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Don’t stop the record: 25 hidden tracks worth waiting for

In the age of digital downloads and streaming, the hidden track has all but died. Where CDs used to make use of long gaps of silence, and records would occasionally hide a track after a locked groove, it’s a trend that’s gotten lost in the digital age. While this space could often be used as a place to dole out a cheeky cover or try out a weird skit, it could also be the place to find a hidden gem. Ignoring covers, here are 25 tracks that were worth waiting for.

1 -3. The Beatles, “Her Majesty” (1969); The Clash, “Train In Vain” (1979); The Rembrandts, “I’ll Be There For You” (1995)

Back in the pre-digital era, album artwork was often being printed while the band was still sequencing the music, so freshly-pressed records could be shipped out without delay. As a result, bands would sometimes add a song to the end of an album after the track listing was already printed, usually fixing the oversight later on. Paul McCartney had originally written “Her Majesty” to be part of the medley that ends Abbey Road (The chord that opens the song was a transition out of “Mean Mr. Mustard.”), but he nixed the song. When an engineer accidentally left the song on the tape, after “The End,” McCartney liked what he heard and decided to keep it (reportedly without consulting the other Beatles). When The Clash were recording London Calling, Mick Jones wrote “Train In Vain” just as they were finishing the album, and the song was too good not to include. But again, the album sleeves were already printed, so the song wasn’t listed in the first edition, although it was added subsequently and was released as a single from the album. And in 1995, when The Rembrandts contributed the theme song to Friends, they probably didn’t expect it to become their best-known song. But as the show was an immediate hit, so was the theme song, and their label quickly appended it to their album, LP. Again, the CD packaging had already been printed, so first pressings had a sticker assuring listeners this album was “The One With The Theme From Friends.” [Mike Vago]

4. R.E.M., “Untitled” (1988)

Green was the first R.E.M. full-length released on a major label, and also marked the first time the band printed song lyrics in an album’s liner notes, for the tune “World Leader Pretend.” The record was also notable because it contained a hidden song known as “Untitled” (called “11” officially, at least according to BMI), which featured guitarist Peter Buck playing drums instead of Bill Berry. The reason for the switch? As Buck told the BBC in 1998, “I’m the world’s worst drummer. I was trying to teach Bill a drum beat, and the reason I couldn’t was because it just didn’t work. But as I was teaching him this drum beat he started playing this guitar part that turned out to be ‘Untitled.’ Mike [Mills] walked in and started playing it. We couldn’t learn each other’s parts, so we cut it that way.” Still, “Untitled” is no joke throwaway: The song is a sweet message of long-distance comfort to someone sad about being far away from a loved one—reassurance exacerbated by Mills’ elaborate vocal counter-melody and harmonies, the occasional keyboard burble, and, yes, its swaying, unorthodox time signature. [Annie Zaleski]

5. Nirvana, “Verse Chorus Verse” (1993)

Nirvana was fond of hidden tracks: After all, Nevermind concluded with the bruising, abrasive jam session “Endless Nameless,” which came after ten minutes of silence after the listed final track, “Something In The Way,” ended. The all-star 1993 AIDS benefit compilation No Alternative had an even better secret Nirvana song, however: a Steve Albini-recorded version of “Sappy,” a song Kurt Cobain had been trying to perfect since the late ’80s. To add to the confusion, this hidden track—unlisted due to “legal reasons,” according to Red Hot, the organization which released the album—was called “Verse Chorus Verse,” which was actually the name of an entirely different Nirvana song. (The real “Verse Chorus Verse” surfaced on the Nevermind deluxe edition, while the No Alternative version ended up on 2004’s With The Lights Out under its actual name, “Sappy.”) And on the cassette version of No Alternative, the song showed up on side two’s tracklist as “Untitled/Untitled.” No matter what the title, however, “Verse Chorus Verse”/“Sappy” was a reminder of Nirvana’s immense gifts: It’s an airtight punk-pop song with gloriously sloppy riffs, plaintive Cobain vocals, and a splashy-but-steady Dave Grohl drum performance. The song ended up becoming one of Nirvana’s last massive songs prior to Cobain’s death, so popular that the band played it live on its early 1994 tour. [Annie Zaleski]

