Traditionally, the dead wax between the final grooves and the record label is a relatively benign, uninteresting space. You might find a matrix number, or perhaps a few extra digits referring to the cut or take of a particular record—or maybe, if you’re lucky, the mastering engineer or pressing plant will add their own signature. Look a little closer, though, and you’ll occasionally find some exceptions.
Over the years, mastering engineers or artists have, on occasion, also used this space to insert mysterious, hidden messages and inside jokes. I’ve even heard of some examples where random initials are etched into the wax alongside the expected mastering engineer’s mark; who knows what mysteries are hidden in the dead wax of countless records and what they might mean?!
Run-Out Message Origins
The original prankster is said to be legendary mastering engineer, George Peckham who signed off many of the records he cut with his nickname “Porky”, or “A Porky Prime Cut”. Eventually, he took it one step further and began regularly inscribing witty remarks (often based on the album’s lyrics). Perhaps the most eccentric example can be found on side A of Elvis Costello’s second album, This Year’s Model, which read “SPECIAL PRESSING NO. 003. RING MOIRA ON 434 3232 FOR YOUR SPECIAL PRIZE”. Allegedly, the number—and the contact—was real. The joke wore thin with Costello’s press office pretty quickly!
I’ve been lucky enough to pick up a couple of original pressings with George Peckham’s signature marks over the years. Namely, T-Rex Electric Warrior, which reads PORKY on side A (see first image in this article) and PECKO-DUCK on side B (see below). I love discovering original pressings with unique markings like these; they’re a unique little piece of vinyl record history.
Although George Peckham is credited with starting the trend of writing nicknames in run-out grooves, there are lots of other examples from around the same time. Two other common examples include ‘Bobil’ and ‘Bilbo’ (often mixed up for understandable reasons, but they are, in fact, two different people). ‘Bobil’ was Bob Hill, a Trident Studios cutting engineer and ‘Bilbo’ was Denis Blackham, an engineer at IBC Studios. According to Blackham he was reading The Hobbit at the time and decided on ‘Bilbo’ for his nickname. (Interestingly, ‘Bilbo’ cut the T-Rex single ‘Hot Love’ and Marc Bolan of T-Rex was also a huge J.R.Tolkien fanatic).
…Now Over to the Artists
For your further amusement—or perhaps bemusement—here are some examples of artists waxing lyrical on the dead wax of vinyl records.
One of the most prolific examples comes from The Smiths, which is probably no surprise as Morrissey has always taken inspiration from literature, and is arguably one of pop’s most literate songwriters.
“FEAR OF MANCHESTER/THEM WAS ROTTEN DAYS”The Smiths – The Queen is Dead (1986)
Other examples from The Smiths include the ‘Ask’ single (1986), which read “ARE YOU LOATHESOME TONIGHT?” on side A, and “TOMB IT MAY CONCERN” on side B. Plus there’s the 1984 hit ‘William it Was Really Nothing’ which featured what I can only assume is a reference to Oscar Wilde’s play, The Importance of Being Ernest. Side A and B read respectively as follows: “THE IMPORTANCE OF ERNEST/ROMANTIC AND SQUARE IS HIP AND AWARE”.
“STAMP WHERE YOU STAND/A MILLION WAYS THINGS COULD BE”John Frusciante – Curtains (2019 Reissue)
Regular readers of Sound Matters will know my fondness for John Frusciante’s work. I spent years searching for an original copy of ‘Curtains’, but with no joy. So when the 2019 re-press (cut by Bernie Grundman) was announced, I pounced! To my delight, it featured a beautifully positive run-out groove message.
“I LIKE YOU, YOU ARE A WONDERFUL PERSON/I’M FULL OF ENTHUSIASM I’M GOING PLACES/I’LL BE HAPPY TO HELP YOU/I’M AN IMPORTANT PERSON, WOULD YOU LIKE TO COME HOME WITH ME?”Radiohead – OK Computer (1997)
The following Radiohead example is not only packed with very Thom Yorke style anecdotes, but the record label also features one of the best examples of abstract side-labeling. Sides 1,2,3, & 4 are replaced with Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Mo.
“WHY DON’T YOU TRADE THOSE GUITARS FOR SHOVELS?”Nirvana – Love Buzz Single (1988)
If you’re lucky enough to own an original copy of Nirvana’s first single, ‘Love Buzz’, you’ll find the above inside joke. Allegedly, Kurt Cobain’s father would regularly yell this line at the band during their practice sessions at his home in Aberdeen, Washington.
“FOR SLY WITH LOVE”Red Hot Chili Peppers – Freaky Styley (1985)
The Red Hot Chili Peppers have made no secret of their funk, soul and punk influences. So when they covered Sly & The Family Stone’s ‘If You Want Me to Stay’ on the George Clinton produced album, Freaky Styley, they paid tribute by etching ‘FOR SLY WITH LOVE’ into the run-out of side A.
