Music is apparently a great place to hide secret messages. The Underground Railroad supposedly coded escape plans into slave work songs, and Mozart’s music features more secret Masonic symbolism than the back of a dollar bill. Well, it turns out some of the most popular musicians of the past 50 years have been getting in on the action too, and just not telling anyone. It’s almost like they knew the internet would be invented, and that the music fans who hang out there would have way too much time on our hands. How else can you explain …
10. Jimi Hendrix’s Hidden Alien Message
The song “Third Stone From the Sun” from Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced album is a trippy jazz/rock instrumental with some weird noises in the background. It’s the only instrumental track in the album and also the one most likely to trigger an acid flashback.
But what’s even trippier about it is that if you adjust the speed of your record player to play the song like a 45 rpm vinyl (a format usually reserved for singles), you can suddenly hear two aliens talking by radio as they approach Earth. What’s an alien message doing in an album about simple topics like kidnapping ladies and burning stuff? Nobody knows.
If you want creepy, you can always trust Nine Inch Nails to take things to the next level: The track “Erased, Over, Out” from their remix album Further Down the Spiral is long and repetitious … perhaps intentionally, because if you fast-forward through it on a regular CD player, you can clearly hear the words “ERASE ME” being repeated over and over and over. So if you ever heard that song at regular speed and afterward felt an inexplicable urge to format your hard drive, now you know why.
Purging your data is a perfectly natural response to NIN.
9. Radiohead Hides Entire Booklet (and a Conspiracy)
Radiohead’s 2000 album Kid A, a follow-up to the hugely successful OK Computer, seems to be particularly good at spawning conspiracy theories. In an article in The New Yorker, British novelist Nick Hornby called it “commercial suicide,” speculating that the band may have intentionally made it weird and experimental as way to piss off the label and get out of their record contract (too bad it went on to be a bestseller). And then there’s Spin magazine’s Chuck Klosterman claiming that Kid A unintentionally foreshadowed 9/11 a year before it happened.
Oddly enough, Kid A did include creepy clues to the future, but not on the album itself — they were hidden in the actual packaging. You see, besides the regular cover booklet with the usual stuff like lyrics and credits, there was a second, slightly more disturbing booklet hiding behind the album’s tray. The tray was all black, so the extra booklet wasn’t immediately visible. It featured strange art and snippets of lyrics, as well as some other pieces of text that seemed to be random bits of poetry.
It may have also been Thom Yorke’s rejected children’s book, You Will Never Sleep Again.
But it turns out those pieces of text weren’t just random writings from the band — they were actual lyrics from their next two albums, 2001’s Amnesiac and 2003’s Hail to the Thief. Yep, the satanic-looking secret booklet printed the lyrics for songs that wouldn’t come out for three years. Granted, it’s pretty common for bands to leave songs off of albums and re-use them later, but it’s still very cool that those who found the booklet got a preview of the future.
Thom Yorke’s bed-sheets and walls are covered in “previews” like this.
And what do you know, after Hail to the Thief, Radiohead was finally free of their recording contract and went independent for their next album, 2007’s In Rainbows. And speaking of In Rainbows …
8. Radiohead’s Decade-Spanning Secret Album
Radiohead’s In Rainbows came out on 10/10/2007, 10 years after OK Computer, and there are 10 letters in the names of both albums. Additionally, OK Computer‘s original working title was Zeroes and Ones, or “01,” (the mirror image of “10” … obviously). Even that last part alone is enough to make Radiohead fans start looking for a crazy conspiracy, as you’re probably aware if you’ve ever had to spend a long car ride sitting beside one. The scary part? This time they’d be totally right.
This is what doing a whippet on the highway looks like.
There’s a way to combine the tracks from OK Computer (hereinafter referred to as 01) and In Rainbows (hereinafter referred to as 10), to form one huge mega-album. As Puddlegum explains, “To create the 01 and 10 playlist, begin with OK Computer‘s track one, “Airbag,” and follow this with In Rainbow‘s track one, “15 Step.” Alternate the albums, track by track, until you reach “Karma Police” on OK Computer, making “All I Need” the tenth track on the 01 and 10 playlist.” It’s not that they sound nice together; it’s that these songs were definitely meant to make us s**t our pants when played like this. In the way that “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight” and “The End” all flow into each other on The Beatles’ Abbey Road, these songs all flow into one another as well, as if they were all recorded in one big session.
Just listen to it. To get the full effect, you need to set your player with a 10-second crossfade between tracks (more 10s!), but you can notice most stuff without doing that. Thens**t your pants.