6. Cracker, “Euro-Trash Girl” (1993)

David Lowery took a turn from the fantastical to the twangy when he left Camper Van Beethoven behind to create Cracker in the ’90s. The band’s second album, 1993’s Kerosene Hat, improved on Cracker’s debut with hypnotic cuts like “Low” or the jaunty “Get Off This.” Dedicated fans who let the CD keep running all the way to track 69 discovered the eight-minute trudging global epic, “Euro-Trash Girl.” The disc’s other hidden tracks offered annoying mashups of songs like “I Ride My Bike,” CD-hiccuping into a “Euro-Trash” reprise. But even that unfunny audio joke (“My CD’s skipping! Wait, it’s just the track”) could not diminish the greatness of “Euro-Trash Girl. Lowery goes on quite the euro-trash tour himself, sleeping in a fountain in Athens, getting a rose-and-dagger tattoo in Berlin. The “Euro-Trash Girl” is so mythic, it’s doubtful that she even exits, but Lowery, in his unsubtle way, is pointing out that it’s the journey, not the destination, that matters. [Gwen Ihnat]

7. Janet Jackson, “Whoops Now” (1993)

When Miss Jackson (if you’re nasty) released Janet, her first album for Virgin Records after signing a $40 million deal with the label, it was evident from her pose on the cover—topless, with a gentleman hidden behind her, covering her breasts with his hands—that she’d decided to crank up the sexy to a considerable degree. Perhaps that’s why she opted not to cite the existence of a sweet, bouncy pop song, as Janet seems to end after “Any Time, Any Place,” which closes with the sounds of a thunderstorm. But the thunder rolls into two short tracks called “Are You Still Up” and “Sweet Dreams,” which consist of little more than Jackson intoning their respective titles over the barest of an instrumental, after which “Whoops Now” springs out of the speaker, with Jackson sounding as though she’s smiling through the whole song. Although unlisted in the U.S., “Whoops Now” was actually issued as a single in a number of other countries, topping the charts in New Zealand and ending up in the top 10 in Austria, Belgium, France, Italy, and the U.K. [Will Harris]

8. Green Day, “All By Myself” (1994)

It’s undoubtedly hard to write a good song about jerking it, and yet, somehow Green Day swung it with “All By Myself,” the secret track buried at the end of Dookie. A cute, The-Moldy-Peaches-before-there-were-The-Moldy-Peaches style ditty sung by drummer Tré Cool, “All By Myself” manages to make its protagonist seem sweet, even when he’s singing lines like, “I went to your house / But no one was there / I went in your room / I was all by myself.” Each line is presented with a giggling wink at what was really going on behind closed doors, with the resulting product becoming so infectious that it’s impossible to make it through the song’s 80 seconds without getting it firmly stuck in your head. “All By Myself” might be a simple track, but it’s still a really good one. [Marah Eakin]

9. New Bomb Turks, “Hidden Track” (1994)

New Bomb Turks’ second album, Information Highway Revisited, isn’t terribly different from their first album, or any other album they released, for that matter. They did one thing—hopped-up old-school garage-punk, of the Dead Boys and The Stooges variety, but on amphetamines—and they did it very, very well. When they final strains of “Straight-On Chaser,” the frenetic closer, faded away, you were left satisfied, at which point you might look at either the count on your CD player, or the needle on the vinyl, and notice there’s still about seven minutes to go. At the eight-minute mark, a slow, dirge-like blues riff begins, like the band is blearily holding on, fighting against the end of the party, or dawn—whichever comes first. The words are a loser’s lament, a ne’er-do-well raging against the dying of the light. “But I got my hopes, and I got my dreams / and I’m gonna make it someday,” It’s a messy, beautiful anthem, half the speed of anything else on the album, but packing as much emotional punch as the band’s entire catalog. By the time it’s over, you wonder how any other blues-loving garage rockers could possibly end an album better. [Alex McCown]

