In the days before MP3 downloads and music streaming platforms, artists had the pleasure of flogging masses of plastic and cardboard to bow our shelves. Early on, vinyl records were the weapon of choice. The 12” card sleeves offer a giant canvas for visual marketing, something that wasn’t fully appreciated until the 1960s. Bands soon came to realise that sales stood a higher chance of skyrocketing if they lost the boring black and white photographs of band members and opted for sleek images of refracting prisms and flying pigs.
These avant-garde ideas morphed through the years with countless gimmicks intending to shock, pleasure and entice potential listeners. By the 1990s, hidden tracks became an increasingly common feature of albums – the latest swindle. These tracks were placed on records or CDs in a position where the average listener might overlook their existence.
On vinyl, hidden tracks are usually unlisted and placed at the end of the final side of the record with a few minutes of silence or a locked groove shielding the song from our attention.
On CDs, some artists realised the wonders of the zeroeth track. With vinyl, the remaining space between the needle and the centre label is a fairly hefty giveaway for such shenanigans, but on CD, hidden tracks were truly invisible. Track zero can only be found by starting the CD and then rewinding past the beginning of track one.
Today, we reveal the ten greatest and most memorable hidden tracks in music history.
The 10 best hidden tracks on albums
The Sound – ‘Hothouse’
The lesser-known London post-punk group The Sound released their magnum opus in 1981 with From the Lion’s Mouth. The band seem to have continued the direction of the dark and industrial Joy Division sound following the death of Ian Curtis but sadly reaped very little in reward for their sterling work.
The masterpiece is home to some of the band’s best tracks, including ‘Winning’, ‘Contact the Fact’, ‘Sense of Purpose’ and ‘Skeletons’. But one of the most intriguing moments comes toward the end of the second side. The final track, titled ‘New dark Age’, finishes just after five minutes, but after a minute’s pause, the secret track ‘Hothouse’ concludes the album. On streaming services, ‘Hothouse’ is merged with ‘New Dark Age’ with the pause intact.
Ash – ‘Sick Party’
Northern Irish rock group Ash released their iconic debut album, 1977, in 1996. The release included some of the band’s classic hits like ‘Kung Fu’, ‘Girl from Mars’ and ‘Angel Interceptor’. These tracks were all pushed unto the public as singles, but one of the record’s tracks had a much more furtive existence.
After ‘Darkside Lightside’, which appears as the final track, if you left your record spinning for ten minutes, you would be greeted with the harrowing sounds of the band members vomiting and uttering their disgust with themselves. This song – if you can call it that – is named aptly, ‘Sick Party’.
Nirvana – ‘Endless, Nameless’
If you’re lucky enough to have one of the 20,000 first pressings of Nirvana’s 1991 landmark second studio album, Nevermind, you won’t know about this little quirky little finisher following ten minutes after ‘Something In The Way’ on the final side of the LP.
Sure, the album contains some classic hits like ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, ‘Come As You Are’ and ‘Lithium’, but the experience wouldn’t be complete without the fuzzy and intense secret track, ‘Endless, Nameless’. A final touch of artistic genius from Cobain that was left out of the very first pressings because of a mastering error. It was only when the band took the record home that they realised this hidden gem was missing and swiftly reinstated it.
Radiohead – ‘Untitled’
Following the success of their 1997 masterpiece OK Computer, Radiohead’s frontman Thom Yorke became increasingly tired of traditional rock music. For a long while, he sustained himself on a diet of experimental electronic music by the likes of Aphex Twin, Autechre, and Squarepusher. Upon their return to the drawing board, Radiohead came up with one of the finest electronic-rock albums of all time in 2000’s Kid A.
Initially, this album was released on the rarer double 10” vinyl format with Parlophone, as was its 2001 follow-up, Amnesiac, which was harvested from the same studio sessions. The highly sought-after first issue of Kid A plays through the ten full-length tracks over the four sides, but there’s one final track, called ‘Untitled’ on streaming platforms. This secret track plays after a momentary pause on some pressings, but others have a locked groove whereby the needle must be lifted over to be able to play the hidden track.
