June 9, 2021
The Mystery of 'Dirty Lil Secret'
By Brian Heaton
After 40 years, there aren't many unknowns about Queensryche's song catalog, particularly that of the band's original lineup. Casual fans can recite most of the lyrics of Operation: Mindcrime and many are likely familiar with all the singles and favorites from Empire and Queensryche's other records. Even rarities such as “Last Time in Paris,” “Real World” and “Chasing Blue Sky” have been examined ad nauseum over the years. But there's one track that has eluded significant attention: “Dirty Lil Secret.”
“Dirty Lil Secret” was written by Chris DeGarmo and Geoff Tate, and first appeared as a b-side on the “I Am I” and “Bridge” singles from 1994's Promised Land. It was produced and mixed by James “Jimbo” Barton and recorded by Barton and/or Tom Hall (I've seen conflicting info). That's it. That's the extent of available information on the tune. If that seems curious, you're not alone. Combing back through magazine articles in the 1990s, the song is never discussed by the band, and it was never played live by Queensryche.
The lack of information on “Dirty Lil Secret” is surprising, given the attention most other songs by Queensryche received during the 1990s. Back then, every tune was dissected by critics and fans. Even the band's label seems to be confused, having re-issued “Dirty Lil Secret” as a bonus track for the various editions of Empire over the years, despite the song initially being a part of the Promised Land era.
So, what's the scoop? The hell if I know. In the 27 years since “Dirty Lil Secret” blasted through my speakers, I haven't uncovered anything else (other than the lyrics) on it. Even Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), which handles the licensing of Tate and DeGarmo's works, doesn't have the song in its database. Given Barton was the producer of the tune, not Peter Collins (who is, I believe, erroneously listed as the song's producer on YouTube), my feeling is “Dirty Lil Secret” was written and recorded at the same time as “Real World.” (Information is sparse on that, too.) The two songs were likely submitted as entries for the Last Action Hero soundtrack (the film was released on June 13, 1993, about a year after Queensryche's last public appearance as a band in support of Empire). “Real World” was on that soundtrack, so it could be that “Dirty Lil Secret” was simply rejected and sat there unused.
I suppose Queensryche could have used it on Promised Land, and perhaps that was their original intention. But given that record's overall melancholy vibe, it's not surprising “Dirty Lil Secret” wasn't included—it doesn't mesh well with the rest of the material on the album. As a result, it was simply tacked onto the first two singles as a b-side.
Personally, I love "Dirty Lil Secret", which has this snarky, bluesy vibe. DeGarmo's solo is quirky and another example of how his lead playing heightens the message of the song. Stylistically, “Dirty Lil Secret” could have been right at home on Empire. If you haven't heard it, check it out. I feel it's a bit in the same vein as “Last Time in Paris,” but with more serious lyrics.
Examining the words, “Dirty Lil Secret” is ripe with social commentary. It discusses those people who rise to positions of power, and how they feel their way of thinking and doing things is superior to others. The song uses segregation as an example of something initially taught by leaders or authority figures as “correct,” but ultimately viewed by the majority as “wrong.” Overall, “Dirty Lil Secret” paints the picture that successful (or at least opinionated) people, often have the most to hide. It also takes a shot at former Republican Senator Joe McCarthy, who infamously alleged that Soviet spies had infiltrated the U.S. government and all facets of American life in the 1950s, helping fuel fears of a communist subversion. He was later censured by the U.S. Senate, and many of his war stories were found to be exaggerated.
Sadly, I don't see “Dirty Lil Secret” ever being highlighted in concert by Tate or the current version of Queensryche. It's an obscure track in the band's history that may not be recognized by crowds who are more interested in Queensryche's mainstream and popular songs. But “Dirty Lil Secret” certainly had promise as a single and a potential hit in the early 1990s. It's a shame the tune never got the attention it deserved.
Brian Heaton is the founder of AnybodyListening.net, and a co-author of Building An Empire: The Story of Queensryche, the band's first biography, due fall 2021 on NW Metalworx Music.