Now more than ever, an overwhelming amount of music is available to listen to and enjoy. From pop artists dropping albums at a moment’s notice to bedroom troubadours self-releasing their recordings on Soundcloud to the glut of mixtapes, soundtracks, and singles hitting Spotify every Friday, listeners aren’t short of material to make their way through.
Throughout the history of music, certain albums from musicians have gone missing, been shelved, or just plain irritated their creators so much that they were banished to a storage room or sock drawer somewhere, never to be heard by a living soul. Consigned to legendary status, they live on only as a rumor, hearsay, and fan speculation.
Often called “lost” albums, they offer a tantalizing view of what could have been. Some of these, such as Bruce Springsteen’s electric version of Nebraska or Dr. Dre’s Detox, had fans and critics debating their detail and quality for years, ultimately remaining unfulfilled by any concrete evidence of their existence. And therein lies the draw of these lost albums. Of course, we’ll never quite know how good or bad they are, but it’s certainly fun to theorize.
To that end, here are some of the most noteworthy albums that were never meant to be.
10 Prince: Dream Factory
Dream Factory was created by Prince in 1986 and was notable for having studio input from his band, The Revolution, for the first time on a Prince recording. All signs pointed to this album perhaps being the masterpiece of his finest era until he became frustrated with The Revolution and went back out on his own again.
The LP then mutated into Crystal Ball, a three-disc, 19-track solo LP that his record label, Warner Bros., was not prepared to release at the time. The Crystal Ball tracks were then adjusted to form the basis of his classic Sign o’ the Times. Despite this evolution, it would have been truly monumental to see what a full Prince and The Revolution record would have sounded like—free of label interference, of course.
9 Green Day: Cigarettes and Valentines
Coming off the back of their record Warning in 2000, Green Day wrote and recorded an album, Cigarettes and Valentines, that was a return to the faster punkier material of Insomniac. The trouble was, as the record was in the final stages of completion, the master tapes were stolen from the studio.
In hindsight, the band viewed the theft as being rather fortuitous as they instead went ahead and recorded a little album by the name of American Idiot. This one went on to launch them into the second phase of their career and to arguably more commercial success than their ’90s heyday.
The band has played the title track from the album live sparingly, as it was released as part of a live album DVD. But other than that, these tracks will remain mysteries to Green Day fans.
8 Beastie Boys: Hot Sauce Committee Part 1
The legendary hip-hop group was recording what was to be Part 1 of the two-part album Hot Sauce Committee when the tragic news broke of MCA’s cancer diagnosis. After this bombshell, they scrapped plans to release two albums, the first being a more experimental and weirder release, with the second boasting a more standard Beasties hip-hop feel.
As detailed in their bestseller The Beastie Boys Book, the rappers originally planned for Part 1 to be an elaborate practical joke on record collectors where every song would be made of fake samples. Instead, they went to insane lengths to create believable “fake samples,” and the general belief was they scrapped the idea after the sobering news of their friend’s health.
Not strictly true. Ad-Rock described within their book how they left the hard drive for part one on a boxcar outside Missoula, Montana, and never managed to retrieve it.
7 Grimes: The Non-Album Between Visions & Art Angels
Grimes isn’t one for staying still artistically or mincing her words. Her opinion of the album she created after her breakthrough record, the glorious Visions, was that it “sucked.” Nevertheless, she put out two songs that likely suggested the direction of the discarded recording: “REALiTi,” a demo that she posted online despite her complaints that it wasn’t mixed or mastered, and “Go,” a poppy headrush of a song that divided her fanbase upon release.
Even though both songs sounded great and were melodically and structurally miles ahead of her previous work, she commented that the album was “depressing” and that she didn’t want to tour to support it. Instead, she shelved the larger body of work and went on to create Art Angels, which proved to be her best-reviewed record to date.
6 Soundgarden’s Final Album
For another record overshadowed by tragedy, the reformed Soundgarden was in the middle of recording an album when frontman Chris Cornell tragically took his own life.
The band had written, demoed, and tracked vocals for the album when Chris’s suicide occurred, and since then, things only got more difficult and painful for the group to try and complete and release it. Guitarist Kim Thayil said that it was in a state ready to be finished and prepared for release. But the audio files were not in the band’s possession, and Cornell’s widow was suing the band over seven unreleased recordings made before his untimely end. This resulted in legal proceedings from Soundgarden’s side, and the two sides have been at war ever since.
It’s unlikely we will hear this record now, and if we do, it will not be the swansong it could have been for their iconic frontman.