10. Blind Melon, “Hello, Goodbye” (1995)

Poor Blind Melon. The group was just beginning to find its voice as one of the more intriguing purveyors of art-damaged roots rock when singer Shannon Hoon’s death put an end to any chance the band had to grow beyond the audience that found it thanks to “No Rain.” The second album, Soup, was a flawed but fascinating development in its sound, blending trippy lyricism, Southern-fried blues, and fuzzy guitars in bold and spirited ways. But before the first notes of album-opening stomper “Galaxie” even began, hidden track “Hello, Goodbye” sets the tone for the album to follow. Sounding like nothing so much as a hungover New Orleans Dixieland parade shuffling home, it teases the album’s oddball retro stew, nailing Hoon’s signature blend of world-weariness and childlike naïveté. It’s a short song—just under a minute, making it the band’s Guided By Voices-style number—but it’s uniquely Blind Melon. [Alex McCown]

11. Belle & Sebastian, “Songs For Children” (1997)

Cheeky and cryptic in equal measure, the hidden track that closes Belle & Sebastian’s 3.. 6.. 9 Seconds Of Light EP was an object of obsession for the Scottish band’s early diehard fans. It seems to distill their style to near-parodic simplicity: a shuffle of major and minor seventh chords, an unexplained apologetic tone, lyrics that mostly consist of the band’s name and the titles of a couple of their favorite albums. Belle & Sebastian’s early releases—which are unpolished and yet somehow impeccable—are captivating in part because they seem to be placed in a mysterious, but specific somewhere; the room tones are tangible, and one can often hear frontman Stuart Murdoch breathing and sniffling. Startlingly intimate even by those standards, “Songs For Children” (also known as “On The Radio”) sounds like it was recorded live from the speakers of an empty club. A definitive fans-only gem, it eschews 3.. 6.. 9 Seconds Of Light’s ambitious wit and gloom, treating longtime listeners a lovely melody and a few new name checks and allusions to wrongdoing to obsesses over. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

12. Beck, “Diamond Bollocks” (1998)

Beck followed up the sample-heavy hit factory Odelay with Mutations, a comparatively mellow set of more introspective, frequently folky songs. (It was different enough from Odelay that Beck tried to release it away from his major label, who insisted on taking it back.) After the final track, “Static,” there’s a gap before the noisy, fuzzy, unlike-anything-else-on-this-record “Diamond Bollocks.” Its dark lyrics share some DNA with the rest of Mutations—“choice cut meats from derelict boulevards”—but it’s all over the place musically, from angry to playful to just plain weird. [Josh Modell]

13. Coldplay, “Life Is For Living” (2000)

Just when it seems like you’ve heard the Coldplay-est Coldplay song ever to Coldplay—empowering Parachutes album closer “Everything’s Not Lost”—and the tiny tear in your eye is getting ready to dry, on comes the spare, anthemic “Life Is For Living.” (Could that title get more Coldplay?) The song, hidden though it was, became a live staple for the band in the early 2000s, inspiring sing-alongs that stretched it well beyond the two-minute version that secretly ends Parachutes. It’s peak Coldplay, in the best ways. [Josh Modell]

14. Whiskeytown, “To Be Evil” (2001)

Even though Whiskeytown’s third and final album, Pneumonia, was largely recorded in an abandoned church, the holiest-sounding song isn’t included on the official track listing. After almost three minutes of silence following proper closer “Bar Lights,” an organ swell brings Ryan Adams and his band back from the tavern and through the chapel doors for one last ramble, a testament to the healing powers of love called “To Be Evil.” Gently nudged forward by Caitlin Cary’s fiddle strains and Ethan Johns’ rarely played steel drum, Adams’ lyrics view romance as a more earthly equivalent to God—the only way to effectively absolve one’s self of sin. To back up his faith, the band all joins him at the end for a harmonized chant of instantly memorable mantras such as “1-2-3-4, everything is beautiful” and “A-B-C-D, I’m a little old machine.” Because all of this stays hidden until listening to Pneumonia in its entirety, “To Be Evil” feels like a secret Bible verse, scribbled hastily onto the inner cover by the town drunk who’s looking to be saved (and therefore loved). [Dan Caffrey]

15-20. Blink-182, Take Off Your Pants And Jacket bonus tracks (2001)

