20 Best Hidden Tracks on Albums

Secret songs that became some of our favorites.

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Every day we walk amongst things that are hidden—concealed from our immediate sensory perception. Things that nestle just along our peripheral edge like a distant buoy floating on the horizon. As human beings, we walk through our days bombarded by stimuli of all natures; our eyes, ears, noses, and mouths do all they can to give us an idea of just what is surrounding us, but a good deal gets lost in translation. So much of this missed detail is not our fault, rather an unavoidable consequence of having more to do than sit in silent absorbance of our environment. And thus, things become hidden. Sometimes putting a spotlight on these minute parts can add depth to our appreciation of the whole. Assuming the role of proverbial spotlight, we decided to comb through the hidden tracks from some of the great albums of the past half-century.

First, why don’t we begin by removing some opacity from the phrase hidden track”. Our functional definition includes those tracks that were not listed on the album but were nonetheless tucked into its sonic existence. This has been achieved in many fashions, from the classic few-minutes-of-silence-then-obscure-avante-garde-noise-appears (I love The Beatles) to unlisted interludes between tracks or just simply sticking it at the end and not telling anyone about it.

Now the reasons why bands decide to include hidden tracks—that’s a bit more speculative. Coldplay have been quoted as saying it was to assure the album had “enough value for the money.” In some less mockably righteous cases, it clearly served as a platform for a musical joke. Hidden tracks can also provide an excuse to release a less than optimal quality recording, or they can simply be the inadvertent result of bad labeling. The most commonly cited reasoning is that of surprise for listeners, but there’s likely as many artists who do it without any presumption at all.

Inadvertent or not, we have compiled a list of the 20 best hidden tracks that deserve to see the light of day. Some you may already recognize; others may just be your missing Chapstick (the one that ended up being in your pocket the whole time). Enough lip-softening relief to make all the anxiety go away.

-Kevin McMahon
Contributing Writer

20. The Afghan Whigs – “Miles Iz Ded”

Congregation may have been The Afghan Whigs’ third album, but it was the first to truly announce the band’s arrival. Recorded over the summer of 1991, the album was anchored by two singles, “Turn on the Water” and “Conjure Me”, the former of which was released as a three-song CD single with two other songs, “Chalk Outline” and “Miles Iz Ded”. The latter song, the second track on the single, was first heard as the 12th (and unlisted) track at the end of Congregation. Written and recorded on the day of Miles Davis’s death (September 28, 1991), the track’s inspiration stems from two answering machine messages frontman Greg Dulli received from music executive David Katznelson regarding a cookout, the second of which simply said, “Miles is dead. Don’t forget the alcohol.” Dulli incorporated Katznelson’s message into the song’s lyrics and, along with guitarist Rick McCollum, went into Ultrasuede Studios in Cincinnati, OH, and laid the track down. Though it may have been hastily recorded and included on the album without any labels or indications, the song is certainly not a throwaway number. It’s the perfect cut to close Congregation, an album that hinted at the greatness the band would deliver on their follow-up, Gentlemen. –Len Comaratta

19. Beach House – “Wherever You Go”

At the end of 2012’s dreampop masterpiece Bloom, Beach House offer their contribution to the wonderful world of hidden tracks. “Wherever You Go” actually comes off a bit like a mash-up of a Beach House song. We hear a similar melody to that of “Silver Soul” and the percussive intro to “Walk in the Park”. However, Victoria Legrand’s melancholic croons give a touch of individuality to the track, and it could be construed as the remnants of the slight sonic switch that occurred in the group between Teen Dream and Bloom. A switch that saw growth toward more developed production and a greater depth of melodic layering. It plays after just under seven minutes of silence and gives us one more reason why patience is a virtue. –Kevin McMahon

18. Black Moth Super Rainbow – “The Primary Color Movement”

Black Moth Super Rainbow has long made it a point to keep the identity of its members under wraps. So, it’s no surprise that in the twilight moments of 2004’s Start a People, we find a hidden track tacitly installed. Under the name “(Super Secret Track)”, “The Primary Color Movement” is a typically atypical song for BMSR, connoting Campfire Headphase-era Boards of Canada. The song briefly hits the kind of head-nodding groove one might expect from the middle of an album as opposed to a hidden outro. It’s a nice refresher from the troves albums with white noise-led conclusions that border on parodies of the ominousness they seek to create. –Kevin McMahon

