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Scratched Wax – The Magic of the Run Off Groove

in Blog, Off Beat, Power Pop, Vinyl by Gareth Peebles

Our story starts at the outer edges of a dusty 70’s vinyl record and finishes in the middle. The needle makes its way from its outer orbit and through the carved trenches that wind concentrically toward the centre of the glossy black disc. The last track finishes and the record is over.

Or is it?  Here – no man’s land – where the needle finds itself caught in an eternal loop. Stuck between the label and the last score of the last song, is where my curiosity piqued and my imagination promptly exploded.

I had discovered one of those hidden treasures that really make vinyl records so much more special when compared to other formats.

I was holding a copy of The Undertones eponymous debut (1979) and was taking in every detail of the carefully etched message I had found on the record’s A-side. It read, “DERRY THE HOME OF ROCK N’ ROLL”. After carefully manipulating the record to ensure that the secret message had caught every single glint of light possible, I flipped it over to investigate Side B for more clues. I was not disappointed. Side B read, “A PORKY PRIME CUT”. I yelped.

For there is no greater joy experienced than that felt between a devout enthusiast and the subject of their enthusiasm, whatever it may be. In particular, this joy reaches fever pitch when stumbling upon some secret or closely guarded scrap of information that relates to their interest. (A phenomenon that has gained so much momentum in recent years that “Easter eggs”, can now be found scattered across every medium imaginable).

For fan girls and boys around the world, the discovery of these hidden treasures is equal in measure to Howard Carter discovering Tutankhamun’s tomb or Albert Einstein’s realisation of E=Mc2. After all, they were just a couple of nerdy enthusiasts, pursuing their interests.

I remember finding these enscribed secret messages when playing my parent’s records as a child and I still remember feeling that very same burst of imagination then, as I do now. My mind would race with fantasies of mischievous vinyl gremlins and tiny – Borrower sized – people with pointed sharp sticks leading a cantankerous revolt against the music industry; by carving secret messages around the run off grooves of records while no one was looking.

I wondered if there were other records with different messages? I wondered if – when these messages were combined – they formed part of a larger body of text? The possibilities were endless. But the most amazing thing about all of this was that I was the only person in the whole world to have found these hidden treasures and been made aware of the plight of this secret revolution.

Back to 2017 and about a week or so after my initial discovery, I was about to give my first spin of a Squeeze collection I had recently inherited from my folks (along with the aforementioned Undertones record) and to my amazement I had stumbled upon another secret message from one of those mischievous vinyl gremlins! Maybe now I could finally start to piece together the fractured statements they had left behind – clues to the secret treasure.  I took a closer look and worked the glinting light. A different record, by a different band, on a different label, released in a different year, but it read the same as the last, “A PORKY PRIME CUT”.

My mind broke.

Cue imaginationgazm. Ctrl + Alt + Delete.

Reboot.

This was too much. I needed to know more. So in the style of a true 21st century investigative journalist, I Googled it. All it took was a few seconds for me to successfully demystify and debunk my cherished theory of gremlins and industry revolution. Brilliant.

“So long childhood!” my brain screamed.

I learned that it wasn’t tiny people with sharp sticks, but it was in fact fully grown men with names like, ‘George Peckham’ who were responsible for some of the most famous of these secret messages. I also learned that there are great catalogues of these etchings that have been dutifully curated by fans around the world, in an attempt to – at last – piece together the dying breaths of the revolution and reveal the hidden treasure. But these are both topics for future writings that we’ll delve in to some other time.

This age of information is a wonderful thing, but with instant access to facts and hard data, is there really any room left for mysticism and fantasy? No matter. If there is no room for it online, it fits perfectly in to place where the record ends.

About the Author

Gareth Peebles – I have always been in love with popular culture – but, being a child of the 80’s and part of “the MTV generation”, I suppose it’s fitting that the one constant in my pop culture obsession has been music. Music, music, music. All day, everyday, in every and any way that I can get it.

My first full time job was at a now defunct major label store – which I loved. Then I taught Media Theory & Production for a few years – which I also loved. Now I get to listen to music all day and create stuff using computers, which I love too!

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