Is Thom York moody, or is he acting like he just crapped his pants
as a really subtle clue?
This blogger points out that the song “Nude” (10 album), starts with the reverb from “Subterranean Homesick Alien” (01 album) still lingering, and the beats at the end of “Airbag” (01) set the tempo for “15 Step” (10). There’s nothing unusual about that … except when you consider that those songs were written and recorded 10 years apart. The pants-shitting synchronicity also applies to the lyrics. Puddlegum gives some examples and says: “There appears to be a concept flowing through the 01 and 10 playlist. Ideas in one song [are] picked up by the next.” In fact, one of the songs from In Rainbows was originally written for OK Computer and not used for 10 years, and the title of another seems to sum up the whole thing: “Jigsaw Falling Into Place.”
Remember all that “10” stuff we mentioned up top, about the date, the time between albums, the number of letters in the titles and whatnot? Want more? Radiohead themselves announced In Rainbows only 10 days before it came out (which is rather unusual), and the announcement was followed by a series of 10 cryptic messagesposted by the band on their website. That’s nothing new: Cryptic messages might be the only way alternative rock musicians know how to communicate. But then Radiohead fans, being Radiohead fans, noticed that the messages emphasized the letter X (one image was titled “Xendless Xurbia”). And, say, isn’t “X” the Roman numeral for 10? Plus, let’s take a look at this cover art real quick.
Oh, look, two 10s. Huh
The band has never officially confirmed any of this, though Puddlegum claims Thom Yorke was annoyed by how long it’s taken people to figure it out. Come on, dude — not all of us are insane alien geniuses.
7. Tool’s Epic Do-It-Yourself Song
Three separate tracks from the latest Tool album can be assembled into a different one — it’s like Voltron, only with progressive metal songs instead of progressive metal robots (seriously, those guys had a woman pilot before most airlines). But plenty of bands do multi-part songs, so there’s nothing special about it, right?
You can’t spell “diVersity” without some of the letters in “Voltron”!
Well, the difference is that, in this case, you don’t get the full song by doing something as mundane as playing one track after the other — you get it by changing the order and playing them at the same time.
By themselves, the songs seem completely different: “10,000 Days” (11:13) is a long prog-rock number, “Wings for Marie” (6:11) is a quiet song that builds up into a crescendo, and “Viginti Tres” (5:02) is just a bunch of weird noises. 6:11 plus 5:02 adds up to 11:13 — that’s because you’re supposed to put “Viginti Tres” and “Wings for Marie” together (in that order) and play them at the same time as “10,000 Days.”
Sobriety is optional, but not recommended.
If that sounds too complicated for you, check out this demonstration at YouTube-Doubler. You’ll notice that the weird sounds from “Viginti Tres” seem to be in sync with the melody of “10,000 Days.” That demonstration doesn’t include “Wings for Marie”, though, which has the most impressive part: Near the end, the vocals from both songs alternate almost perfectly, forming completely different lyrics.
The band has never acknowledged any of this, but if you listen to the full song it’s pretty obvious that they did this intentionally … which is both mind-blowingly awesome and a little bit insane.
Also like Voltron.
6. Aphex Twin Gives You Nightmares
Calling Richard D. James (the founder and sole member of alternative rock band Aphex Twin) an eccentric is hardly a stretch. He lives in a converted bank office owns a tank and submarine, and has a deranged compulsion to plaster his face all over s**t, as seen most prominently in the insanely terrifying music video for “Come to Daddy.”
Things like this should not happen in music videos. Or anywhere.
But, apparently, exposing your eyes to images of abject horror isn’t good enough for Richard D. James. He wants you to hear those images, too. His 1999 single, “Windowlicker,” included a B-side with the catchy name of …
… (fans just call it “[Equation],” unless they’re real douchebags). Five minutes and 30 seconds into the song, a metallic, buzzing noise is heard, which is frankly nothing out of the ordinary for Aphex Twin. What IS fucked up is that when you run that section through a spectrograph (a program that converts sound waves into visible images), this comes out:
You weren’t planning on sleeping tonight, right?
The insane, nightmarish grin of Richard D. James himself is entering your ears in the form of sound waves. You can see the image being formed bit by terrifying bit here, if you must. Encoding photographs into sound is actually pretty simple (you just need to find the right software), but not everyone can get away with taking the resulting mess and slapping it into a song.
Richards isn’t the only one who has done it, though. Nine Inch Nails hid part of their album’s cover art in two songs from the album Year Zero, and lesser-known electronic artist Venetian Snares included spectrographic pictures of his cats … in an album titled Songs About My Cats.
