WHAT'S the secret rage of the recording industry? It's LP graffiti. If you've never heard of it, that's because it's written by and for members of the recording community, an industry in-joke of sorts. Even so, you'll find it in one of the most public places conceivable -- right on the record. Whether your taste runs to Patti Smith punk or mainstream Eagles, Eddie Rabbitt to the Clash, your record collection is apt to be buzzing with silent conversation. To eavesdrop, simply pull an album off the shelf and take it out of the sleeve. Now hold it up to the light and look closely at the dead space between the final track and the label, the place where the needle keeps dancing for a few moments after the music stops. Move it around in the light, there's a message. There, see it? Right next to the matrix number. Nobody seems to know exactly who wrote the first LP graffiti, but the trail goes back at least as far as the Beatles, who had the words "Ronnie and Phil" scratched into the vinyl of "Hey Jude" in 1968. Ronnie Spector herself carried on the tradition with her first solo album, produced last year by Genya Raven and proudly inscribed, "this is ronnie's first album." "It's been going on for quite a while, but who knows where it got started?" shrugs George Marino, an engineer for Sterling Sound who has scratched messages on a fair share of records. "Often, the little sayings come from something that went on during the recording of the album, something the artists want to remember the sessions by. It's kind of like singing license plates. With certain groups, it's an ongoing thing." Indeed, the recent demise of the Eagles can be viewed as much a blow to vinyl art as to rock. They could always be counted on for a bit of finely-etched philosophy ("don't worry / nothing will be OK!"), advice ("never let your monster lay down") and civic insight ("is it illegal to yell 'movie' in a firehouse?"). "I've been cutting records for 13 years, and I'm still trying to remember what was the very first time we did this," says Bob Ludwig, vice president and chief engineer for Master Disk. "We only put them on when a producer or artist wants them, and sometimes I have no idea what they mean at all. "When Meat Loaf was recording his most recent album ("Dead Ringer"), though, he was eating a lot of chicken. I mean a lot of chicken, and we used to joke about that. And one day I was listening to the session and I said, 'Hey, Loaf, that song really reeks of classic chicken.' That really blew him away, so I was kind of proud when he put 'reeks of classic chicken' on one side. His first album was called 'Bat Out of Hell,' so he put 'chicken out of hell' on the other side." In fact album messages often tell more about the food that fuels a recording session than any fanzine could dream up. If Meat Loaf's energy came from chicken, the Searchers apparently ate a lot of carry-out fish during the recording of "Love's Melodies." "Scampi & chips," announces side one, while the other protests, "not prawns again!" Dan Fogelberg and Tim Weisberg must have been on a better budget when they teamed up to make "Twin Sons of Different Mothers." "Mumms' the word" was their motto while they recorded the album, whose other side was graffiti'd "flute by numbers." Other bands require different studio stimuli. "Never let your monster lay down," proclaims the Eagles' "The Long Run," while their double live LP demurs, "Not tonight, thanks. . . / I've gotta rest up for my monster." A monster, for the uninitiated, is Eaglese for a full-scale bacchanalia. And the recording studio trend of Eastman School of Music, he got his earliest disc-cutting experience in classical music before producer Phil Ramone beckoned for him at A&R, and he recalls only one instance of graffiti during his classical-mastering career. "Nonesuch did a lot of classical recording, and I did hear about a guy at the pressing plant, some guy who was angry with management or something, who sabotaged a recording of Bach sonatas. The stuff he put on there was really gross, though. I'd be too embarrassed to tell you what it was, but they had to re-press it. The guy was fired." Even in rock and roll, there's not a lot of gratuitous graffiti going on. It costs about $200 to master a record, according to Ludwig. Add to that the studio time and the mastering time (Ludwig charges $160 an hour), and it becomes clear that whatever message appears better meet with the approval of all concerned. "Sometimes they ask us to inscribe something on the album, or we might actually ask them if there's any message they want on it," says Marino. "Most of the time, the sayings make no sense to anybody except the artist, and maybe sometimes not even then. "But," he points out, "personalizing the lacquer for an artist also helps guard against bootlegging. In other words, if an album shows up without the inscriptions, which a lot of people don't look for or even know to look for, then it's one way you can tell it's a bootleg." Sometimes, too, the messages reveal the intentions of the artist or label. "We at stiff records have rachel prejudice," boasts Rachel Sweet's debut album, and her second release proclaims that "stiff record (sic) are / responsive to rachel." Robert Fripp's "League of Gentlemen," released early in 1981, announced that "the next step is discipline," and sure enough, later that year he re-formed King Crimson, whose first release was entitled "Discipline." Joe Ely's "Musta Notta Gotta Lotta" takes a more codified tack; the inscription seems like just another matrix identification until its acronymous braggadocio is sounded out: "FURN2CNWRNRNSS4U." (Translation: If you are into country-and-western rock-and-roll, then this is for you -- as good a description of his rockabilly style as anyone could spell out.) Occasionally, a message can contradict the image of the artist. To wit: Patti Smith's "Horses," on which the punk princess had lovingly inscribed "mom and dad." Awww. Joe Walsh's "So What?" album vents a usually-concealed sensitivity about his personal appearance ("that's no banany, that's my noze"). And consider Eddie Rabbitt's touching evaluation of his first hit release, "Horizon": "it's great," insists Side One; "said it was great," says a smug Side Two. Although there's very little message sending among different groups, producer Bill Szymczyk gets across-the-soundboard razzing from groups he's worked with -- everything from jokes about his name ("after 15 years, I still can't spell szymczyk / is it one 'L' or two?") to slurs on his ethnic origin ("from the polack who sailed north"). "It's an aberration," admits Ludwig, "but it's kind of fun." Indeed, album graffiti is a way for artists to add a personal touch to what has become, after all, a very complex and heavily-populated process. For the record-buyer, it's an interesting and harmless insight into the personality of an album or its artists. And if you're listening more and enjoying it less, a little graffiti can even be a record's saving grace. A sure indication that the trend isn't in danger of extinction comes from Pat Travers' "Radio Active" LP, released last year: "stop L.P. grafitti [sic]."