What are hidden tracks?

*This is an x-post from my now defunct blog.*

After you finish listening to the almost shoegazey “Something In The Way” off of Nirvana’s Nevermind, if you had the CD, that is, you took about 10 minutes to analyze the album you had just heard. It was amazing. As you finish humming the notes from “On A Plain”, noise comes from your CD player. That’s strange. The album should be over — the back of the jewel case said 12 tracks. Yet, without your knowing, “Endless, Nameless” plays, before the album finally ends.

Or, if you were me, you just heard it directly after “Something In The Way”. Because Google Play don’t wanna deal with any of that silence.

Note track 13.

Welcome to the creepy world of the hidden track. It comes in many forms, but in most cases, it’s similar to this example. In some cases, however, there’s more than one hidden track, such as Damien Rice’s “Eskimo” which has hidden tracks “Prague”, a rendition of “Silent Night”, and on some versions, “Woman Like A Man”. In others, the hidden track comes before the album starts — a pregap track. Everyone from Blur to Kylie Minogue to tobyMac has used this method, which involves hiding audio before the rest of the album begins on a CD, a method that most CD players can’t process.

So before we get into the specifics of hidden tracks in all their forms, let me ask and answer my own question — why do these exist? In some cases, it’s just a case of a being a last-minute addition to an album that already has its packaging printed — as is the case with “Endless, Nameless” and another famous example, The Clash’s “Train In Vain”. In most other cases, the track is there on purpose — but to truly make it hidden, silence is usually added to remove the track from the rest of the album. Such is case of what many consider to be the first hidden track — The Beatles’ “Her Majesty”. Originally included as part of Abbey Road’s second-side jam, it was removed, but secretly added to the end, after 14 seconds of silence, because of a label mandate to not throw away any Beatles recordings.

There may be other reasons why they exist, but the two I just described are the most common. So now that I’ve answered this question, let me ask another — how many forms does the hidden track exist in? I’ll give a neat, summarized list:

  • Last minute hidden-track
  • After-album track (with silence)
  • Pregap, or before-album track

Let’s stick to these three and describe them one by one.

LAST MINUTE ALBUM TRACK

Ah, the classic example. This category also includes tracks that were for some reason not included in the track-listing, but not on purpose. These don’t count as bonus tracks, which I’ll describe later, because they’re technically part of the album, even if it isn’t included in the track-listing.

AFTER-ALBUM TRACK (WITH SILENCE)

But, you may ask, in the case of Nirvana’s “Endless, Nameless”, the track was added by request of the band after the first pressing — doesn’t it make the track a reissue bonus track? My response is no. While there are copies of Nevermind that do not contain the track, all standard versions after the first pressing, on every format, digital or physical, contain this track. Plus, the track was included by request of the band themselves — so they did intend to have it as part of the album, but they just didn’t include it early enough. This may cause overlap between the first two categories, but and this is a plastic surgery-sized but we’re talking about — the thing that makes the track fit in this category is silence. Look at The Clash’s “Train In Vain”, it’s considered a hidden track because it was a last minute album track, and as such, there was no room to add silence. And, in original pressings, the track was not included in the track-listing, so it is a hidden track. It was not meant to be a hidden track at all — it was the album’s packaging that made it so. “Endless, Nameless” begins 10 minutes after the album ends, so it fits into this category well.

PREGAP, OR BEFORE-ALBUM TRACK

Before a CD starts, you can sneak in more music. With the help of fiddling and foodling, this unique type of hidden track that comes before and has no silence still counts as a hidden track due to usually not being placed in the tracklisting.

I did skim some parts, but I hope that this brief summary of the types of hidden tracks will help you organize your music in the future. But, let’s go back to my example, though I’ve used it way too many times. “Endless, Nameless” not having 10 minutes of silence in the digital release is for practical reasons — 10 minutes of silence is a waste of digital storage space. This is why most hidden tracks in this digital age stay hidden — take the previously mentioned “Eskimo” by Damien Rice. The track in whole, with its three hidden tracks is 21:42. It works in this case because it ends the album and because there isn’t 10 minutes of empty space in the file. Seriously.

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