Locked Grooves – Endless Fun (Literally)

Marc HenshallMarc Henshall
Culture & Industry3 Comments

In a recent feature, we explored the weird and wonderful world of run-out groove messages. From mastering engineer signatures to hidden messages and inside-jokes, there is a whole world of interesting etchings to explore. Closely related to this topic is the world of audible locked grooves.

Standard records have a locked groove at the end of each side, usually in the form of a silent loop that keeps the stylus from drifting onto the label. It is possible to incorporate sound into this extra space, and many artists and engineers have used the technique over the years to create infinite loops. Locked grooves are a perfect example of how the vinyl format is more than just a medium for storing music; making records is an art form in its own right—a white canvas for creative expression.

There are countless great examples of locked grooves in action, here are some of my favorites:

The Beatles – Sgt Pepper

Perhaps one of the most well-known examples of a locked groove is The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. After the last track, the deadwax reveals a creepy layered loop of voices that plays to infinite. The band were fascinated with tape manipulation and Musique Concrète, a musical style often touted as pioneering the world of electronic music. The band’s obsession with early avant-garde electronic music is also evident from the front cover of Sgt. Peppers, where if you look closely, there is a picture of Karlheinz Stockhausen, a German avant-garde electronic composer. Interestingly, even if you could decipher the hidden words in this seemingly LSD-fueled loop, there are countless different examples from one pressing to the next. Check out the YouTube clips below and you’ll hear the most common loop closely followed by multiple other examples from different releases.

Pink Floyd – Atom Heart Mother

The last track on Atom Heart Mother is a curious part-soundscape, part dialogue affair, featuring the bands then roadie, Alan Styles preparing, discussing, and eating breakfast. If that wasn’t mad enough for you, the piece came about by Roger Waters experimenting with the rhythm of a dripping tap. The original LP opens and closes to the sound of a tap, which continues into the locked inner groove. If left unattended, the drip plays on indefinitely.

Jack White – Lazaretto

Most records play from the outer edge in, but not in the case of Jack White’s Lazaretto “Ultra LP”. In this instance, side A plays from the inside out. At the end of the side, there is an unconventional locked groove on the outer edge—something of a first in vinyl record production (as far as I know). Side B also features a locked groove, albeit in the more conventional sense.

The Mars Volta – Frances The Mute

Here’s one that for some folks is a bit of a Holy Grail. Released in 2005 (back before the vinyl revival really took off) the limited-run vinyl pressing of Frances The Mute, by The Mars Volta has locked grooves on all three records. The really clever thing is, when you get to side two, the beginning of this side starts with the exact same loop as the locked groove on side one. This continuation effect lends itself perfectly to the modern progressive rock aesthetic of The Mars Volta; here’s an example of side one in action:

Rush – Fly By Night

If you’ve discovered Rush later in life or as a young person after the time, you’ll likely be familiar with how the chimes at the end of “By-Tor and the Snow Dog” fade-out over time. Pick up a 1970s copy, however, and you’ll be treated to never-ending chimes, as they loop indefinitely into a prog-rock abyss.

The Moody Blues – On The Threshold of a Dream

I’m a huge fan of albums that start and conclude with the same riff, motif, or atmosphere. To me, they always feel like a well-written paragraph—elegantly constructed and beautifully planned. The Moody Blues are pioneers of the perfectly composed prog-rock album, so their style naturally lends itself to the creative use of a locked groove. Check out the end of side two, where the same analog synth sound from the opening track continues into a loop. Later CD and tape editions of the album simply fade-out slowly.

Wrapping Up: The Art of Making Records

I could go on. You could include the cult album “Unknown Pleasures” by Joy Division as another example, which also ends with a locked groove playing the sound of breaking glass repeatedly until the tonearm is lifted. There are countless other examples, and I encourage you to share your favorite locked groove examples in the comments below. Arguably, no other musical format leaves so much to the creative imagination in realizing an exciting and collectible product. What strikes me most is how the novelty hasn’t worn off; yes, a lot of examples are from the 60s and early 70s when psychedelia was at its peak, but there are plenty of contemporary examples to match. That’s the beauty of making vinyl records; there is always another angle and a new way to use old techniques to express the artist’s creativity. Vinyl is the ultimate physical format.

Know of a locked groove we’ve missed? Drop us a note in the comments below.

  • Avatar Paul says:

    Marc, thank you for the plug and for taking my once meager idea of a blog to astonishing new heights. Very well-written and fun indeed, with great examples galore. I would add (for the uninitiated) that these locked grooves will only be heard on a manual turntable. Any turntable with an auto shut-off feature will only play the locked groove information for a fraction of a second before the turntable’s automation kicks in. Hope some of the readers will contribute as there’s bound to be many, many more. Cheers and wellness from the Bay Area.

    • Marc Henshall Marc Henshall says:

      No worries! Thanks for the idea. Great point about automatic turntables that I neglected to mention.

  • […] In order to keep the delicate stylus from hitting the label at the center of a vinyl album, records have a locked groove at the end of each side. In this space many artists and engineers have created infinite loops. Here’s more from Sound Matters: […]