As most people know, the music industry has two forms of release in stores. There is the standard two song single and the "full-length" album. However, with most artists, the unfortunate reality is that they usually just aren't creative enough to produce a large number of good songs. This especially gets compounded once they officially make it big, having used up years worth of songs tried and tested with audiences and are usually expected to produce a second album within a year while touring heavily to cash in on their new found fame. So what does one do? Produce Album Filler.
Album Filler are songs that take a perfunctory, Strictly Formula stance on creation in order to have something distinct to fill in some time. They're usually straightforward, unimaginative, and otherwise forgettable. Of course, it isn't set in stone that a song will suck for being filler. Just as how some of the most beloved episodes of many a TV show are quite intentional filler, some of the most popular songs were explicitly created as filler. A famous example of a filler track gaining large prominence is "You've Got Another Thing Comin'" by Judas Priest. This is one of the causes of a Black Sheep Hit.
As a policy for the music industry, this is a bit of a Cyclic Trope as times change and is not entirely consistent across the board. In The '50s, the single was the primary sales unit and albums were just hit singles thrown together with whatever other crap they didn't have confidence in. It was actually pretty uncommon for artists to enter the studio with the intent of recording an album. Most albums from popular artists of this time were more like Greatest Hits sets. For example, Chuck Berry recorded and released his first hit song ("Maybellene") in 1955, but it wouldn't show up on an album until 1959.
This trend continued in The '60s; one notorious example is The Beach Boys being forced by Capitol Records to record several albums in a short amount of time, causing them to have to pad out their albums with filler.* The hit-factory label Motown took it even further, re-recording hit singles for an album with a new singer and never releasing the new version as a single. So you could get all the versions of the hit song you wanted, if you didn't mind paying album price for a single with junk added.
When groups like The Beatles came about and revolutionized the industry with records like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which began a trend of bands putting out albums that made a unified musical statement, this policy took a bit of a backseat (although most bands still had to produce at least some filler to keep up with contractual demands). The Concept Album started to become popular and rock music was mostly "album-oriented" throughout The '70s (some bands, like Led Zeppelin, even did their best to avoid releasing any singles at all). It seems to be coming back in some sectors. Bands that release an album every one to two years are particularly guilty of this— it's almost unavoidable when they crank out hit singles to engage in pervasive airplay.
A side-effect of this was the tendency of bands with long songs, such as Black Sabbath and King Crimson, to add "subtitles" for different sections of the songs, in order to make it seem like there were more songs and they would be paid full royalties (this happened to The Mars Volta too, who were told that for the original version of Amputechture they'd only be paid for an EP despite its length, so they were forced to add "subsections" and split songs apart to get full royalties).
However, album filler was still unavoidable, and every now and then there'd be one or two clunkers thrown in to keep the album at a certain minimum length. Double albums were especially prone to this, due to the sheer amount of work required for two LPs of material resulting in many of these four-sided projects being littered with filler in order to justify releasing it on two discs. Album filler also became an increasing problem when the CD overtook the LP as the dominant physical medium for popular music; because a CD can store 22-28 more minutes of audio than a 12" LP, artists and record companies began to feel as if they were obligated to use as much of this extra space as possible. Thus, many albums released between 1987 and 2007 would feature well over an hour of music, typically divided among at least 12 different tracks, a good number of which inevitably tended to be filler.
One can hope that due to the advancement of digital sales (e.g. iTunes) and the slow ebbing of the album as the unit of music sales, that creators of the near future could, if they wish, concentrate on putting out quality songs again rather than having to pad out an album. On the other hand, the low royalty rates of streaming services like Spotify seem to be swinging the pendulum back toward album filler as artists make long albums stuffed with mediocre tracks to maximize profit on these platforms.
Due to its status as a Omnipresent Trope and the subjective nature of what does or doesn't constitute "filler", there shall be no straight examples. Even listing so-called "aversions" would take up too many pages and be way too subjective. Though we will try to give a summarization of what usually qualifies as "album filler":
- Bawdy Song: Comedy songs can be great when done right. But some bawdy humor may get on one's nerves. Especially on an otherwise serious album. Even the lowest common denominator is bound to find a song about anal sex, turds, barfing or fucking a dog in the ass irritating after hearing it more than two times.
