFF AGAINST SOMEONE’S GOD
Side B: I SPEND THE REST OF THE NIGHT (OR DAY) HALLUCINATING
Side C: AND NOW IT’S THE VISIONS OF A JOYOUS HELL
Side D: WITHIN THE CIRCUITS THAT MAKE PAC-MEN DIE AND VESSELS DISINTEGRATE

Foreigner’s 4 has WELCOME CHRISTOPHER on one side and UP TO THE SKY on the other. I haven’t been able to figure out what that’s about. Or, who Renee is on Genesis’ eponymously titled 1983 album. The runout on Side 1 says RENEE, I LOVE YA.

It shouldn’t shock anyone that Led Zeppelin got in on this, albeit just once that I’ve found. I’m sure known occultist Jimmy Page had everything to do with Led Zeppelin III having SO MOTE IT BE and DO WHAT THOU WILT in the runouts.

Nobody was more consistent with this little feature than The Smiths, who seem to have included etched phrases on every side of every record they made — even the 7″ and 12″ singles.

I started with Yes, so I’ll end with them, too. Their only album to really have words etched into the runout is Relayer. Possibly the only reason to own that record. Side 1 says PORKY and Side 2 says PECKO — the calling card of the man who started it all.

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Area Resident is an Ottawa-based journalist, recording artist, music collector and re-seller. Hear (and buy) his music on Bandcamp, email him HERE, follow him on Instagram and check out him out on Discogs.