What happened to ‘hidden tracks’ on albums?

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You’re listening to a CD, the song fades and you think it’s over. But then – surprise!

Hidden tracks have a long tradition in recorded music, especially in the rock & roll era. And bolstered by digital recordings on compact disc.

Those hidden tracks are present on the album, but they’re not listed on the album cover.

KCRW Music Librarian and DJ Eric J. Lawrence, our resident music historian, joined Steve Chiotakis to talk about these harmonic jewels.

The Beatles’ “Her Majesty” (at the end of 1969’s Abbey Road) is generally regarded as the first true hidden track. The Rolling Stones’ Their Satanic Majesty’s Request (1967) featured a unlisted “coda,” “Cosmic Christmas.”

Throughout the 70s, other bands would feature hidden tracks on their vinyl albums – Styx, KISS, Joe Walsh, James Gang, etc. Other tricks, like locked grooves, were also occasionally used.

As the 80s began, the hidden track had its heyday with the advent of CDs. The length of the format (70, then 80 minutes) allowed for traditional albums, which rarely topped 45 minutes, to play with the format – often ending with several minutes of silence before the hidden track would kick in.

Some key examples are REM’s “Track 11” (at the end of their 1988 album, Green), and Lauryn Hill’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” (at the end of her 1998 album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill) was a charting track, and was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1999.

Hidden tracks aren’t the only bonus tracks that are on music CDs. In fact, CD technology allowed for some other kind of track that you may not know is on your compact disc.

With the CD medium, you can place a song in the pregap before the actual CD begins – in essence track zero! Lots of bands, from Nine Inch Nails to Kanye West, have used this.

One example is  Super Furry Animals’ “Citizen’s Band” (in the pregap of their 1999 album, Guerrilla, which also contains a brief hidden track at the end of the last track as well).

Folks aren’t listening to CDs anymore. Now, we have digital music that’s actually downloaded in MP3 or WAV form, that would make hidden tracks even more difficult.  It’s harder to hide things in the digital age – for example, iTunes lists many of the above mentioned tracks.