- Bonus tracks: Songs tacked onto an album, usually at the very end, to encourage consumers to buy that particular version of it. Often these tracks consist of non-album B-sides, remixes/extended versions of hit singles (the latter being particularly common with certain releases of 80's albums), or live recordings. While bonus tracks can be pretty nice additions if implemented properly (i.e. including unique, enjoyable songs that can breathe new life into the base album), most of the time they just break up the flow of an album and drag it out to the point of apathy.
- Cover Versions: Particularly common on country albums prior to about the mid-1970's, this was simply artists covering pop or country standards, songs that were major hits for other artists and so forth. These cover versions have ranged from "why didn't that become the hit?" to "why did he/she/they even bother to record it?" This was more common in an era where an album usually had only one or two songs worthy of being released as singles, and especially when artists who had become proven hit makers with staying power potential recorded and released new albums every year. Those covers are more likely to be seen as lazy filler if the artists are known for writing their own material, since it can be seen as them running out of ideas and being desperate for anything to fill out the album, especially if it fits the "why did they bother?" category.
- Friends and family members: Having some friends, partners or family members of you Step Up to the Microphone to say or sing something is always a bad idea. There are better ways to impress your girlfriend than having her say something in the microphone. And no, a two year old infant has no redeeming messages for us! When an artist sings an ode or a Homage to someone the audience doesn't know it can backfire too, especially if you explicitly address them by their full name. The average listener will have the idea that he is observing some private meeting he has no business with.
- Hidden Track: Most hidden tracks tend to be pointless too. They are muffled away somewhere at the start or the end of an album. Some artists leave several minutes of silence between tracks before you finally get to the hidden track, with the silence and hidden track being part of the last officially-listed track. Either way, you always have to fast-forward to find it, an especially big problem if the hidden track is included on an LP or cassette release (not so much on a CD or digital release, as these formats don't wear out from repeated playback). These can also be hangovers from hidden jokes on the original vinyl album, which made sense and worked in the vinyl format but aren't so great on CD. An example might be the message in the run-out groove on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band— works beautifully on the original vinyl (where it repeats forever until the listener manually lifts the needle off the record), a Big-Lipped Alligator Moment on the CD version (where it repeats a few times before fading out).
- Instrumentals: These can be sometimes seen as filler, especially if they aren't the artists' specialty and/or those tracks are in the minority. Instrumental versions of vocal tracks are even more susceptible to be seen as pointless filler.
- Interludes: Some artists like to announce the next track every time the previous one ended. Others put sketches or skits there. If the interludes happen too much or are unfunny or pointless they will destroy the listening pleasure.
- Introductions: An introduction at the start of an album can be epic or get you in the mood if done right. If it just goes on the listener will reach for the skip button next time.
- List Song: Songs that just summarize a bunch of stuff can get this critique too. Even worse are tracks where he just provides shout-outs to people he knows or by having all those people actually take turns saying something in the microphone! Why not print a list in the sleevenotes?
- Ode to Intoxication: A song recorded while being drunk or high is always embarrassing torture to listen to.
- Outdated songs: Songs written for a very specific occasion or event in time, with even the exact date attached to it. Let's face it: you lose your timelessness when you write a song about the upcoming Olympic Games, a bicentennial, the new millennium, or the 10 year existence of your band, and specifically name dates. Cashing in on a fad will also make your song an Unintentional Period Piece that will diminish its chances of clicking in with future generations. Sometimes it can produce Nostalgia Filter, but not always.
- Overly long tracks: Since most songs are about three to five minutes long, a particularly long track can sometimes get on the nerves of the listener. Guitar solos that just go on, endless jams, entire stories told in one track, unnecessary celebrity cameos, continuous fade ins and fade outs, etc.
- Overly Long Gag: A subtrope. Any joke that just goes on and on should have a real good pay off or be funny in its own way, or otherwise this is again a waste of space for something that won't be relistened to more than once.
- Overly short tracks: Despite having the advantage of being short, even these tracks can be album filler. What is the point of having several tracks of about less than 10 or 20 seconds long?
- Padding: In general.
- Product Placement: Some tracks are basically advertisements for other artists on the label.
