Unlisted Numbers

Lord knows how many poor, unsuspecting fools are killed by hidden tracks every year. Think of it -- the late-night lone driver, winding down a mountain highway, happily head-bobbing to the latest CD by his or her favorite band. The final chord of the last listed track fades, but he leaves the volume set on stun, assuming the disc is indeed played out. It's a tragic mistake. After ten minutes of soothing silence, he's jarred by a blast of feedback from a nefarious hidden cut, crashes through the guardrail, and plummets to a fiery doom. When authorities arrive on the scene, the charred, mangled five-disc CD changer is the last place they think to look for the cause of death, and the accident goes down as "excessive speed/driver lost control." Oh, the diabolical shame of it all!

If people would only look at the digital display on their players when loading a potentially dangerous CD. If it shows 99 selections instead of the 11 listed on the cover, that's a sure-fire tip that at least one hidden track lurks in wait.

Some of you old-timers out there may be thinking, "Curse you, digital technology! Would that we could return to a simpler, safer time when albums ended when they were supposed to." Balderdash! Despite being a prank of choice among "alternative" artists, hidden tracks are an idea with roots reaching back to the glorious black vinyl of the Sixties.

As a public service, we put together a time line of how this unsettling phenomenon came to be, revealing where some of the more notorious hidden tracks are stashed away. Remember -- when the music's over, DON'T turn out the lights!

Hidden Cuts: The Vinyl Years
1. Bob Dylan. The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1962). An early predecessor to the hidden track as we know and love it. Columbia Records strongly objected to four politically charged songs on Dylan's second album, and replaced them with less controversial material during its second pressing. While the new titles were printed on all the album covers and labels, the boys on the factory floor either got goofy or struck a blow for free speech, and some fans who bought version two of Freewheelin' got the old record inside a new package. Talk about "Mixed-Up Confusion." Imagine expecting to hear "Bob Dylan's Blues" and being treated instead to the caustic "Talking John Birch Society Blues."

2. The Beatles. "Inner Groove"(1967). Although not an actual song, "Inner Groove" was the first hidden cut purposely designed to freak out people who think the record's over. After the dramatic 53-second piano chord ends "A Day in the Life," proud owners of early European pressings of Sgt. Pepper were jolted back to reality by a few seconds of loud gibberish on the run-off groove.

Naturally, Beatleologists looking for the Word played this bit of nonsense backward and uncovered an even bigger bit of nonsense: What sounds like a pinch-nosed Paul McCartney screaming "We'll fuck you like you're Superman." Well, that's one way to prove little Paulie isn't dead!

3. The Rolling Stones. "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" (1967). During John Lennon's infamous 1970 interview with Rolling Stone wunderkind Jann Wenner, the ex-Beatle complained that those copycat Stones were always two months behind the Fabs. With all the Stones' drug busts in 1967, Mick and the boys found themselves a solid five months behind Sgt. Pepper. Natch, the Stones' psychedelic mishmash Their Satanic Majesties Request also featured a brief hidden track.

Buried at the end of side one is a slowed-down rendition of the Yuletide favorite "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," played on Mellotron by Bill Wyman. It wasn't such an unusual selection, considering the album was originally titled Cosmic Christmas.

Less-than-decadent Decca label executives put the kibosh on another seasonal greeting the group was bent on including inside the garish gatefold sleeve A a picture of Jagger naked and hanging from a cross. Bah, humbug!

4. Rod Stewart. "Amazing Grace" (1971). Right after his raucous interpretation of Elvis Presley's "That's All Right Mama" (on Every Picture Tells a Story), Rod the Mod rips into an off-the-cuff rendition of this old spiritual, accompanied only by Ron Wood on slide guitar. Unplugged and unlisted.

5. Monty Python. Matching Tie & Handkerchief (1973). And now for something completely different -- this comedy album has a whole hidden side. Side two has alternate sets of grooves, yielding one of two different skits, depending on where the needle lands.

6. John Lennon. "Nutopia International Anthem" (1973). The man who imagined no countries -- and who was about to be deported from one -- gave birth to a new nation on the cover of his Mind Games album. Lennon proposed "Nutopia," a place that had no borders or government but that did sport a nifty theme song -- three seconds of silence at the close of side one. Apparently, some fans felt shortchanged by this "mind game," prompting EMI to print "(Silent track, 3 seconds)" on the cover of the budget reissue.

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Serene Dominic
Contact: Serene Dominic