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March 18, 2010


Hidden tracks

Hidden Track cartoon

A few days ago the Top 13 posted a list of the top 13 hidden tracks from albums through the ages. Since then I've been thinking about the hidden album track. I remember stumbling upon them on CDs like Nine Inch Nails' Broken, Nevermind, and Blur's Modern Life is Rubbish, and it usually happened the same way: I'd put the CD in the stereo, listen to the whole album while simultaneously puttering around the dorm room or flipping through Ray Gun or however else I spent my time in the mid-90s, then when the album seemingly came to an end, I'd just let it sit there in the CD player.

Some time later, music would unexpectedly burst forth from the speakers, always a surprise and sometimes a startling shocker if I'd gotten really engrossed in reading the liner notes or dozed off (this was college, after all.) A hidden track!

I remember my group of friends being so enamored of hidden tracks that when making mixtapes for each other, we would sometimes include unlisted hidden tracks buried somewhere in the middle of one side of the tape, as a little surprise bonus.

I'm not as in touch with new music as I was 15 years ago, but I'm guessing that the hidden track isn't as popular as it was in the 90s, and has maybe become somewhat of a lost art. Hidden tracks probably work best on CDs: though the first hidden track was probably "Her Majesty" at the end of side 2 of Abbey Road, that track is hidden only in the sense that it wasn't listed on the album cover. Vinyl has tighter space limitations, so even if you notice your turntable is still playing after the music ends, there's only so much dead space a record is likely to devote to a surprise hidden track.

The digital display of a CD tells you it's running through dozens of 2-second-long tracks, or that the last track has continued playing for 6 or 7 minutes after the music stopped. But the way I used to listen to music, I usually didn't even notice until after the hidden track unexpectedly started playing.

But think about listening to an album as mp3's on your computer or on an iPod. The hidden track makes no sense in a digital music collection. You'd see that odd-looking "16:37" length of a song right there on your screen, or those extra, unnamed 38 tracks between the last two songs. It would be obvious. And imagine how irritating it would be if an extra long song with a hidden track at the end of it came up on shuffle. You'd probably try to edit out the dead air and split the songs into two separate tracks.

The thrill of the hidden track has faded.

Here's Wikipedia's entry on hidden tracks and their varieties, as well as a very lengthy list of examples.

A few of my favorite hidden tracks: "Postscript" at the end of the Pet Shop Boys' Very, the track at the end of the 1977 album by Ash, and that great untitled song at the end of R.E.M.'s Green album, which might not really be hidden, but it's unlisted on the album cover. Also "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" by Lauryn Hill, the raging, feedback-y "Endless, Nameless" by Nirvana, and, of course, "Bitches Ain't Shit" on Dre's The Chronic, which are all included on the Top 13 list.

What hidden tracks do you like?

categories: Music
posted by amy at 3:51 PM | #

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My favorite recent one is "Running the World"/"Cunts are Still Running the World" from Jarvis Cocker's album "Jarvis."

Posted by: cushie at March 19, 2010 11:41 PM

I don't remember which album this was from, but it was one of the most elaborate hidden tracks: it was hidden before track1. You had to play track1 and rewind to reach it.

Posted by: at March 20, 2010 4:30 PM

I like this track from Q-Tip's CD Amplified called "Do It Be It See It" one of my favorites by him by far. Jill Scott had a nice one on her debut, "Try."

Posted by: Jason Elias at March 20, 2010 9:32 PM

For some reason, this topic made me nostalgic for that rapid-rising tone 'bleep-bleep-bleep-bleep' sound they used to put at the end of tapes.

My favorite - The song that comes on at the end of Belle and Sebastian's "Put the Book Back on the Shelf." From the EP "3.. 6.. 9 Seconds of Light."

Least fave - the song/interlude that comes on at the end of "Enjoy the Silence." Singlehandedly ruined the contunuity of thousands of mix-tapes.

I also enjoy when Stereolab suddenly changes their tune/tempo/whatever in the middle of a track. Ala "Lo Boob Oscillator" or "Captain Easychord." That's kinda secret, perhaps.

Posted by: ORStylee at March 24, 2010 6:40 AM

Yeah, that kind of hidden track where you have to rewind to before the start of Track 1 of the album seems to be called a pregap track.


I have no idea how people know to look for those. I guess that's what the internet is for.

I wonder if Jarvis's "Cunts Are Still Running the World" was hidden because the label didn't want to deal with the headache of printing "cunts" on the album cover. Anyway, you can watch the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=monyiOsoKxg

That uninteresting hidden track on "Enjoy the Silence" reminds me of those only-funny-the-first-time skits on a lot of hip hop albums from the 80s and 90s. You're trying to make a mixtape with a De La Soul song or "Fallin' Up" from the first BEP album, and that damn skit messes up your flow.

Posted by: amy at March 24, 2010 10:15 AM

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