5 Lana Del Rey / Lizzie Grant / May Jailer: Sirens
Lana Del Rey has been making music since she was 18 years old and has many pseudonyms, but her first full-length album was recorded under the name May Jailer.
The demos of this album have leaked online, and it’s an interesting snapshot of her life at the time and where she would eventually go from a musical standpoint. The record is mainly acoustic guitar, and Del Rey gives a more gentle, somber performance than her later persona would. There’s also a distinct lack of Americana, a defining characteristic of her iconography in the future.
The big request fans had with this record was to hear the full version, as it’s quite clearly bare-bones demos that, with a fuller band backing, mixing, and mastering, would have been a compelling look at a future star.
4 Noel Gallagher / Amorphous Androgynous collaboration
Ever since Oasis called it quits, the nature of Noel Gallagher’s solo project was the hottest topic among fans of the band. It’s clear the songwriter wanted to deviate from what the public expected of him, and to that end, he linked up with production duo Amorphous Androgynous to create a solo album with them.
Reports in the press suggested this was a psychedelic krautrock record, influenced by some of the groups Gallagher would talk up in interviews like Captain Beefheart and Pink Floyd. In reality, the partnership was frayed from the outset, and in the end, the sessions were beset by a fundamental misunderstanding from both sides. AA wanted Noel to experiment and explore; Noel wanted to do less than five vocal takes and knock it out like the old days.
In the end, only a couple of tracks appeared on his solo debut with his band, The High Flying Birds, which proved to be the album’s critical darlings. In interviews, the producers claimed that the full shelved album is the best thing he has ever done, and they were saddened by Noel’s disregard of it. Hopefully, we will hear it in full one day.
3 Kanye West: Yandhi
I could fill a full top ten article with unreleased Kanye West albums, but for this selection, I thought I would choose his most fully formed. Yandhi was the mooted follow-up to 2018’s relatively disappointing ye. Based on the leaked demos, it would have been a poppier and more gospel-influenced record that would have marked a huge return to quality for the much-maligned icon.
As always with West, elements of the songs have been repurposed for subsequent albums, particularly the 2019 album Jesus Is King. Yet one of the most interesting facets of Kanye’s obsessive online fanbase is their commitment to ensuring the leaked records are captured for posterity; so keen listeners can track his creative process throughout the years.
What you can hear from this album is that it had what would have featured some of his biggest songs in years, particularly “Alien,” featuring Young Thug and Kid Cudi, “Last Name,” and “Law of Attraction.” They all featured thought-out and considered production and guest features, both of which aren’t always the case with recent Kanye records.
2 Misfits: 12 Hits from Hell
Even if you haven’t heard of the Misfits, chances are you’ll be familiar with their iconic logo, the white skull on a black background taken from the film The Crimson Ghost. And if you play any Spotify Halloween playlist, wait long enough, and they’ll make an appearance. The band is the classic spooky punk band, a veritable Evil Ramones.
After recording their debut record, the magnificent Static Age, only to see it passed on by every record label they could put it in front of, the band attempted another record, the appropriately named 12 Hits from Hell. They knocked out all twelve songs in a single take each, apart from “London Dungeon,” which was done in two. It contained almost entirely stone-cold punk rock classics, like “Astro Zombies,” “Halloween,” and “Skulls.”
Within the studio, bassist Jerry Only’s brother Doyle was secretly re-recording guitarist Steele’s parts for unknown reasons. Upon discovery of this treachery, naturally, tensions were high within the band. They decided to cancel the record, despite it being completed, releasing elements of it in future EPs and singles and re-recording other parts just to confuse fans to no end.
1 Jimi Hendrix: Black Gold
Perhaps the reigning champion of lost albums, Black Gold was a project that genuinely would have added to the legendary guitarist’s mystique. Lauded as an autobiographical fantasy album containing a suite of “movements” rather than individual songs, it was to have an accompanying animated film about the difficulties of life on the road for a black rock star in the ’60s.
Essentially this could have been Hendrix’s Sgt. Peppers moment, but his untimely death in 1970 led to the world never seeing the great man perform this work of art. Yet, the record itself was made and handed to his drummer, Mitch Mitchell, to complete the final studio touches for release. Mitchell went ahead and did what many of us might do, being a rock star in the ’70s. He tied the cassette case closed with a headband and stored it at home, forgetting about it for two decades.
A lot has been written about the nature of this recording, about how Hendrix was positioning himself as a black superhero at a time when he was influential enough to make a major statement. The music itself was more complex than anything he had attempted before. It represented a true auteurist side to Jimi, one that signaled the growth of a man into a more experienced artist and performer.
For that reason, it remains the greatest lost album in music history.