There’s something to be said for the curious art of bands hiding hidden messages, and even entire songs on their recordings.
From The Beatles arguably being the first to introduce the idea in the late 60s, to the accusations of evil messages hidden in the songs of seventies rock bands; right through to the popular 90s tradition of tucking away hidden tracks at the tail-end of a CD’s running time – it’s always been a particularly physical phenomenon.
It’s also something that’s harder to achieve in the digital era, so sit back and enjoy as we uncover the more interesting hidden stories and messages, the secret and not-so-secret things that musicians have attempted to bury.
Guns N’ Roses – ‘Look At Your Game Girl’
While hidden tracks are a left-field move for any band, covering a song by a convicted murderer and cult leader goes beyond contrariness. But that’s exactly what Guns N’ Roses did with the Charles Manson-penned ‘Look At Your Game Girl’, which appeared hidden away on their 1993 album The Spaghetti Incident; and it almost seems wrong to say, but the original is better.
Led Zeppelin – ‘Stairway To Heaven’
In 1982, a US television program alleged that hidden messages were contained in many popular rock songs through a technique called backward masking. The cited example was ‘Stairway To Heaven’, which the show claimed included satanic references. The alleged message occurs during the song’s middle section (“If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow…”). Which very loosely translated to: “Oh here’s to my sweet Satan. The one whose little path would make me sad, whose power is Satan. He will give those with him 666. There was a little tool shed where he made us suffer, sad Satan.”
You Am I – ‘Forget It Sister’
Widely considered one of the finest Australian albums of all time, Hourly, Daily is a sprawling tour of suburban Sydney through the eyes of the laconic Tim Rogers. One of the album’s highlights is the hidden track, ‘Forget It, Sister’ which arrives after a few minutes of silence following the closer, ‘Who Takes Who Home’. Unexpectedly, Rogers chimes in with “good morning baby” bringing the record full circle to the early hours, and opening “Good Mornin” – an ode to breakfast radio.
Nirvana – ‘Endless, Nameless’
The nihilistic squall of this hidden track, buried at the quintessential grunge band’s iconic Nevermind showcases Kurt Cobain’s love for the Pixies’ style dynamics – but without his usual interest in pointed pop melodicism. Instead it’s a crash and bash of tuneless distortion, and feverish squeals of nonsense. If ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ broke Nirvana into the mainstream, ‘Endless, Nameless’ was a reminder that Kurt and co. were still noisy rebels at heart.
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The Beatles – ‘Her Majesty’
Rounding off 1969’s Abbey Road is ‘Her Majesty’, a Paul McCartney ditty that appears 14 seconds after ‘The End’, the album’s last listed song. At less than 30 seconds long, there’s not much going on – it’s just Paul, acoustic guitar, a lovely vocal melody, and some amusing lyrics including “Her majesty’s a pretty nice girl / but she doesn’t have a lot to say”. In fact, the Fab Four are often credited with inventing the secret track phenomenon, with the sound collage at the end of Sgt. Pepper’s that loops infinitely on vinyl players.
The Jam – ‘English Rose’
While Paul Weller spent the ’80s revelling in his newfound feminine side with The Style Council, he wasn’t always so comfortable with such outward displays of sensitivity. So goes the story behind ‘English Rose’, a beautiful acoustic ballad that appears on side one of 1978’s All Mod Cons. While it plays conventionally as track four on all copies of the record, its obscurity is owed to the fact neither the song’s title nor lyrics were printed on the sleeve because Weller believed it was too personal.
Blur – ‘Me, White Noise’
The hidden track from the Britpop luminaries’ last studio album before their hiatus, 2003’s Think Tank, recalls one of their most famous collaborators, the voice behind ‘Parklife’ and mod icon, Phil Daniels. Entitled ‘Me, White Noise’, the song appears in the pre-gap (the portion of audio before track one). Clocking in at nearly seven minutes, Damon Albarn spits gravel over a midnight dance beat. Those desperate for Blur rarities would do well to check this out.
Eels – ‘Mr E’s Beautiful Blues’
Mark Oliver Everett and his musical outfit had a minor hit in 2000 with ‘Mr E’s Beautiful Blues’, reaching number #11 on the UK Singles chart. The lead single from their third record Daisies Of The Galaxy, the band threw fans a curve ball by leaving it off the track listing on original pressings of the album. Which means that the song may be the most commercially successful hidden track ever. Sneaky stuff.
Tool – ‘10,000 Days’
It’s one thing to hide a song in the pre-gap of an album, or bury at the end; but the hidden track on Tool’s 10,000 Days is a wildly different (and more inventive) proposition. Essentially, it’s a DIY secret that only enterprising Tool fans (is there any other kind?) will be able to piece together. Joining ‘Wings of Marie’ and ‘Vigniti Tres’ together, and then playing them alongside the 11- minute title track, reveals a densely layered epic. Cryptic and clever, huh?
Pink Floyd – ‘Empty Spaces’
Isolated on the left channel of this track from the classic Pink Floyd album The Wall is a secret message. When played backwards, Roger Waters’ voice appears saying: “Congratulations, you have just discovered the secret message. Please send your answer to Old Pink, care of the Funny Farm, Chalfont.” A clever nod to the music world’s obsession with ‘satanic messages’ hidden in popular music.
Public Enemy – ‘Ferocious Soul’
Hidden in the gap before the opening track of the furious rap group’s 1994 album Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age is ‘Ferocious Soul’. A cutting freestyle attack on those who claimed Public Enemy were “anti-black” for criticising the “negative message” of gangster rap, it’s scathing stuff. It ends with a blunt message that leads into the album proper; “Don’t fuck with me.”
Franz Ferdinand – ‘Michael’
Played forwards, “Michael” is a risqué indie-rock song about a secret bromance, notable for lyrics such as “stubble on my sticky lips”, and “beautiful boys on a beautiful dance floor”. Played backwards however, there’s a secret message, with a voice saying: “She’s worried about you, call your mother.” According to a fan site, the message is a homage to bassist Bob Hardy, who was worried about calling his mum back home while on tour.
Queen – ‘Another One Bites The Dust’
With a Chic-inspired bass line and infectious chorus, ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ was always going to be a hit. This was much to the fury of Christian evangelists, who believed the song involved a satanic back-masked message in its chorus. Hear Freddie Mercury singing backwards, and there’s the simple suggestion of: “It’s fun to smoke marijuana.”
The Clash – ‘Train In Vain’
Given its popularity in the canon of Clash songs, it’s hard to believe ‘Train In Vain’ was not in fact originally listed on the band’s 1979 opus London Calling. It’s a little-known fact that instead, a sticker was attached to the cellophane wrapper on the record. This was because the song was added to the album at the last minute, after the sleeve had been produced.
Radiohead – In Rainbows and OK Computer
Deep within Radiohead circles, it’s believed that In Rainbows was released as a complementary piece to the Oxford quintet’s landmark 1997 album, OK Computer. The conspiracy goes that In Rainbows came out 10 years after OK Computer and was released on October 10 (10/10). Fans believe if you create a playlist, alternating between the two albums and crossfading, they mesh perfectly. Go on, you know you want to try it.