Ryan and the Technicolor Wardrobe
Short Stories and Essays

I returned from Record Store Day 2013 with most of the items that I wanted, but instead of leashing a sonic fury in my house at 8 in the morning, I decided to take a nap with the intention of listening to all of my new records when I awoke at a reasonable hour.  When I did awake, the first record that I decided to listen to was ironically not something new to me, but something that was only previously available to me on CD, and I didn’t even start the record at the beginning, in fact, I started the record at the end of the last song.  Even the most devout music fan would observe that I was engaging in some very bizarre behavior especially without the context of which album I was listening to.  I was listening to a compilation called No Alternative, and I was eagerly waiting to see if the record, like the CD, had the unlisted track, “Verse Chorus Verse” by Nirvana. When No Alternative originally came out, I knew about the Nirvana song because my friend’s older brother bought it long before I did and he gave me the head’s up about the “secret song”, so waiting to see if the song was also on the vinyl edition was the closest to being surprised about the “secret” that I was going to get.

I can only imagine how amazing it would’ve been to be someone in 1993, listening to this compilation all the way through, and right when they thought the album was over, Kurt Cobain’s guitar and voice chime in, playing a Nirvana song that was previously available only via bootlegs. Of course, most “secret songs” aren’t as exciting or good as this particular one.  More often than not, they’re not as good as anything on the album and that’s they’ve only made it as a “bonus”.  Either that, or the song doesn’t fit in with the rest of the album, or perhaps in the case of Ash’s 1977 album, the “bonus” isn’t a song at all. On 1977, what follows the last song and a few minutes of silence, is a recording of the band laughing hysterically and vomiting over and over again.  Why this is on the album – to this day, I still have no idea.

So with a personal history with such mixed results, I’m not sure if I miss that the “secret song” is pretty much extinct. I haven’t  particularly lamented the decline of the “secret song”.  The last one I remember finding was “Shhh” by Atmosphere off Seven’s Travels and that came out in 2013, a whole 10 years ago.  I like “Shhh” quite a bit but it’s not making me a cranky old man about the death of the secret song. I could easily go on a tangent about how the internet has made it virtually impossible to keep these songs a secret, or how iTunes and Amazon has forced bands to include these songs as bonus tracks as an incentive to buy rather than as a secret for the hardcore fans, but there are still secrets – they’ve just evolved.  Now there are secret videos embedded in sites, secret usb drives placed in random locations for fans to find, special guests at festivals, so it could be argued that it’s more exciting now than it was back in the time where one would skip through 5-10 minutes of silence on a 20 minute song to see if there was a song tucked at the end.

It’s entirely possible that not all record collectors have a conflicted apathy towards the “secret song”.  On the same day that I bought my vinyl version of No Alternative, and re-discovering the secret song all over again, I saw that there was a special 7″ record being sold that came in a sleeve that was completely black.  The only information on the packaging was that it was part of Warner Bros. “Side by Side” series where they have a band cover a song on one side, and they have the original version by the original artist on the other side.  Not only was the song a secret, but the artists as well.  The record was picked up on blind faith by more than a handful of people that morning, including myself, and I hope they were pleased with results.

Of course, even though the 7″ was a total surprise, it wasn’t the first record that I opened when I got home from the record store.  That, of course, was No Alternative, just so I could hear the secret Nirvana song.  There was definitely a feeling of euphoria when I realized that there was definitely something after Patti Smith’s “Memorial Song”, and since I already knew about the “surprise”, I can only attribute the satisfying feeling to the surprise of re-living something that has become so steeped in nostalgia and realizing that while a lot of things have changed, the fan in me hasn’t.

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