Blur – ‘Me, White Noise’
While most of these hidden tracks are positioned at the end of the albums, forcing us to lift the needle or sit in silence for a few minutes, Damon Albarn and Co. came up with another genius – if a little irritating – idea.
When Blur released their 2003 comeback album sans Graham Coxon, Think Tank, vinyl had died long ago and was yet to resurrect. With the wonders of the CD, tracks can even be hidden at the very start of an album. To hear ‘Me, White Noise’ you had to rewind from the start of track one. If successful, you would be greeted with a sinister electro-punk ‘Parklife’ hangover, with Albarn and Phil Daniels singing “you’re dead!”
Queens Of The Stone Age – ‘The Real Song For The Deaf’
In 2002, Queens of the Stone Age released their iconic third studio album, Songs for the Deaf. The album is the home to some of the band’s most memorable hits like ‘No One Knows’, ‘Go with the Flow’, and ‘First It Giveth’, but did you ever find its hidden gem?
In a similar trick to that played on Blur’s Think Tank, Josh Homme and Co. released this album with a track zero that one had to rewind the CD to find. Even if you find the track, you can barely hear it. ‘The Real Song For The Deaf’ is a 90-second buzz of low-frequency tones that apparently only the deaf can hear – if that isn’t an oxymoron, I don’t know what is.
Dr. Dre – ‘Bitches Ain’t Shit’
Dr. Dre’s solo mission following success with N.W.A. began with The Chronic in 1992. With classic tracks like ‘Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang’, ‘Let Me Ride’ and ‘Dre Day’, the album was an instant classic and facilitated vocal collaborator Snoop Dogg’s rise to global recognition.
To spice up the already spicy and provocative album, Dre included a hidden bonus track at the very end. The jaunty number, ‘Bitches Ain’t Shit’, bounces forth with an unsettling air of sexism and crude imagery.
Eels – ‘Mr E’s Beautiful Blues’
In February 2000, Los Angeles alternative rock group Eels released one of their most iconic singles, ‘Mr E’s Beautiful Blues’. The single’s parent album, Daisies of the Galaxy, was released two weeks later and included a host of great tracks, including ‘Flyswatter’, ‘Jeannie’s Diary’ and ‘I Like Birds’.
As the lead single, one would expect ‘Mr E’s Beautiful Blues’ to be front and centre, perhaps kicking off side one. Alas, in a strange flirtation with commercial suicide, Mark Oliver Everett and co. decided to place the lead single at the very end unlisted as a hidden track. Quirky? Yes. Clever? I’m not so sure.
Beach House – ‘Wherever You Go’
American dream pop duo Beach House released their fantastic fourth studio album, Bloom, in 2012. The album boasts some of their most cherished concoctions, including ‘Laluzi’, ‘On the Sea’ and ‘Myth’, but one of the album’s beautiful compositions was hidden away for no immediately obvious reason.
After the soaring seven-minute closer, ‘Irene’, we are kept waiting for seven minutes of silence before the unlisted ‘Wherever You Go’ plays in all of its hidden glory. While it wasn’t an act of ludicrous commercial suicide like Eels’ above, it was an odd decision nonetheless.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – ‘Poor Song’
In 2003, Yeah Yeah Yeahs released their debut album Fever To Tell beginning what promised to be an illustrious career with hits like ‘Maps’, ‘Date With the Night’ and ‘Y Control’. In true kooky Yeah Yeah Yeahs fashion, they added a cheeky hidden track to conclude the record.
‘Poor Song’ appears in its own right on modern streaming platforms following ‘Modern Romance’, but on the original hard copies, it was tucked away to be heard and not seen. While hidden tracks at the end of albums can seem artistically futile, the delicate conclusive feel to ‘Poor Song’ seems fitting as a hidden afterthought at the tail end of the otherwise bold and vibrant album.