17. The Roots – “Rhymes and Ammo / Thirsty!” (ft. Talib Kweli)

The first half glimpses at the future while the second looks at the past. “Rhymes and Ammo / Thirsty!” appeared on The Roots’ most experimental (there’s a fuckin’ punk rock track in there) and, to some, their best effort, Phrenology. The band’s genre-crossing would later give in to conformity, however; Phrenology‘s follow-up, The Tipping Point, was the group’s most pop-leaning effort, as well as its least critically praised. “Rhymes and Ammo / Thirsty!” doesn’t necessarily predict a creative trough, though. “Rhymes and Ammo”‘s cliche, clap-your-hands-style hook does its job while Talib Kweli comes through to provide a mindful anchor. Then comes the house-based “Thirsty” in which experimentalism doesn’t cloud the fact that The Roots are still about the party. –Brian Josephs

16. Atmosphere – “Say Shh..”

It’s not often you find a track celebrating the mundane idiosyncrasies of the Midwest, but Minneapolis duo Atmosphere found a way to do just that. “Say Shh..” is the closing piece to 2003’s Seven’s Travels. It appears as an unlisted track after the apparent finale “Always Coming Back Home to You”. “Say Shh..” holds the laid-back funk groove that canvases much of the Atmosphere back catalogue and a pleasant dose of lines that don’t take themselves too seriously. Slug proclaims his love for the heartland, not necessarily for what it has but for what it doesn’t. America’s breadbasket may have an abundance of saturated fat, but fame, pretension, and overpopulation are all things in short supply. And plus, Prince lives here! –Kevin McMahon

15. Bloc Party – “Every Time Is the Last Time”

A dreamy, beautiful breeze of a ditty amid the upbeat, poppy roar of Bloc Party’s debut album, Silent Alarm, “Every Time Is the Last Time” feels and sounds like falling asleep on a beach vacation with salt in your hair and the rush of the ocean in your ears. The album itself was a tour de force, introducing a distinctive new voice into the sea of British electronic-influenced post-punkers in the mid-aughts, and it was an album that was meant to be loved and worn thin over the course of many, many repeat listens. “Every Time Is the Last Time” reads like an antidote to that, in a way, a palate cleanser – it leaves you feeling refreshed and ready to listen to the album from start to finish all over again. –Katherine Flynn

14. Q-Tip – “Do It, See It, Be It”

Following the dissipation of the legendary A Tribe Called Quest, 1999 bore us the first solo release from the Abstract Poetic himself. Thankfully, Q-Tip’s lyrical prowess and eclectic sampling pallet remained intact, and at the end of the album the listener uncovers a hidden track entitled “Do It, See It, Be It”. As preachy as the inscribed title may suggest, the track actually comes off as very personal. Q-Tip meditates on the arc of ATCQ and how the rise seemed intimately and unavoidably attached to the fall. He offers no prophetic finality, just simply notes of his own perseverance and hope’s power over the will of man. –Kevin McMahon

13. Green Day – “All by Myself”

Ah, acoustic Green Day – ah, Tre Cool. This guitar-plucking ditty, composed and performed by the group’s longtime drummer and featured as a hidden track on their breakthrough album, Dookie, is yet another ode to masturbation, one of Green Day’s favorite themes before shifting to weightier topics on later-career albums like American Idiot. It’s swift and simple, with Cool’s goofy intonation and sometimes unintelligible lyrics cutting through the rest of the album’s bombast. He lacks Billie Joe Armstrong’s rich tenor, which lends some insight into why he’s probably mostly stayed safely behind the kit for most of the last decade, but the song is a perfect ode to what a silly, offbeat group this trio used to be before they started taking themselves just a little too seriously. –Katherine Flynn

