Christians (actually) hiding secret messages on vinyl records!
October 24, 2019 4:15 PM   Subscribe

"35 years ago a Christian rock band encoded a Commodore 64 program on a vinyl album, and this YouTuber managed to retrieve and run it." Robin Harbron runs the 8 Bit Show and Tell YouTube channel and has a lot of Commodore 64 (and 128) videos. This one is his latest.
posted by jessamyn (23 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Very cool. Reminds me of Camouflage by Chris Sievey. I like that it's in the runout groove.
posted by surlyben at 4:46 PM on October 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

I haven't thought about this album in decades, but I remember it being actually pretty good as far as old school Christian rock goes. Looking forward to revisiting the music and checking out the program.
posted by vverse23 at 5:08 PM on October 24, 2019

If you play it backwards, does it reprogram your 1541 firmware? (at the height of the Satanic Panic I attended a religious function where they played several rock albums backwards to expose the eeeeeee-vil, but no mention of this)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:19 PM on October 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

Really cool! "Outsider" stuff like this and Camouflage mentioned above are fascinating in their own right.

I met a guy through work who noticed my retro-themed t-shirt and told me about how he used to have a slot where he'd broadcast programs on local radio so that people could record them to tape to load later. Awesome, but wouldn't fancy fighting with bad reception!

I do feel like the early "anything is possible, what does that mean?" days of any given wave of computing technology are equally as fun and rewarding as the late "look what we squeezed out of this antiquated thing" ones.
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 5:44 PM on October 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

Chris Sievey - Camouflage - Sinclair ZX81 pop video! (so you don't have to go hunting.)

This brings back traumatic memories of cassette players and Apple ][ computers and fiddling with the volume to get it just right and carefully putting a piece of tape over the volume control wheel because it had to be in just the right place for it to work. Never did get a floppy drive for that machine.

Cool post, I've been on a dive into memory lane recently watching Amiga Hardware Programming 1 - Use the Assembler and wait for left click videos which while came a decade later still bring back that feeling of '83-'84 weird computer hackery that teenage me was hacking about with.
posted by zengargoyle at 5:49 PM on October 24, 2019 [6 favorites]

If you have an Apple ][ and a 3.5mm cable, you can load games over the interwebs via the cassette input.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:39 PM on October 24, 2019 [4 favorites]

Semi-tangent, the C=64 was never my system but a friend recently punted me this quietly satisfying video of someone fixing a bug in an old assembler in assembly. Maybe not of great interest to everyone but apart from the bug-hunting and patching I was most tickled by the easy familiarity with the quirks and details of the computer itself.
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 7:51 PM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

posted by aws17576 at 8:34 PM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

(at the height of the Satanic Panic I attended a religious function where they played several rock albums backwards to expose the eeeeeee-vil, but no mention of this)

I always wondered how they did this when I hear these stories. By they I mean whatever theoretical Sunday School teacher or concerned parent or whatever, because it's not like people had a copy of Audacity back then to just reverse a recording, and it's unlikely they knew the DJ's method of doing it. (See below!)

Because if they were just manually winding a record backwards on a crappy old belt drive turntable just about everything you play like that is going to sound pretty evil and weird.

The DJ's way of playing a record backwards is to use a turntable that lets you flip the head shell and cartridge unit upside down, adjust the tone arm weight balance so it rises and floats instead of sinks, then place a record on the table on a mostly used or empty roll of packing tape, gaffer tape or duct tape then carefully center the record on the roll of table and turntable by sighting down through the hole in the middle of the record.

To play you carefully move the tone arm underneath the record at the inside of whatever track you're playing, let the upside down needle rise up to the bottom of the record, then hit play.

You may now play whatever record you want backwards at a normal RPM. Assuming you get the record centered properly it will be a stable sound, but will likely "wow and flutter" a bit as it's hard to get right on the center without using the record spindle hole.

Anyway, I've always been tickled by this idea of some fraught citizen on patrol manually backspinning heavy metal records like some goofy avant garde experimental college radio DJ that just discovered that randomly scratching gospel and heavy metal records into a delay processor sounds kind of cool at 3 AM when you're stoned out of your gourd.

I've always wondered if it inspired some kid to become a DJ or turntablist and get into "battle" style DJing and scratching. Like they hear their Sunday School teacher backspinning some fresh Quiet Riot vinyl and they're just like "WOAH HOLY SHIT YOU CAN MAKE RECORDS SOUND LIKE THAT!? COOOOOOOOOOL." and they go home and fuck with their parent's Styx and Yes records on the dusty old Realistic turntable in the basement and 20 years later you have Girl Talk or Four Tet or something.

