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Stylus Counsel | Area Resident’s Records

Track 9 | The lion, the spaceship and the snake: A study in record Easter eggs.

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Illustration by Chelle Lorenzen / heychelle.com.

One of the things I try to do with my own Area Resident album covers is maintain consistency. All my artwork is by Andrew King of Ottawa, Ont., and I put a lowercase ‘area resident’ in the top left corner and the name of the album in lowercase in the top-right. Always in the same typeface — which, for my 10s of fans, is Ghostlight.

So, I always thought it was cool that the band Boston had that spaceship or UFO on all three of its album covers. I just found out last week via a Facebook meme that it’s not a spaceship at all, but an upside-down guitar.

Turns out albums are full of secrets, and I’m not just talking about Diver Down by Van Halen. There’s hidden stuff in the artwork, in the packaging and — of course — in the music. Given the time of year, we could even call them Easter eggs.

Back in high school I bought a copy of Dirty by Sonic Youth on CD. I had it for months before my pal Randy pointed out the area behind the disc tray wasn’t plain white. He pulled back the corner of the tray to reveal a rather “dirty” photo — performance artists Bob Flanagan and Sheree Rose defiling stuffed toys while naked.

Another album I had at the time, Licence To Ill by Beastie Boys, has the tail end of an airplane on the cover. The “tail number” on the jet reads 3MTA3. Any plane nerd will know right away this isn’t a real tail number — in the States they all begin with N and in Canada, they begin with C. So, what the heck is this? Read it backwards, eh?

There’s a much kinder message written in the colourful border art of Paul & Linda McCartney‘s 1971 album Ram. In the middle on the right you’ll see L.I.L.Y. It’s not a nod to the telephone operator on Laugh-In, it’s spelling out Linda I Love You. Awwwww ❤️

The cover of Ghost In The Machine by The Police doesn’t have a secret message, but it is a secret representation. I always thought those three messed up, digital number-things were meant to represent there was a “ghost” in my clock radio. But it’s not. Three digital characters, and there’s three characters in the police. These images are meant to represent their hairstyles at the time. Seriously. Kings of vain.

OK, sticking with things aren’t what they seem, let’s look at the cover of Come An’ Get It by Whitesnake. Take a close look at the snake’s mouth. What do you suppose… yeah. Whitesnake bein’ Whitesnake.

When Led Zeppelin put out their 1979 album In Through The Out Door, it was obvious a lot of thought went into the packaging. The record came in one of six different sleeves, but you didn’t know which one you were getting until you got home because the album was issued in a brown paper bag. Nobody in the band mentioned the other cool, hidden feature: The black & white inner sleeve turned colour if anyone spilled liquid on it. I guess people must be really careless, because all six copies of the album I have managed to acquire already have colour inserts.

Here’s a hidden tribute: Because The Beatles included The Rolling Stones on the cover of Sgt. Pepper, the Stones returned the favour on Their Satanic Majesty’s Request — tucking the faces of the Fab Four into four different flowers. There are also hidden faces on the cover of the first Santana album. What I always thought was just a lovely illustration of a lion, is actually several heads, faces and a woman in a straw skirt.

So, we’ve looked at packaging and artwork — now let’s listen for hidden messages. Not just backward singing like on Rain by The Beatles, or Silly Boys by Klaatu (who also printed the lyrics backwards on the sleeve!) — but actual messages.

When I was 15 or 16 years old, I got a weekend job at the local cable-access station, running playback and putting PSAs and commercials in the breaks. It was a job where you had a lot of time on your hands — literally, both idle and watching clocks, timers and timecode. And, there was no Internet then. One little project I undertook was bringing in my copy of The Wall and recording the song Empty Spaces onto tape so I could play it backward. I knew there was a secret message but hadn’t actually ever heard it, because — again — no Internet back then.

To my delight, when played backward, Roger Waters’ voice can be heard right before the lyrics come in (or, right after the singing ends if you’re playing it backwards): “Hello, hunters. Congratulations. You have just discovered the secret message. Please send your answer to Old Pink, care of the Funny Farm, Chalfont.” I had no idea what he was saying — Child Fund? Chalk Farm? I was a teenager, gimme a break. You also need to really crank the volume.

I had a Floydhead pal at the time who ran a record store. That’s probably where I heard about the secret message. I seem to recall part of his story involved someone actually writing to this address, but I can’t find any record of that.

There’s another Floyd one I’ve actually never tried — the Ummagumma track Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together In A Cave And Grooving With A Pict has lots of backwards, sped-up talking. One of these, at 9:23, is supposedly David Gilmour saying “That was pretty avant garde, wasn’t it?” It’s on my to-do list.

Another hidden message on a famous record is one that isn’t backwards, but sped up. Are You Experienced? has got to be up high on the list of best debut albums — with The Cars, The Pretenders, The Stooges and The Ramones. The freakiest track on the 1967 outing is clearly Third Stone From The Sun. He’s talkin’ about the Earth, man. Groovy. Freakier still, if you listen to it at 78 rpm. Do this and you’ll hear two aliens talking via two-way radio (!) as they approach Earth. Turns out these aliens aren’t groovy at all — they’re gonna burn stuff down and take our ladies.

Now, let’s bring it all together with an album by rock ’n’ roll student of cool Jack White. His album Lazaretto has all the tricks. There are two songs hidden underneath the centre label — one on each side. He also pulls out the cool Mad Magazine flexi-disc technology and has dual grooves on the song Just One Drink. So sometimes you put your stylus down and get an acoustic intro, and other times, an electric one — depending on which groove you dropped the needle into.

He didn’t stop there — Side 1 plays from the inside out and features an angel hologram. There are THREE different speeds on the record and — craziest of all — he didn’t use any compression.

I’ll get behind you, for sure.

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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.