Interludes are an underappreciated tool for musicians, and when used correctly, they can make an album climb to an almost ethereal level. There’s no remit on what an interlude can be; It could be a short skit or a frivolous song, and when nothing is off-limits, creativity heightens.
Artists have been using interludes as far back as the album format has existed, and there’s a reason why they have lasted the test of time. Their most notable asset is that they can instantly change the tone of a record and let an artist press reset.
Thanks largely to their prevalence in hip-hop, when artists often spread out several across their album, we’ve seen a rebirth across every genre over the last decade as the interlude proves that it’ll never die.
Additionally, they can help build momentum leading into the next track on the record. Their sole purpose isn’t to provide momentary respite but instead to create a sense of ambience that empowers the following song on the album.
Below, we explore ten times when an artist has used this vehicle to perfection.
The 10 best uses of interludes:
‘Wild Honey Pie’ – The Beatles
Clocking in at just under the one-minute mark, ‘Wild Honey Pie’ is a ball of weirdness that sets the tone for The White Album. Following ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’, it takes the record further into a field of absurdity that informs the listener they are in for a wild ride.
Speaking about the track, Paul McCartney once admitted it happened while the Fab Four were in an “experimental mode”. Detailing further, he revealed: “I just made up this short piece and I multitracked a harmony to that, and a harmony to that, and a harmony to that, and built it up sculpturally with a lot of vibrato on the strings, really pulling the strings madly. Hence, ‘Wild Honey Pie’, which was a reference to the other song I had written called ‘Honey Pie’. It was a little experimental piece.”
‘Pet Sounds’ – The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys’ seminal masterpiece, Pet Sounds, is full of scintillating harmonies that melt your heart, but the title track is an interlude that doesn’t feature any vocals.
It’s one of a sprinkling of red herrings that they heavenly scatter across the album for the listener to temporarily lose themselves while waiting for another dosage of syrupy Wilson delight. Pet Sounds is an album that everyone should own at least one copy of, and while the interludes don’t take home the headlines, they play an understated role in its magnificence.
‘Allison’ – Pixies
One group that knows the impact of a short song is Pixies, and they have mastered the art form throughout their career with ‘Allison’, a shining example of their skillset.
While some may argue that it’s just a short song rather than an interlude, it still does the job you’d expect by breaking up the album. Sandwiched between the doomy ‘Velouria’ and ‘Is She Weird’ on Bossanova, ‘Allison’ is a facetious minute of mayhem that lights up the record courtesy of the wondrous mind of Frank Black.
‘Embryo’ – Black Sabbath
Black Sabbath’s 1971 masterpiece, Master of Reality, gets off to a start at breakneck speed with the rampant ‘Sweet Leaf’. It’s a track that epitomises everything the heavy metal pioneers stand for and a truly classic album opener that bleeds beautifully into ‘After Forever’.
After that raucous beginning to the album, Sabbath quite rightly slows things down with ‘Embryo’, which is less than 30 seconds long but creates intrigue for the following track, which happens to be the record’s monstrous zenith ‘Children of the Grave’.
‘Bron-Yr-Aur’ – Led Zeppelin
On Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin had a habit of letting their songs breathe, and most tracks on the double album went over the five-minute mark, which is usually precisely what you wanted from them.
However, when you’ve sat through 11-minutes of ‘In My Time Of Dying’ and almost nine minutes of ‘In The Light’, sometimes you just need a short acoustic interval which is where the blissful ‘Bron-Yr-Aur’ proves its worth. Furthermore, it acts as the perfect foil before the album breaks into the gorgeous ‘Down By The Seaside’, where Zeppelin showcases their tender side.
‘Cuff Link’ – Wings
‘Cuff Link’ was one of two short tracks on Wings’ 1978 album London Town with the preceding track ‘Backwards Traveller’. They were packaged together as a B-side to their chart-topping single, ‘With A Little Luck’.
McCartney is the master of using short songs to break up albums, and while ‘Backwards Traveller’ is a conventional track, ‘Cuff Link’ is Macca delving into the realms of ridiculousness. It’s an irresistible synthy instrumental, which sounds like it should be a theme tune for a sleazy ’80s buddy cop movie that might be of its time, but fun nevertheless.
‘Fitter Happier’ – Radiohead
Following the timeless ‘Karma Police’ on Radiohead’s OK Computer, a mysterious voice appears to deliver a sinister dialogue about the plight of the human race and instructs the listener on how they could live a fitter, happier, more fulfilled life.
Thom Yorke even described the track as “the most upsetting thing I’ve ever written.” Additionally, speaking to Humo Magazine in 1997, the singer said: “I had writer’s block for three months. In that period, I could only make lists of words. It took me a long time to figure out that the only way I could translate my thoughts was with these lists.”
‘DVD Menu’ – Phoebe Bridgers
Phoebe Bridgers’ sophomore album, Punisher, was one of 2020s most highly anticipated records. It arrived when people were crying out for it most during the confusing times of the initial lockdown, with the singer getting the tone right with perfect precision.
The subdued nature of the heartfelt record was kicked off with the wholly instrumental ‘DVD Menu’, which stirs up feelings of isolation, and poetically sets the scene for the second track on the album, ‘Garden Song’. It’s an unlikely way to begin a record, but it shapes the fabric that runs throughout Punisher.
‘Team’ – Bon Iver
Bon Iver’s debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago, is the sound of a broken man with nothing left to lose. Following the collapse of his relationship and his musical career going nowhere, Justin Vernon took himself to the woods to pour his heart out.
The instrumental ‘Team’ sits towards the end of the album, just before For Emma, Forever Ago goes into the home run with the titular track and the heartbreaking crescendo ‘re:stacks’. It’s an unsettling effort but crucial in forging the record’s ambience and transports you to the rural North Carolinian log-cabin where Vernon made his opus.
‘Disciples’ – Tame Impala
Tame Impala’s 2015 album, Currents, elevated Kevin Parker’s alias to the top of the musical pile, and it was rightly lauded as a masterpiece. Over half a decade on, the velvety record still flows beautifully, with each song mixing into the next alluringly.
There are three interludes spread out across the release, with ‘Disciples’ the final one that features on the recording, and it’s a travesty that it’s so short. On the other hand, its diminutive length is also why the track is magical because it’s almost impossible to resist the urge to replay.