12. Nine Inch Nails – “Physical (You’re So)”

Found in association with Nine Inch Nail’s Broken EP, an EP released after Trent Reznor had become caught up in legal battles with his label, “Physical (You’re So)” and “Suck” were originally contained on a bonus 3” mini-CD or 7” LP that came with the full Broken EP. When expenses prevented further pressings in this manner, the two songs were included as hidden bonus tracks 98 and 99, coming after 92 one-second tracks of silence (or, if you had the cassette, on side two after 15 minutes of silence). “Suck” is a cover of a Pigface track, which Reznor was once a member of, but the cover of Adam and the Ants’ “Physical (You’re So), off that group’s 1980 release Kings of the Wild Frontier, is truly the not-so-hidden gem. Reflecting Reznor’s love of new wave and fun pop, something that may not have been so evident when listening to Pretty Hate Machine, the album preceding Broken, the song also stands out as one of the less angry songs on an album filled with Reznor venting his frustrations and is one that hints at the self-conscious style of production and promotion that would come into fuller realization on his next release, The Downward Spiral. –Len Comaratta

11. Dr. Dre – “Bitches Ain’t Shit”

“Bitches Ain’t Shit” represents both the highlights and trappings of the West Coast genre that temporarily switched hip-hop’s epicenter. It’s G-Funk rabble-rousing mixed with misogyny. If that’s not quite a good enough reason to appreciate it, it’s still indisputably a definitive track. This couldn’t have been made by anybody else; you can picture Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and the crew sneering from the backseat of a lowrider as they chant the song’s moniker. Speaking of Snoop Dogg, he was largely absent from the second half of the album. His return here to close out the album with a classic bit of storytelling is a welcome one. –Brian Josephs

10. TV on the Radio – “Mr. Grieves”

TV on the Radio’s debut EP, Young Liars, was four (well five) tracks that not only represented a fresh new sound delivered by this Brooklyn outfit, but it also managed to avoid any obvious categorization. The album’s four labeled songs and fifth bonus track, the unlabeled a cappella rendition of the Pixies’ “Mr. Grieves”, originally found on that band’s now-classic Doolittle, dwell in a hauntingly soulful atmosphere, coupling the spiritual with a slight claustrophobic mood akin to an arcane sense of paranoia. After the EP proper has ended, a vocal harmony slowly crawls up from underneath a layer of finger snapping. With the entire band singing in multiple harmonies, the song blends elements of early doo-wop with spiritual-esque vocalizations. Aside from the titular lyric, the song is virtually unrecognizable as a Pixies tune and signaled that TV on the Radio was not only a new, fresh act, but one that wasn’t going to do things via conventional methods. –Len Comaratta

09. Nirvana – “Endless, Nameless”

It’s hard to imagine even for a second that “Endless, Nameless” could come from anyone other than the preeminent master of slurred nihilism. After 10 minutes of silence at the end of Nevermind, we are given a song that personifies this nature perhaps more than any other that Nirvana produced. Guitars screech and bleed with such abandon that they seem to fall in and out of time and tune. Cobain’s lyrical ambiguity is also in full effect, and as a combined result the song transmits a feeling of such hopelessness that it can be hard to get through the whole track. But hey, that’s what we love about Nirvana in the first place. –Kevin McMahon

08. The Beatles – “Her Majesty”

At only 23 seconds, “Her Majesty” shows just how easily The Beatles found creating perfection. Tucked at the end of arguably (or inarguably) one of the most epic albums ever, the simple pop tune hums along and still finds a way to sear itself into the unsuspecting brain (despite its abrupt ending). McCartney (possibly with a belly full of wine) even performed the track for the Queen during celebrations for Her Majesty’s Golden Jubilee in 2002. An extended version was later recorded in the “Get Back” sessions and remains a favorite among The Beatles faithful. –Kevin McMahon

07. Coldplay – “The Escapist”

When Jon Hopkins was asked (at Brian Eno’s request) to join Coldplay in the studio in early 2007, it was only presumed to be a one-day stop. That day quickly turned into a full-year collaboration, which left Viva La Vida covered with the smudgy fingerprints of the meticulous British producer. “The Escapist” is nuzzled right behind closing track “Death and All His Friends”. The song features a sample of the melodic synth line that leads Hopkins’ 2009 track “Light Through the Veins”, which grows outward as Martin’s vocals bring the song and the album to a masterful close. –Kevin McMahon

