Curmudgeons like me bemoan the slow, agonizing death of the album–which is being bludgeoned mercilessly by today's short-attention-span theater of singles and individual downloads–for a lot of reasons. Like, remember when you couldn't get over on a single, a remix, and a stupid video, but actually had to have a front-to-back solid album to be considered good? Remember concept albums that actually worked and didn't get smothered by their own pretentiousness? Remember really cool covers? Liner notes that you couldn't wait to read?
All of those are great, but for today's Friday Five, we're going to delve into yet another great by-product of the album era: the album cut. You know, the song that didn't end up as a single because the label decided it wouldn't hit the desired demographic, but was still an amazing song that made the album worth buying? Yeah those joints. There are, admittedly, a ton of great ones to choose from (every song on It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back that wasn't a single, for example), and I could do this list every week and come up with different songs every time, probably. But for right now, here are my picks for...
The Top Five Album Cuts
1. NWA "If It Ain't Ruff"
It's sort of strange this never was a single. It's one of the few songs on Straight Outta Compton that requires no edits or bleeps to make it radio-playable. And it's just a great song–classic Dre production, and MC Ren swings hard on the rhymes, giving a great vocal performance from front to back.
2. Stezo "Bring the Horns"
The singles released off this Connecticut prodigal son's album really were a taste of what the full-length was about: terrific beats and solid mic skills. It's tough to pick standout cuts from so many worthy contenders, but the hard-hitting drums of "Bring the Horns" always seem to require a repeat. And as a bonus, this LP is actually pressed loud enough to play in clubs!
3. King Sun "King Sun With the Sword"
There's really nothing I don't love about this song, except that it was never issued as a 12" (the LP, like the Stezo album, can be played in the club, but I want the instrumental and the acapella!). Tony D comes through with one of the greatest chop jobs ever on "Funky Drummer," perfectly spruces it up with some horns and guitars (he totally murdered that sample source, too), and Sun rides the hell out of the track. Just beautiful.
4. The Beatnuts "Are You Ready?"
It's on, muthafucka, can't you see that?!? That Bill Doggett loop will never get old, and the 'Nuts come through with their usual inimitable ruckus, followed by a swinging-thru-the-studio cameo by Grand Puba(!), and topped off with vicious cuts by Mista Sinista. Can't be fucked with, plain and simple.
5. Ice Cube "Bird in the Hand"
Death Certificate is just like Nation of Millions in the sense that pretty much any song that didn't become a single is pretty much, by definition, one of the greatest album cuts of all time. I'm giving my nod to "Bird in the Hand" because Cube laid it down so perfectly on that track. No hook, just great storytelling and cultural commentary laid down over an awesome beat. To me, this is still one of Cube's best songs.