The hidden track: a lost art gone too soon

Now that we know everything about an album before it drops, hidden tracks are a thing of the past

It’s time to pour one out for one of the streaming era’s most cataclysmic casualties: the hidden track. This sneaky little song would usually appear off the coattails of an album’s “final” cut, usually letting it finish out and breathe for a few seconds in complete silence before a bonus track would start playing.

Most of the time, these tracks would start unbeknownst to the listener, who would just assume the album had ended and would either eject the CD or remove the vinyl record from the player. But if they’d kept listening, they might hear a bonus cut that didn’t make the official tracklist. Major artists like The Beatles, Aerosmith and even Frank Ocean opted to use a hidden track in at least one project.

On the streaming version of Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE, the album ends with the aptly titled “End” which serves as a lo-fi closer to an otherwise pretty straightforward album. On the CD version (an archaic device), the track sits in a couple minutes of silence. Then a beat started playing which turned into a full song, “Golden Girl.”

The song has since not appeared on major streaming platforms and exists as a loosie track on YouTube where a casual listener might not know it existed as a bonus on the album. “Golden Girl” may have been the last time we saw a hidden track too.

As the state of music continues to move away from physical media and to digital streaming platforms, having a hidden track is, well, sort of impossible. We can see every track and its respective length, so if a concluding track runs over seven minutes and the song stops three minutes in, it’s a safe bet to assume there’s more coming.

That element of surprise from the CD and vinyl era is gone. The art of listening to an album has become the same across the board. We know exactly what we’re getting, how much we’re getting, and if there is some sort of bombshell revelation about a new album, you can bet it’ll be spoiled within an hour of the album dropping. Thanks, Twitter.

Even old albums that had a hidden track can’t contain that secret. Ginuwine’s classic album Ginuwine… The Bachelor technically ended with “G Thang,” but on streaming services there is not one, not two, not even three, but five (!!) different “Silent Interlude” tracks that lead into the (not-so-well) hidden track, “550 What?”

Though it’s probably for the best that these tracks have come to the surface and become widely accessible, the loss of hidden tracks in the streaming service hurts. We know everything about an album when it drops. Track lengths? We know them all. Features? Unless you’re Travis Scott releasing Astroworld, we know those too. Production credits? Maybe a bit harder to come by, but they’re there in the credits (which reminds me, pour out another one for the booklets inside CDs).

The streaming era killed the brilliant physical media marketing and tricks an artist could pull to entice the listeners into wanting more. Sure, this probably seems like an “old man yells at cloud” take, but one can only hope that artists find new ways to surprise us when we already know way too much.

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