5. Pink Floyd’s Real Backward Message
Putting backward messages into music (also known as “backmasking“) was all the rage back in the 80s — and by “all the rage” we mean “the subject of congressional inquiries.” Bands such as Judas Priest and Led Zeppelin were accused of including subliminal satanic mind-control messages in their songs, in what was undoubtedly one of the stupidest moral panics in American history.
We’re beginning to think these guys may not be the best role models.
The “satanic messages,” of course, were complete horseshit, because it’s practically impossible to purposefully sing or speak something that is intelligible both forward and backward. This is why most of the alleged messages sound like the singer is having a seizure. But backmasking has been used intentionally by bands like The Beatles … mostly because it sounds cool. They never meant to hide anything: it was done for purely aesthetic reasons.
Hundreds of pages of blotter acid counts as an aesthetic reason, right?
In 1979, Pink Floyd became the first popular band to include a reversed message that was actually intended to be hidden. On the first half of their classic album The Wall, the song “Empty Spaces” contains what sounds like mumbling when heard forward, but is actually muffled speech that reveals itself when reversed. Any concerned citizen desperate to find something to be outraged about must have gotten pretty excited when he reached that part … until he heard what it says (turn your speakers way up):
“Hello, hunters. Congratulations. You have just discovered the secret message. Please send your answer to Old Pink, care of the Funny Farm, Chalfont–“
… and then the speaker is interrupted by a female voice saying someone is on the phone. Not exactly “DELIVER YOUR ANUS UNTO SATAN.” We’re afraid that’s about as exciting as real instances of backmasking get — unless you count grunge band Ash hiding an entire song on their debut album, Trailer. When reversed, pitch-shifted and sped up, the noise at the end of Track 5 actually turns out to be a demo track of another song on the album. What’s so neat about that? The album was released in 1994, when the cost of the audio equipment and/or software to hear the song would have put it out of the reach of the vast majority of listeners. That’s several layers of hidden. This would all be a whole lot more impressive if anyone actually knew or cared who Ash was.
These guys look more like the roadies than the band.
4. Monty Python Album Makes You Question Your Sanity
Let’s say you’re listening to a record and you hear a track you like. In fact, you like it so much that you call some friends over to show them this amazing song. But then you play the record … and the song isn’t there. In fact, the whole record seems completely different from what you remember. Your friends laugh at you, your girlfriend leaves you, and your parents call you a disgrace. Eventually you’re institutionalized and die from insanity.
That is literally the only way that scenario can play out.
That’s probably (definitely) what happened to anyone who listened to Monty Python’s Matching Tie & Handkerchief album (which, to add to your mental stress, did not always come with a tie or a handkerchief). One side of the album had two completely different sets of tracks, and you never knew which one you’d get until you played it. How was this possible? Well, for starters, you need to have the original vinyl version of the album, which requires being over 40 and/or a weirdo.
Lots of vinyl albums used lock grooves. That’s when the needle reaches the end of the album and instead of, you know, ending, it keeps playing the last part in a loop. The Beatles did it with Sgt. Pepper’s, which ended with a “sound designed to annoy your dog” and an endless loop of laughter and gibberish.
In case you were wondering why they’d do that.
But then there are double grooves, which is when the album’s grooves are pressed in a way that makes it so you get a completely different set of tracks depending on where the needle lands. That’s what Monty Python did, and the best part is that they didn’t bother to tell anyone about it, creating real confusion in the audience. Also, the record sleeve didn’t even list the album’s tracks, presumably so that there was no f*****g way you could prove to your friends that you weren’t lying about what you heard. On top of that, both sides were labeled “Side 2,” making things even more maddening.
We’re fairly certain Graham Chapman was an Elder God.
Mr. Bungle later did something similar in Disco Volante: If you play the record from the beginning, you get the normal tracks, but if you drop the needle at a specific point in the middle, you can hear a secret song (as long as you have the U.S. vinyl version). But then again, chances are anyone listening to Mr. Bungle is already on drugs and won’t think much of that.
3. Led Zeppelin’s Changing Album Art
On first look, the artwork to Led Zeppelin’s In Through the Out Door is the most boring in their whole discography — the front cover is just a photo of some guy sitting in a bar, and the inner sleeve shows crude black and white drawings of the contents of the table. Where are the naked aliens crawling through rocks? Where are the exploding zeppelins, bizarre obelisks and satanic references?
Why have they stopped trying to make us feel uncomfortable?!
But the album art is only boring on the surface … literally. If you wash the inner sleeve with water, those lame black and white drawings become permanently colored. And since no one intentionally gets water on their albums, this means most people probably found out about this when his a*****e roommate spilled bong water on it.