06. UNKLE – “Tired of Sleeping”

With a career that now spans two decades and some extremely prolific collaborations under their belt, British natives UNKLE have certainly cemented their place in electronic history. “Tired of Sleeping” is their entry into hidden track lore, found at the closing of 2007’s War Stories. “Tired of Sleeping” incorporates the slow-build tendencies one might expect from the artist in question. An acoustic progression creates a looped structure while brushed cymbal rolls draw up and down the atmosphere needed to keep the track moving. The song also makes use of gritty, low-end synth and bass melodies that serve as ominous punctuation throughout its six and a half minutes. All while still including the obligatory breakdown and creepy vocal sample. Well done. –Kevin McMahon

05. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Poor Song”

There’s a lot to praise about Fever to Tell‘s unpredictable, definitively helter-skelter dynamics. This is really a means to express an emotional vulnerability — with the tidiness of a frayed wire. In fact, you can argue some of the album’s best moments happen when Karen O drops the punk makeup for a bit. All-decade classic “Maps” is one example; the mostly acoustic “Poor Song”, which appears after the similarly downbeat “Modern Romance”, is another one. This hidden gem, in a way, brings the messiness of Fever to Tell to a neat close: “‘Cause all I see is what’s in front of me/ And that’s you.” It’s certainly been a long trip to realize that. –Brian Josephs

04. Janet Jackson – “Can’t Be Stopped”

Janet Jackson’s opus The Velvet Rope succeeded partially because of how it got its well-intentioned message across through multiple levels, whether it was an attention to physical desires (that is, sexually or just getting ready to dance) or emotional completion. But with everything that’s going on in Jackson’s masterpiece, it’s easy to forget that self-determinism is in some ways a driving force behind this album. This is why “Can’t Be Stopped” — Jackson’s last hurrah for self-belief — feels like the thematic completion to The Velvet Rope with its lush production sounding just as good as some of the album’s finest moments. Take “Can’t Be Stopped” by itself, and you still have a damn good Jackson performance. –Brian Josephs

03. The Clash – “Train in Vain”

To be fair, “Train in Vain” isn’t exactly a hidden track, and according to Bill Price, the album’s sound engineer, “…it wasn’t intended to be hidden.” No, it doesn’t appear on the early pressings of London Calling‘s sleeve, nor does it have its lyrics printed inside, but that was because the song’s placement was a last-minute decision that came after the artwork had already gone to press and not some creative decision to reward fans or consumers who happened to shell out their hard-earned cash for the record. Originally intended as a promotional giveaway via the New Musical Express, when the deal between the The Clash and the magazine fell through, the group decided at the last minute to put it on the album. Released as London Calling‘s third and final single, the track also went on to become the group’s first Top 30 single in the US. –Len Comaratta

02. Kanye West – “Late”

Don’t let his recent penchant for abrasion fool you; Kanye West has always been a bit showy. Part of his inspiration behind Late Registration was the desire to distance himself from the other cats who were starting to catch up to his soulful backdrops. He did just that with splendor, combining metallic ambience (“Addiction”), cautionary tales wrapped in pop extravagance (“Gold Digger”), and self-aggrandizing fanfare (“Can I talk my shit again?” on “We Major”; he hasn’t stopped since) on his new opus. West wasn’t quite done yet. Part of “Late” may have been him genuinely trying to give fans more, but at least five percent had to be egoism. Would Kanye West completely abandon soul-sampling because of some imitators? It’s easy to get lost in lush production, the sneaky urgency of that bassline, and the high-pitched coo of that “Whatnuts” sample. But pay attention to West’s cocksureness. He’s not going to relinquish his throne. –Brian Josephs

01. Lauryn Hill – “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”

Though today the song is listed in track listings, originally “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” and “Sweetest Thing” were tucked away at the very end of Lauryn Hill’s landmark and multiple Grammy-collecting The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. First heard in connection to the film Conspiracy Theory, Hill’s cover of Frankie Valli’s biggest hit post-Four Seasons is filled with the same sense of soul and hip-hop that embodies the album, leaving one to ask why not include it as a properly listed track, especially considering a video was even made? Regardless, Hill’s version is not only one of the best takes on this classic song, but its hidden status didn’t prevent the Academy from recognizing it, nominating Hill’s rendition for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance (losing to Celine Dion). –Len Comaratta

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