Bonus tracks

I hate bonus tracks. (I hate cover versions even more, but one thing at a time.) Possibly this is another idiosyncrasy of mine and the music industry just knows its customers actually buy an album more readily if they’re told they’re getting something “extra” for their money. But it seems mad to me.

I suppose it’s a matter of perspective. For several reasons, I’m used to perceiving every album, even “best of”s of various artists, as a “concept album”. If other listeners see them as mere random collections of songs, then of course more tracks means more music, so they may even buy a new release of one they’ve already got. As far as I’m concerned, adding a song or two after, say, Bridge over Troubled Water, is like performing a play by Shakespeare and adding, after the final act, a “bonus sonnet” or two.

I can just see the adverts. Today: Hamlet! With two sonnets the ensemble never recited before! Or imagine going to the cinema to see Life of Brian and after Always Look on the Bright Side of Life being given two version of the Dead Parrot sketch which didn’t make it onto the TV screen. (These bonuses are often demos, sometimes of the same song.) Or on a book cover: For Whom the Bell Tolls – with two previously unpublished bonus short stories by the author!

No, not the latest – with a book, you just stop reading. You don’t have to be ready to quickly push the Stop button after the final chord of the original set of songs lest you hear something incongruous in its wake and have the experience spoiled. Because this is the trouble: if you don’t want to hear these add-ons, you can’t be entirely immersed in the music at the very moment when you should be most immersed in it.

Of course, I don’t know how happy or unhappy the musicians themselves are and how much they can or cannot do about this. And of course there are exceptions proving the rule. (Not having heard the original album helps.) Adding two songs after End of the Line, which was a perfect ending to the first Traveling Wilburys album, was pure barbarism – and yet I don’t switch them off. I want to hear Like a Ship as well. But I do feel like a philistine when doing so.

So I’m glad not everybody’s doing it. For example, nobody’s dared so far to add Hey Jude as a bonus track to the end of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. And it’s not about how famous you are. The latest release of Room to Roam has no bloody amendments either.

I hope I won’t live to the day when what I’ve just said won’t be true any longer.



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