Over the next couple of weeks, as the year rolls to an end and music fans look back on the events that shaped 2011, you can expect to read a lot about Steve Jobs. The Apple founder died on 5 October after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, prompting a flood of tributes to the Californian and his legacy to the music world - the iPod. Jobs' MP3 player and the accompanying iTunes store have undoubtedly changed the face of music. However, spare a thought for one of the victims of Jobs' success - the secret song.
From The Beatles' album Abbey Road onwards, musicians (or possibly the mastering engineers whose job it is to record albums in the final order) have enjoyed surprising and confusing their fans by adding bonus songs to their records, hidden after a period of silence and not mentioned on the album artwork. But since the rise of the iPod, secret songs have been put on mute.
It used to be that a CD or good old fashioned 12" vinyl would simply play, and your only indication of when it was about to end would be the album tracklisting printed on the sleeve. Hearing another song start up just as you thought the album was finished and got up to change the record was always an unexpected thrill - a surprise encore in your bedroom, a sort of reward for listening right through to the end. It always felt so exciting.
Skip forward to 2011 and hidden tracks have all but vanished from new releases. It was tough enough with CDs to keep secret songs secret as the total running time was available, but with most MP3 players tracking with precision where exactly you are in a song via dot scrolling across a toolbar, the surprise factor has all but gone.
Even smart albums like Blur's Think Tank which hid its secret song Me White Noise before the album started (you had to start rewinding the CD the moment track 1 was cued up) were dispatched by iTunes, which simply stuck the song at the start of the album when you ripped it.
Secret songs virtually obsolete in the modern world. From the Beach Boys to Beyonce, some of the most important acts of the last 40 years have included secret songs on their albums - it seems a shame that we seem to be letting go of a tradition so deeply embedded in our musical culture.
Yes, the iPod and its many variants have transformed the way people listen to music, but as someone who grew up waiting excitedly when an album finished to see if there was an extra hidden treat at the end of an album, I'll always see the death of the secret song as the sad flipside of its success.
Al Horner @Al_Horner
Here are 10 of the best secret songs from over the years:
1. The Beatles - Her Majesty
Where it all began... this is credited as being the first secret song ever. Taken from the Fab Four's 1969 album, Abbey Road, this song has become a controversial talking point among Beatles fans, who continue to argue over whether the band intended to include an extra chord resolving the melody.
2. The Stone Roses - Foz
This discordant piano jam begins on track 90 of 99 tracks (all five seconds of silence apart from the the album's actual songs and this) that featured on the CD edition of The Second Coming. "It was just a bit of a joke, I think," explained engineer Simon Dawson. "I don't think it was supposed to be found that easily. It was supposed to shock people who'd left their CD playing while they were studying or whatever."
3. Lauryn Hill - Can't Take My Eyes Off You
This sultry hip-hop cover of Frankie Valli's song was a hidden track on Hill's 1998 album, The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. It was such a hit among fans that it went on to win the Fugees singer a Grammy award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
4. Jay-Z - Breathe Easy
Part rap masterclass and part, erm, breathing exercise, this song is one of two hidden tracks from Jay-Z's 2001 album, The Blueprint.
5. Coldplay - Till Kingdom Come
Chris Martin and co are one of the few bands still flying the flag for secret songs. With the exception of A Rush Of Blood To The Head, each of their studio albums have had some kind of hidden track on. This song, taken from the end of X&Y, was written for Johnny Cash but the country star died before he could record it.
6. Nirvana - Endless, Nameless
Nevermind ends with this chaotic send-off which begins ten minutes into the final track.
7. Nine Inch Nails - Physical (You're So)
Trent Reznor and co saved this cover of Adam And The Ants for track 98 of their 1992 release, Broken.
8. Janet Jackson - Whoops Now
Originally a hidden track on the singer's 1993 album Janet..., this song proved so popular it was released as a single, breaking into the UK singles chart top ten.
9. The Clash - Train In Vain
Arguably one of the most famous secret songs in history, but it was never meant to be a hidden track. The song was 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 in the tracklisting.
10. The Ramones - Spiderman
Hidden on the end of the vinyl version of ¡Adiós Amigos!, the Ramones' final studio album, is this punk take on the famous webslinger's theme tune.
11:29 AM | 15/12/2011
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