The most famous lost songs and unreleased albums

15 February 2022, 15:00

Tre Cool, Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt of Green Day in 2001
Tre Cool, Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt of Green Day in 2001. Picture: Naki/Redferns)/Getty Images

Which of your favourite artists are sitting on a treasure trove of unreleased material? Radio X investigates.

In 2019, 18 hours of outtakes from Radiohead's OK Computer sessions in 1997 were released for free onto the internet after the band discovered that someone was trying to sell the material.

It’s not the first time unreleased material has leaked onto the black market - and yet some artists have been lucky to keep a lid on their sessions. Radio X takes a look at some of the lost songs and unreleased albums that snuck out into the world… and some that remain frustratingly under lock and key to this day.

  1. Joy Division’s officially unreleased Warsaw album

    Singer Ian Curtis had been hanging around the RCA label’s offices in Manchester so often that the band were given the chance to record an album in an attempt for the company to get hold of one of these new fangled “punk” bands. The result was an 11-track album that would have been Joy Division’s debut and featured a new song called Transmission, plus a track that was never re-recorded called The Drawback.

    The band weren’t happy with the sound, RCA weren’t sure what to do with the record and the tapes were eventually bought back by JD manager Rob Gretton. This didn’t stop the tape from being heavily bootlegged, but Joy Division have only ever officially released three out of the 11 tracks. They would go on to release their debut album proper in June 1979 - the acclaimed Unknown Pleasures.

  2. Noel Gallagher’s collaboration with Amorphous Androgynous

    Producers Gary Cobain and Brian Dougans, formerly known as The Future Sound Of London, latterly known as the psych-ambient-techno outfit Amorphous Androgynous had remixed the Oasis single Falling Down and Noel Gallagher was so impressed, he suggested the duo work with him on his first solo album. According to Cobain, the first day of recording saw a lorry arrive with “87 guitars and 200 effects pedals”, leading the producers to envisage a psychedelic masterpiece and something more aligned to their own eclectic tastes.

    However, when Noel announced his first album with the High Flying Birds, he claimed that the AA collaboration would be released separately as an 18-track exploration, describing it with words like “space rock” and “jazz”. It never appeared - Cobain later told The Guardian that Noel “became too afraid to be weird”, but the singer retorted by saying the record was “so underwhelming” that he destroyed the master copy… but then found it again in a drawer. We can’t imagine it’ll see the light of day any time soon.

  3. Green Day - Cigarettes and Valentines

    This was the album that was due to follow up 2000’s Warning, but according to legend, the master tapes were stolen, leaving only a bunch of rough mixes. Billie Joe Armstrong claimed that the theft was a “blessing in disguise” as it prompted the trip to start again from scratch, resulting in the career-boosting American Idiot in 2004. Some of the songs reported to be on the record included Cigarettes and Valentines, Too Much Too Soon, Waste Away, Sleepyhead, and Dropout - the unreleased title track was played live as you can hear.

  4. Weezer - Songs From The Black Hole

    For the follow-up top the acclaimed “Blue Album”, Rivers Cuomo envisaged a “space opera” about a mission to space, but after the singer enrolled at Harvard and had some further life experience, the concept was dropped. Songs like Getchoo, Tired Of Sex and Why Bother were eventually reworked for what became the official second Weezer LP, Pinkerton. According to the Weezerpedia, only three CD-Rs of one of the daft versions of Songs From The Black Hole still exist.

    Fans have petitioned Cuomo to release a version of the album officially, with one enthusiast in particular spotting an opportunity: when the fan was invited up onstage to play with the band on Undone (The Sweater Song) at a show in 2005, he immediately launched into the opening track from Songs From The Black Hole, namely Blast Off! He didn’t get very far, as you can see:

  5. The Beatles - Carnival Of Light

    In January 1967, after recording vocals for their new song Penny Lane, John Lennon and Paul McCartney took time to lay down an avant garde track for the benefit of an art and music festival that was due to take place in London in the following weeks. The Million Volt Light And Sound Rave was set for The Roundhouse on 28 January and 4 February and was an early “happening” in the city - something that would occur more frequently across the Summer Of Love in ’67. Only a handful of people have heard the recording, known as Carnival Of Light, which Beatles scholar Mark Lewisohn describes as featuring “distorted, hypnotic drum and organ sounds, a distorted lead guitar, the sound of a church organ… and, perhaps most intimidating of all, Lennon and McCartney screaming dementedly and bawling aloud random phrases like 'Are you alright?' and 'Barcelona!'".

    Pre-dating the similar sound collage of Revolution 9 by over a year, McCartney is justifiably proud of being so “out there” as a composer and tried to get the track added to the Anthology series of compilations in 1996 - but George Harrison reportedly thought it was rubbish and vetoed its inclusion. We still haven’t heard it, although somebody took the time to create a fake version...

  6. The Beach Boys - Smile

    Perhaps the most famous lost album was Brian Wilson’s 1967 “teenage symphony to God”, which got as far as having sleeve artwork and booklet designed and printed before the plug was pulled after ten months. The story was that Wilson lost confidence in the songs and the concept, plus his spiralling mental health issues meant that the momentum behind the project floundered; the rest of the Beach Boys quickly released a stripped down version called Smiley Smile, but the mystique of the original concept fascinated people for years. In 2004, Wilson released a re-recorded version of Smile and played the songs live, but he admitted himself that this 21st Century edition was different to the original plan for the LP.

  7. Prince - Dream Factory

    In the summer of 1986, Prince And The Revolution set to release the follow-up to the successful Parade album (which spawned the hit Kiss), planning an ambitious double album called Dream Factory, which included songs that had been written as far back as 1982. With the dissolution of The Revolution, the Purple One thought again and proposed a triple LP called Crystal Ball, but his label Warner Bros, put the mockers on that. The result was a “slimmed down” double LP, called Sign ‘O’ The Times, which featured a number of the tracks from Dream Factory, including the title track, Starfish And Coffee and I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man.