Remember secret songs? Tracks hidden on the end of albums, snuck in after a period of silence and not mentioned anywhere on the record sleeve track list, were once a mainstay of pop music culture. Finding one was the bedroom equivalent of a gig encore – a cool little quirk of CD-buying that captured the format’s capacity for mystique and wonder, before the rise of the more clinical mp3. Nowadays, with mp3 sales accounting for 42% of albums sold and Spotify boasting more than 6m paying subscribers worldwide, secret songs have been put on mute. After all, it’s pretty hard to retain the surprise of a secret song when the final track on an album finishes and you look down to your iTunes to find the dot scrolling across its toolbar still has plenty of way to go.
This isn’t another fusty “digital just isn’t the same as having something physical album to hold and cherish, maaaan” think piece – for a start, I definitely don’t miss the crippling back pain of carrying around 20 CDs at a time in a ruck sack to change in and out of my Sony Discman (how many chiropractors do you reckon have gone bankrupt since the iPod’s invention saved the backs of fussy listeners like me?). What I am saying though is, with such a rich history of great secret songs, it’s a bit of a shame they’re no longer. The Vaccines (‘Somebody Else’s Child’), Beach House (‘Wherever You Go’) and the 1975 (‘Milk’) have tried to keep the practice alive in recent years but it’s clear that secret songs have largely become a thing of the past.
So, what’s the best one? There’s plenty of well-known ones to pick from, from the Beatles’ ‘Her Majesty’ (tucked away on the end of ‘Abby Road’ and credited as the first ever secret song) to the Ramones’ punk take on the Spider-man theme, hidden on the end of the vinyl version of ‘¡Adiós Amigos!’ all the way to Janet Jackson’s ‘Whoops’, a secret song hidden on her 1993 album ‘Janet...’ that proved so popular with fans it was released as a single, breaking into the UK singles chart top ten, giving her one of her biggest hits. Ditto Lauryn Hill, whose hidden hip-hop cover of ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ by Frankie Valli on 1998’s ‘Miseducation’ LP won the Fugees singer a Grammy award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
Blur, Beck, Oasis and (inevitably) Pink Floyd were all also fans of hidden tracks. Then of course there’s the Clash hit ‘Train In Vain’ – although that was never meant to be a secret song. Written in one night and recorded the next day near the end of the sessions for London Calling, the artwork had already gone to print so the song was included without being included on the record sleeve track list.
Personally? I’d go for Jay Z, who saves some of his finest flow for secret track ‘Breathe Easy’ on ‘The Blueprint’. Or maybe the untitled track hiding on the end of Dirty Projectors’ ‘Rise Above’, which is the Brooklyn art-rockers at their most grandiose. Then there’s a weird, beguiling collaboration between Amy Winehouse and Wu-Tang Clansman Ghostface Killah hidden on the end of the US import of ‘Frank’ to throw in the mix. ‘Nevermind’ finale ‘Endless, Nameless’ would have to be up there, too.
They’re my picks – what are yours? Let us know via Twitter using the #BestSecretSongs.