“Hey, what the f**k are you … Whoa.“
The artwork uses the same special watercolors employed by some coloring books, but the band never advertised or even mentioned this feature, so you could have owned the album for decades without realizing you could do this (as a simple eBay search reveals). And even then, most painted sleeves we could find are only partially colored, like the one above, probably because so many people had heart attacks shortly after discovering this.
2. Public Enemy Hidden Track Gives Critics the Finger
You probably know about hidden songs at the end of a CD, typically after a long silence or multiple blank tracks. Some, like “Endless, Nameless” from Nirvana’s Nevermind, are famous in their own right. On the final track of One for the Kids, Yellowcard has a hidden song that shows up only after a silence that lasts for exactly 4:20, because they’re very subtle.
It isn’t easy to find photos of Yellowcard concerts that aren’t obscured by billowing clouds of blunt smoke.
Most are just good for scaring the s**t out of you when you forget you left your CD player on and are starting to fall asleep. There are other ways to hide a song, though, like before the CD even starts.
Before the first track on any CD, there’s a section of data called the pregap, which is typically used to store structuring data for the disc itself. But a few enterprising artists found a way to place audio in the pregap, which is like putting the salami on top of the bread. To access the pregap, you must go against your every instinct by pressing and holding the rewind button at the beginning of the first track, until it can’t go back any further. This will often show a “-1” in the display window, with all the creepy associations that brings to Super Mario Bros. players.
Lots of bands have hidden stuff in the pregap, and they’re not always limited to the first track, either. Progressive rock band Dream Theater hid instrumental intros on half the songs on their album Octavarium. Most pregap tracks are stuff like that — short intros or band chatter — but then there are bands who try to get more creative with it, like Public Enemy did in their 1994 album Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age.
Public Enemy is usually associated with old-school hip-hop, but in this album, Chuck D recorded and hid a full freestyle rap titled “Ferocious Soul,” with lyrics mocking the critics who had accused the band of being “anti-black” for saying that gangster rap had negative messages, since it promotes unrealistic things like ridiculous wealth, being constantly surrounded by titties and owning insane amounts of jewelry (shaped like titties). Old-school hip-hop’s lyrics were considered silly in comparison by rap fans.
Pictured: A far less silly representation of life in urban America.
And all you have to do to listen to this rare gem is press rewind. Simple, right? Well, it would be, if it wasn’t for the fact that most pregap songs aren’t accessible anymore. Nowadays, electronics manufacturers have to build their products to a standard known as Red Book audio, and pregap audio goes against those standards. As a result, the majority of stand-alone CD players and computer optical disc drives can’t read pregap audio. ITunes and other media players won’t recognize it and the tracks are typically not available for sale from online music retailers. On the upside, this means those tracks the artists meant to hide are really well-hidden now.
1. Information Society Hides a Text File … on Vinyl
Information Society is pretty much the definition of the one-hit wonder, with 1988’s “What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy)” basically being their only major single. So you probably don’t give a f**k about some New Wave band — we get that. We totally don’t either.
But despite utterly failing in the hair and scarf department, they did do one amazing thing no other band managed to do: hide a text file on a vinyl record. On their 1992 release Peace and Love, Inc., the band included a track titled “300bps N, 8, 1 (Terminal Mode or Ascii Download).” What probably seemed like a load of gibberish to most listeners was actually a set of instructions: If you take a standard modem, configure it with those settings, dial into it with a phone and play the track from the album into the receiver, you’ll end up with a plaintext file detailing an insanely exaggerated story about the band being extorted by the Brazilian government. Here’s a sample:
If this is as urgent as they say, you sort of question the logic of why they’d hide it in such an impossible-to-retrieve format. Most listeners at the time had no idea something like this was possible (s**t, we live in 2010 and we didn’t either), so even if they were computer-savvy enough to understand the title of the song, they probably thought it was an obscure joke.
“How do we make sure that only huge, huge nerds listen to our music?”
Before Information Society, other bands had used a similar method to encode stuff like lyric sheets, promotional information about the band and even a full adventure videogame in all its pixelated glory (you can play in your browser by clicking here). In those cases, you had to record the songs into an ordinary audio tape and then play the tape in a Sinclair ZX Spectrum computer to watch the results (provided your mom didn’t yell at you while you were recording the audio, because then you were fucked). None of these were actually hidden, since they were all intentional and advertised features, but they’re still pretty awesome.
Artists from decades ago were so much more productive. All we get out of Kanye are a bunch of retarded tweets.