Because if my Sunday School teachers brought in a turntable and some heavy metal and started scratching it and trying to backspin it that's pretty much what would have happened to me.
posted by loquacious at 8:56 PM on October 24, 2019 [8 favorites]

With some of the reel to reel machines it was easy to play tracks backwords.
Mostly fairly uninteresting as I recall.
posted by hmolwitz at 9:39 PM on October 24, 2019

IIRC, the backward-messaging thing really started during the "Paul is Dead" rumor/meme/urban legend run amuck thing during the late 60s, which of course sprang from the bafflement of a certain segment of fans that the Fab Four weren't the lovable mop-tops of yesteryear. It took a while for this to percolate down into fundamentalist suspicion of pop music (and especially heavy metal), but eventually you get to the James Vance case.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:39 PM on October 24, 2019

Huh. I just pulled out my copy and by gum in the lead out groove there’s a little C-64 there I never noticed before. Most leadout grooves have something scribbled in them so that’s not unusual. I don’t see any sly references on the record sleeve credits. And I bought this when this record was new and I never heard about any secret program. So I am delighted to see this.

By the way it is a good album.
posted by bigbigdog at 10:37 PM on October 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

Also, we did indeed turn the record backwards, straining to hear “here’s to my sweet Satan” in Stairway to Heaven and “turn me on, dead man” in revolution number nine. Also, Kiss means “Kings in satan’s society” and AC/DC is a reference to bisexuality.
posted by bigbigdog at 10:45 PM on October 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

posted by mazola at 11:11 PM on October 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

You could also listen to records backwards by using compact cassette. The method was quite easy for a 13 year old to master though by now I've forgotten how I did it exactly.

Queen, ELO and Led Zep had the best recognisable lyrics from what I remember.
posted by Kosmob0t at 3:38 AM on October 25, 2019

So there was this bubble gum pop Brazilian singer called Xuxa (which in itself was funny to my teenage self because in Chilean it sounds like 'chucha', which is a mid-level swear) and there was a rumor that if you played her most famous song backwards it said 'el diablo es magnífico' ('the devil is magnificent'), so a few people tried it and it sounded like, something? Maybe that if you really wanted to hear it, but the outcome was that she got more popular and whenever they played her at parties, which they really did, at the chorus she'd sing 'ilari-lari-e, oh oh oh!' and everybody would sing back "¡El diablo es magnífico!", so I assume my entire generation is damned for praising Our Dark Lord repeatedly and in public.
posted by signal at 5:34 AM on October 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

The audio from the YT isn't quite good enough to load as a program into a real C64.

If he'd care, he'd share.
posted by scruss at 6:54 AM on October 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

The second or third single from School Of Fish’s first album back in the early 90s was a song called Wrong. For the vinyl version they sent to college radio stations, they not only used nice-looking blue vinyl, but they printed it backwards - the spiral of the groove ran counter-clockwise instead of clockwise. The record jacket had a big sticker on it that read “Put the needle in the middle! This is Wrong - get it?”

You hadda pay attention and make sure to catch the needle before it ran off the outside of the record.
posted by nickmark at 8:15 AM on October 25, 2019

If he'd care, he'd share.

There's a download link in the polygon article which is broken, but in the details of the YouTube video there is a working download link.
posted by jessamyn at 8:57 AM on October 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

And, if you play the album backwards, it has Mr. T telling you to stay in school, stay off drugs, and brush your teeth.

Seriously: this and the Timex Sinclair video posted in the thread: so cool, things I had no idea had happened, and I lived through that whole backward-masking and home-computer-revolution era. I had a C64 but never had a cassette deck drive, so this probably just didn't register while I was downloading Brøderbund games at 300bps. Thanks for digging this up!!

(By the way, play the first line of R.E.M.'s "Begin the Begin" backwards.)
posted by not_on_display at 1:36 PM on October 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Of course, Information Society famously included a story in a track entitled 300 BPS N, 8, 1 (Terminal Mode or ASCII Download)
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 7:36 AM on October 26, 2019

in the details of the YouTube video there is a working download link

Ah, thanks; the details, wherein the devil lurks.

Can I just say that this is one of my least favourite types of YouTube video? Not for the discovery, not for the process, but for the endless footering about that the creator does. Edit, man, edit! I don't need to see you missing the locked groove several times. I don't need to see you not quite getting the the drive belt in place. Seriously, there's about five minutes of interesting content lurking in that 17 minute video. And other videos, like “The Extra Spaces in Commodore 64 BASIC Errors”: who the actual f has 37 minutes to devote to watching that?
posted by scruss at 6:12 AM on October 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Holy shit, PRODIGAL. As someone who was just starting to listen to Christian rock music in the mid 80s, Prodigal was one of those familiar names that got eclipsed by the touring powerhouses like Petra, Stryper, and Mylon & Broken Heart. Cool to see they were doing weird, interesting stuff in those days.
posted by verb at 9:08 PM on October 27, 2019

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