SO MOTE BE IT/DO WHAT THOU WILTLed Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin III (1970)
For Led Zep’s third offering, Jimmy Page and engineer Terry Manning inscribed the above quotes from Occultist & Black Magician, Aleister Crowley during the final mastering process. I don’t pretend to know the full meaning, but it’s certainly no secret that Page and Robert Plant were heavily influenced by methodology and the occult during their prolific years.
There are countless further examples; too many to list in one article. Secret messages are just one of the many elements that make the vinyl format so appealing and collectible. Quirky inscriptions bring us closer to the people behind the records, from the mastering engineer to the pressing plant, and, of course, the artists themselves.
You cannot replicate such levels of personalization in the digital realm, which is likely one of the reasons vinyl refuses to disappear. Some artists, such as Jack White, for example, continue to push the envelope of what is possible with the vinyl format—the principal example being the revered Lazaretto ‘Ultra LP’. This highly experimental release was rammed full of features, including a hand-etched hologram etched into the dead wax of side A. Other features included secret tracks hidden inside the labels, locked grooves, dual-grooves, reverse playback on side A, and a matte finish on Side B, giving the appearance of an un-played 78 RPM record. As a nod to the experiment, Side B also has “KITCHEN SINK” etched into the runout on Side B.
Know of a compelling secret message we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments below.
Interesting that Frusciante’s 2019 re-issue of Curtains had something written in the dead wax. All the original albums he put out in 2004 when he released like six albums all had lyrics of the the proceedings album if I recall. But then those same albums that were re-released in 2012 didn’t have the lyrics, only the words “Noiseland” and “Frusciante” I’m pretty sure.
I’ll have to compile a list of which albums had which lyrics…. 🤔
Rolling Stones 12×5 side 2 matrix numbers etched twice…first attempt is scratched out and rewritten.
Cool – that’s a nice anomaly. Happy spinning!
Beatles- Let It Be: “Phil and Ronnie 4ever”
Great addition. Thanks Eric!
Robert Fripp-The League of Gentlemen- THE NEXT STEP IS DISCIPLINE
The Tubes–“The Tubes” Side 1: “This is the 84th time I have lied to the nation.–Al” Side 2: “Don’t you wish YOU had a baby’s arm holding an apple?” (the second “you” is underlined, not caps). This is only on the first pressing, I think. I had one, broke it, got another and it didn’t have the writing on it. Some 35 years later a stranger heard my story about this, 2 years later found a first pressing at a collector’s show in San Fran and sent it to me.
(Sorry–actually all the words of each message are printed in caps)
Ah cool, nice that they found that for you. I just love all these hidden messages.
WeirdAl Yankovic, Dare To Be Stupid: More songs about Television and Food.
Many many jazz albums, especially Blue Note’s have RVG in the dead wax which are the initials of the great Rudy Van Gelder.
My Heart album Little Queen had “Dog and Butterfly”; their next album, etched into the runoff
Thanks for the article I always wondered what these were. My 1981 copy of Meat Loaf’s “Dead Ringer” has “REEKS OF CLASSIC CHICKEN” on the A side and “CHICKEN OUT OF HELL” on the B side . Seems a bit rude… I wonder if Meat Loaf (RIP) ever saw that.
Now that is a peculiar one! Thanks for sharing
Eagles Greatest Hits has “HAPPY NEW YEAR, GLYN—” on Side A and “—WITH LOVE FROM BILL” on Side B.
Eagles Hotel California has “IS IT SIX O’CLOCK YET?” on Side A and “V.O.L. IS FIVE PIECE LIVE” on Side B.
Thanks Jordan – great to see more of these quirky run out groove messages. Love the “Is it six o’clock yet” one!
V.O.L. is “Victim of Love” and is a reference to the fact that that song was recorded live in a single take (not necessarily one take, but without punching or overdubs other than vocals). Meanwhile, Hotel California was assembled out of 33 edits on the two inch master… maybe that’s why they’re asking if it’s 6:00 yet?
the producer, Bill Szymczyk wouldn’t let them do drugs until 6pm. some days all they did was sit around asking, “is it 6 o’clock yet?”
I have the Greatest Hits with Happy New Years on it. I noticed this years ago and always wondered about it.
lol I used to etch date bought and or who I love on my 45s as a teen (80s teen)
Joe Walsh – But Seriously Folks says “Luncheon counter of the deli kind” on A side and “Call it in the air” on B side.
Joe Walsh – The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get says “Because we like you”
Those are the only others that I know of in my collection. Cool article.
[…] 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 […]
I have an 1971 original of B B KING Live at Cook County Jail. ABC Record. It has “With love from Jessica” scratched in deadwax.
I have many albums with such messages/comments but cannot find out anything about this one.
Thanks Stuart. Great addition. I think, in many ways, a little mystery adds to the appeal!