Released almost 15 years ago, Take Off Your Pants And Jacket would be the last time Blink-182 would inject its trademark potty humor into a studio album—on an album with an appropriately dirty name to match. Maybe the band knew then that its fourth record would be a farewell to the more puerile side of their youth. And maybe that’s why, in addition to his already disgusting album cut “Happy Holidays, You Bastard,” Mark Hoppus tripled down on the gross-out ditties by recording three different hidden ones— “Mother’s Day,” “Fuck A Dog” (co-sang with Tom DeLonge), and “When You Fucked Grandpa”—to be distributed across three different versions of the LP. Then, as if to silence their haters, DeLonge accompanied each one with a more serious-minded breakup song: “Time To Break Up,” “What Went Wrong,” and “Don’t Tell Me It’s Over,” respectively. Regardless of your favorite coupling (and your opinions on the band in general), there’s no denying that these whopping six songs make Blink-182 the uncontested kings—make that court jesters—of the art of the hidden track. [Dan Caffrey]

21-22. The Roots, “Rhymes And Ammo” (2002) and “In Love With The Mic” (2004)

In the early 2000s, The Roots were arguably at their creative peak, and were confident enough in their appeal that they could bury some of their best tracks at the end of the album, after minutes of dead space. Fans who bought 2002’s Phrenology, the group’s least accessible and most ambitious work, were rewarded with a catchy bonus track any other group would have used as the single. While the album tracks show drummer/producer Questlove experimenting with backmasking and digital effects, “Rhymes And Ammo” is a straight-ahead head nodder, with a call-and-response chorus and a verse from Talib Kweli. Their next album, The Tipping Point, was far more accessible, with a string of songs that seemed custom-made to win over a wider audience. But the band still left a standout track unlisted, to the point where fans aren’t entirely sure what the title is. “In Love With The Mic” is the likeliest answer, but you’ll also see it called “Dave Vs. Us,” as it opens with Dave Chapelle challenging The Roots to nail the song down in one take. No easy feat, as the fast-paced chorus is sung in unison by four or five rappers. That singalong, in between verses spit over someone banging away at the piano, gives the whole song a looseness that feels like it was recorded after they shut down the studio and went to the after-party, which makes it the perfect way to close out the album. [Mike Vago]

23. Kanye West, “Late” (2005)

Discreetly tacked on to the end of Kanye West’s sprawling, sonically rich Late Registration, “Late” stands out for its slightness. Over a dopily leaning Whatnauts sample, West isn’t making the kind of grand social statement heard on songs like “Heard ’Em Say” or “Crack Music,” nor is he getting bittersweetly personal the way he does on “Roses” and “Hey Mama.” This is the victory lap after the victory lap, its measured pace more of a victory jog, really, as West cockily defends his decision to drop out of college and pursue music full-time. His boasts would eventually grow weirder and uglier (see the past few weeks), but in 2005, West was the people’s champ, and “Late” serves as a last-minute coda to that status, a moment where he rushes back into the party and talks his shit again. [Dan Caffrey]

24. Bomb The Music Industry, “Don’t Destroy Yourself” (2011)

On its final record, the digital-first Bomb The Music Industry finally gave its fans a song that required a physical product to uncover. The track sees Jeff Rosenstock ruminating on many of the same themes that popped up during the course of Vacation. Starting as a solo ballad, the song builds momentum slowly. It’s the kind of restrained songwriting that’s found all over Vacation, even as it explodes with an infectious keyboard-hook that ties up the album so well it feels as essential as everything else on Vacation. [David Anthony]

25. The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die, “Make Mistakes” (2015)

For the Connecticut band’s second full-length album, The World Is took to making the most outsized record it possibly could. The result was Harmlessness, a record stuffed to the brim with stylistic jumps, gargantuan riffs, and memorable choruses. It’s what makes the hidden track that follows “Mount Hum” such an appropriate addition to the already massive record. A hushed acoustic track that sees Tyler Bussey singing about panic, anxiety, and mental health, it’s a beautiful coda to an album full of powerful moments, proving as essential to the record as every moment that came before it. [David Anthony]