- Remixes: This has been a plague since the end of the 1980's. With the arrival of the CD, musicians now had more space on their records that they felt needed to be filled up, and remixing some of the hit songs was usually the solution of choice. Most of the time they are just novelties that don't surpass the original at all. These remixes are typically relegated to the very end of the album as bonus tracks.
- Repurposed Pop Song: Cobbling mediocre songs together from previous albums to fill up a Greatest Hits Album. Even worse when about 95 percent of the album is already in the fan's collection.
- Silence: A track that has no music, no lyrics, no sounds,... just silence.
- Spoken word tracks: Adding huge chunks of monologue or dialogue without musical accompaniment will always get irritating after a minute or so. Reciting a poem, reading from a novel, adding audio soundbites from a movie, Studio Chatter or just keeping the recording rolling... will get about as irritating as hearing the same advertisement message again and again.
- Stock Sound Effects: It's not a good idea to have one of your tracks be just one sound effect repeated over and over. A ringing telephone, car traffic outside, playing children, ... These are all things that will be skipped after being played once.
- Throw It In!: A bizarre editing mistake, a song done in one take, an unused leftover from a previous album, an early and uninteresting take of a hit song, some musical experimentation, clowning around, etc, all stuff that was supposed to end up in the garbage can, but is now thrown on an album.
- A Wild Rapper Appears!: Since the late 1980's, a trend has emerged in pop songs of featuring rap artists laying down some rhymes over the bridge or for a whole verse, which has the potential of seriously derailing a song. Few rappers are adept at seamlessly integrating their lyrics to that of a pop song, so oftentimes the rapped portion ends up ruining the nuance of the song, making no sense in context of the song, or in the worst cases, making no sense whatsoever. The rapped vocals may also be difficult to decipher, and the vocal style of the rapper can jar the enjoyment of listeners. In many cases it's clear that the main artist just wanted to give one of his friends some media attention.
Parodies and mentions:
- Subnormality: Mentions it.
- Lampshaded by Finnish artist Allekirjoittanut in the appropriately titled Really Catchy Filler Song:
We've got some extra space on our record, even though we thought it was full
Our situation is desperate, and our producer is oh-so-restless
We need to fill this album, at least halfway
Looks like we'll have to put in a filler song among the rest.
- Similarily lampshaded by the German comedian Hape Kerkeling with the similarily appropriately titled Auf dieser Platte fehlt ein Lied (English The album needs one more song):
Noch zwei Minuten dreißig die fehlen ja das weiß ich (...) Auf Text und Inhalt sch*** ich
(Still 2m30s are missing, I know (...) I (expletive - roughly "don't care about") lyrics and music)
- The Sweatpants Boners' "The Label Wanted 11 Tracks", which consists of Robby Roadsteamer trying to get the rest of the band to let his intentionally bad, improvised song close the album, arguing that "we do need eleven songs, and we haven't written eleven songs".
- Sum 41's album All Killer No Filler.
- The 1993 CD reissue of Skinny Puppy's Bites included all the interlude/filler tracks from the various vinyl editions of the album, plus some previously unreleased material. Likewise, the reissue of Remission included alternate versions of "Film" and "Icebreaker" from Bites, plus the previously unreleased track "Incision", to extend the playing time to album length.
- Todd in the Shadows hypothesizes that Train's "Hey, Soul Sister", its bizarre lyricism in particular, is the result of a burned out Pat Monahan throwing the first thing that came to his head on paper in order to fulfill his contract, certain that it would never even make it to radio.
Todd (as Monahan): Hmm, what rhymes with rug? Drug... Thug? Would a line that uses the word thug make sense here? Pfft, whatever. I mean, who cares? I'm the guy from Train! I haven't had a hit in seven years and am long past the point of caring on this one. I'm just doing this because I need to fill the album somehow. It's not like I'm ever gonna have to perform this. The record company wouldn't be stupid enough to release this, and even if they did, no one would want to listen to it. I might as well sing it like I'm doing a Minnie Mouse impression too! I mean, 'cause who cares? So, you know what? We owe the record company three more songs according to our contract, so let's just can this turd, and we can forget about it forev-
- The songs "Bounce", "X", and "Shimmy" off of System of a Down's "Toxicity" were written with the express purpose of being this.
- Nerdcore artist Zilla Persona has the track "This Is Not A Track" where he describes album filler and claims the song itself qualifies as he put little effort into it.