It used to be that a CD or good old fashioned 12" vinyl would simply play, and your only indication of when it was about to end would be the album tracklisting printed on the sleeve. Hearing another song start up just as you thought the album was finished and got up to change the record was always an unexpected thrill - a surprise encore in your bedroom, a sort of reward for listening right through to the end. Yes, the iPod and its many variants have transformed the way people listen to music, but as someone who grew up waiting excitedly when an album finished to see if there was an extra hidden treat at the end of an album, I'll always see the death of the secret song as the sad flipside of its success.
Not surprisingly, the origins of the hidden track
can be traced back to The Beatles
. 1969's Abbey Road included the 23-second long Her Majesty
(incidentally, also the shortest song in the fab-four's repertoire). However, two years previous a looped 'inner groove'
track played after A Day In The Life at the end of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, arguably the prologue to the hidden track. The inner groove, also known as the double or parallel groove
, continued to be used as one of the best and most creative ways to hide tracks throughout the original heyday of vinyl. It necessitated dropping the needle in exactly the right place at the right point on the record, often infuriating the listener, and was used most memorably by Monty Python on their album Matching Tie
One side of the album had two completely different sets of tracks, and you never knew which one you'd get until you played it... Also, the record sleeve didn't even list the album's tracks, presumably so that there was no fucking way you could prove to your friends that you weren't lying about what you heard. On top of that, both sides were labeled "Side 2," making things even more maddening.
On their 1995 album Disco Volante, Mr. Bungle used the parallel groove to take the idea of hiding a track a step further. 'Spy'
was originally recorded without the knowledge of bassist Trevor Dunn, but he found the tapes and added his own voice
into the song, which was tucked underneath the album's 3rd track, Carry Stress In The Jaw
With the CD came the Pre-Gap
, essentially data inserted before the first track on an album. It's unclear exactly who invented this - Wikipedia's list of pre-gap songs
includes a few that pre-date the birth of the CD with Billy Joel's 52nd Street
, but they were likely added upon reissue. As far as I can tell, the distinction goes to Anal Cunt with their deliciously dirty cover of Hello, I Love You
. For some reason Blur's Think Tank album is often used as the main example of pre-gap usage with the track 'Me, White Noise
', but there are many more creative examples, including Public Enemy's 'Ferocious Soul
', Nine Inch Nails' '10 Miles High
', UNKLE's 'Psyence Fiction Intro
', Blind Melon's 'Hello, Goodbye
' and Kanye West & Mos Def's 'Good Night
The CD era also seemed to give rise to the glory days of the hidden track, beginning in 1991 with Nirvana's Nevermind. Endless, Nameless
, starting 10 minutes after the album's final track, is 6 minutes of distorted noise interspersed with two sections of shimmering melody, and introduced a whole new generation to the concept. In 1993 Janet Jackson had a secret song called Whoops Now
that was the first of its kind to hit the charts. And in 1999, Lauren Hill achieved a milestone with a Grammy nomination
for her hidden track Can't Take My Eyes Off You
, a cover of the Frankie Valli song
One of the most creative hidden tracks ever recorded can be found on Tool's 2006 album 10,000 Days, although you have to look beneath the surface. Generally referred to as 23 Days For Marie
, it requires mixing three different tracks off the album overtop of one another. There are many versions available on youtube (this is my personal favorite
), but some would argue that the spirit of the concept can only be found in mixing your own version according to your taste
Of course, no discussion of hidden music would be complete without a mention of backmasking
. The simple concept of reversing sound was once again popularized by The Beatles on the track Rain
, a b-side of Paperback Writer pre-Revolver, though the invention of backmasking dates much further back to Thomas Edison
. But it was another track by The Beatles, 1968's Revolution #9
, that would remain etched in the public mind for its use of backmasking after becoming a central figure in the whole 'Paul Is Dead
' theory. Perhaps because of its connections to Aleister Crowley's "Occult Law Of Reversal"
, and its later use in the film The Exorcist
, backmasking faced its share of moral criticism in the 1980s (previously
). Yet it refused to die: on their 1995 album My Brother The Cow, Mudhoney included a hidden track called woC ehT rehtorB yM
, the entire record played backwards.
A few lists:
Am I Right
Loudwire Best Heavy Hidden Tracks
XXL Keep Listening: 20 of Hip-Hop’s Best Hidden Tracks
A Journal Of Musical Things Top 10 Hidden Tracks of New Rock
So anyways, what about that 2011 death theory? It would appear that while the peak of the hidden track passed sometime in the 90s, it is still far from being a memory. The last few years alone have seen examples from Arcade Fire
, Justin Timberlake
, Beach House
, and, yes, Paul McCartney