Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Concentric Grooves

Concentric Grooves

Those who first purchased Monty Python’s Matching Tie and Handkerchief album in 1973 were in for several surprises when they pulled the album out of the sleeve. After the first shock of the aforementioned male accessories being attached to a dead man, lovingly created by Terry Gilliam on the inner sleeve, the purchaser then had the record label to contend with having both sides labelled “FREE RECORD, given away with Monty Python’s Matching Tie and Handkerchief - Side 2”. After listening to both sides and having a good chuckle, it would be neatly filed away for next time. When it did return to the turntable to be replayed, it may then have been an amazed listener who was hearing a completely different recording of Python material.*

How could this be? 
The concentric groove.

The Concentric groove, sometimes called a double or parallel groove is simply more than one groove that is cut into the disc (think of the difference between a single carriageway road and the lanes on the M25, maybe it would be a more interesting motorway if it just spiralled in on Central London) and depending on where the needle lands in the leadoff area you will hear one of whatever that groove contains. Whilst on this Python offering this was kept quiet, probably for the self-amusement of the team, concentric grooves were often marketed as a selling point. The earliest example is a 1901 78rpm on the Victor label, demonstrated on this You Tube video.

 Since the 30’s various “Horse Racing” games have employed the double groove to bring in the random element that you can bet money on.  Examples of which can be seen here
The first vinyl release I can find is a 7” 45rpm on the RCA Victor label by “The Fontane Sisters” called “Fortune Teller Song”. Released in 1951, on what became known at the time as magic records, this contains four different endings depending on which of the four grooves your stylus fell into. 

The earliest stereo records were also produced using concentric grooves and a special double stylus; one groove had the right channel and the rest you can work out for yourself. These were little more than test pressings that were quickly superseded by the single stereo groove in 1957. 

The first concentric groove record I bought was on a 12” 45rpm. “Pop Music” by  “M” was released in 1979, side 1 contained the A side “Pop Music” and  the B side “M Factor” on the coin flip concentric groove which must have driven DJ’s mad. Side two had a single groove with a disco mix of “Pop Music” (bravo chaps).
Throughout the eighties various 7, 10 and 12 inch records were released with various combinations of concentric groove. The prize for the most however goes to the octo-groove flexi disc issued with Mad Magazine in 1980. It’s not Lennon & McCartney standard song writing, but hats off for getting 8 grooves on a flexi disc.  

The latest and bravest use of a concentric groove is on Side 2 of Jack White’s Lazaretto, which for the first song starts off on concentric grooves, giving you either an acoustic or electric intro before the stylus is corralled into a single groove for the rest of the song. It almost works! With the acoustic version it plays through fine, only with the electric intro is there a small repeat of the word “just”, but full marks for effort. It would have worked better if the whole track was on concentric grooves and merged quietly between the banding. 

However many grooves you find, enjoy them, and if nothing else, next time a smart alec tries to assert their cleverness on you with the question "how many grooves are there on a record" you can tell them.

*This was only on the real second side of the original pressings and it’s quite plausible that it could have taken many more plays to discover this extra material. In fact there may be some who still haven’t discovered this. 

Matching Tie & Handkerchief on the Charisma Label
Side 1 - Matrix / Runout (Runoff A): CAS 1080 A-1U
Side 2 - Matrix / Runout (Runoff B): CAS 1080 B-1U A PORKY RAY ADVENTURE
And yes, Porky Ray is the infamous George "Porky" Peckham, one of the finest master disc cutters in the land.


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