Today, Kanye West announced his hotly anticipated follow-up to The Life of Pablo, due June 1. And with the news, which already has fans scrambling, pontificating and anticipating, comes an extra-interesting detail West shared — the album will contain seven songs.
Even if those seven songs turn out to be sprawling odysseys, the number is still rather small for a long-player, mostly the province of jazz, the AOR era and sludgy, sprawling metal. That said, it’s by no means unprecedented to keep a song cycle at the holy number regardless of context — for one reason or another, it’s happened over and over throughout recorded music history.
In honor of Kanye West’s as-yet-untitled upcoming album, here are 17 great albums throughout history that contained no more or less than 7 tracks.
Alice in Chains, Jar of Flies (1994)
While technically not an album, but an EP — the first ever to debut atop the Billboard 200 albums chart — Alice in Chains’ presence on this list goes to show how far a little concision goes even after the AOR era. Jar of Flies contained all-time AIC classics like “Nutshell” and “No Excuses,” and set the tone for more sprawling, harrowing later works like their 1996 MTV Unplugged set.
The Allman Brothers Band, At Fillmore East (1971)
Atlantic Records almost rejected this live double LP, with the label head Jerry Wexler deeming it “ridiculous to preserve all these jams.” What about when the jams include the Allmans ripping through “Whipping Post,” “Statesboro Blues” and “Stormy Monday?” On perhaps rock’s greatest live album, these are 7 of the very, very best.
Bruce Springsteen, The Wild, the Innocent & The E Street Shuffle (1973)
Most Springsteen fanatics would tell you that the songs featured on Shuffle simply must be heard at this show on this date to get the proper story. But the record succeeds because it’s got all the charisma and band interplay that made the band legendary right there in the grooves. These sven songs, including the classic “Incident on 57th Street,” are a great place to start for the uninitiated.
Can — Ege Bamyasi (1972)
For a group known for open-ended improvisations and demented krautrock grooves, Can were always strategic about when to pull back. Case in point, the sessions for Ege Bamyasi weren’t complicated by narcotics or ego-trips like most other fractious albums, but keyboardist Irmin Schmidt and vocalist Damo Suzuki “playing chess obsessively, day in, day out.” Thank goodness they still eked out this seven-tracker, one still hailed as a weird, winding classic. Checkmate.
Chic, Risqué (1979)
When you’ve got a smooth, simple collection of seven songs that work perfectly together without a turkey in the bunch, why put more — or less? Chic knew this with their third album, Risqué, which proved so infectious it later took on a second life with its extensive sampling by Queen, Nas, Beastie Boys, Daft Punk and many more.
Funkadelic, Maggot Brain (1971)
The legendary funk group’s third album wasn’t quite well-received immediately — Rolling Stone’s Vince Aletti called it “mindless” and “dead-end stuff.” Now, it’s universally acclaimed, maybe because the album hits it and quits it at seven tracks before it goes too far off the rails with its incendiary themes and musical eccentricities.
John Coltrane, Giant Steps (1960)
Coltrane would go on from Giant Steps to release mind-shattering improvisations and compositions that challenged Western tonality, listeners’ patience and what even constitutes “music.” But Steps, which contains some of the best backing players hard bop had to offer (Paul Chambers, Art Taylor, Tommy Flanagan and others), constitutes Coltrane’s first jump into the unknown, but with far greater cohesion than later monoliths like Om and Ascension.
Kate Bush, 50 Words for Snow (2011)
Bush’s wintry, spacious tenth album contains her most sprawling work, including the 11-minute “Lake Tahoe” and the 13-minutes-and-change “Misty.” It’s a genius decision of Bush’s, then, to trim the fat off the Snow tracklist to only seven cuts, letting her immersive textures do their thing without too much distraction.
Kraftwerk, Computer World (1981)
Some modern listeners might shy away from a band as antiseptic and bloodless as Kraftwerk, but with the passage of time, their music seems more like a pure watercolor, an uncompromising vision. Take the track titles here: “Computer Love,” “Home Computer,” “It’s More Fun to Compute.” And you may have ice water in your veins if you don’t get up and dance to “Pocket Calculator.”
Led Zeppelin, In Through the Out Door (1978)
For a group that built its legend on eccentricities and excesses like band-member runes, bowed Gibson SG solos and buying Aleister Crowley’s house, Led Zeppelin knew how to make an ultra-concise LP. Keyboard-heavy, grief-stricken and containing mostly low-key dark horse tracks — while still making room for the unexpected pizzazz of FM radio classics “Fool in the Rain” and “In the Evening” — the seven-track In Through the Out Door is no exception.
Mastodon, Crack the Skye (2009)
Mastodon’s fourth album followed a rather daffy and charming “elements” suite of albums, with this one representing air. Not only this, the song “The Czar” actually has four movements, clocking in at a whopping 10 minutes. Yet for such an ambitious rock group, one that seems rarer and rarer in our A.D.D. age, Skye still only cracks 7 songs in total.
Meat Loaf, Bat Out of Hell (1977)
Co-produced by legendary pop weirdo Todd Rundgren and featuring horny hard-rock anthems that fused Richard Wagner and the Who, Meat Loaf‘s Bat Out of Hell is one of the oddest albums to ever sell 43 million copies worldwide. Each one of these 7 songs — “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” — is its own weird, unforgettable triumph.
Parliament, Mothership Connection (1975)
Parliament and Funkadelic made enough albums for a lifetime of deep listening, and Mothership Connection contains sprawling interstellar themes and song titles like “Supergroovalisticprosifunkstication.” Don’t be fooled into thinking Connection is a directionless slog, through — at seven tracks, it’s one of Parliament’s best, and an all-time classic of funk.
Rush, Moving Pictures (1981)
For their eighth studio album, Rush opted to cut back on their complex, polyphonous songs for something much more radio-friendly — and it paid off with gems like “Tom Sawyer” and “Limelight.” And not only were the compositions cut down, but the tracklisting, just hitting the listener with seven great cuts and peacing out. Prog, meet pop.
Steely Dan, Aja (1977)
Walter Becker and Donald Fagen’s postmodern ride-or-die project, one that could only loosely be called a “band,” hit its peak with Aja, which is an utterly airtight masterpiece of songwriting, engineering, and sneering humor, even as it nods toward delicate Chinese music motifs. From the rapturous “Black Cow” to the memorable final line of closer “Josie,” “She prays like a Roman with her eyes on fire,” there’s not a note or bon mot out of place.
The Stooges, Fun House (1970)
Iggy Pop and the rest of these Ann Arbor, Michigan, ne’er-do-wells struck gold with their second album, which remains one of the wildest, hairiest and most psychotic rock n’ roll albums of all time. From the ominous “Down on the Street” to the free-jazz hysteria of “L.A. Blues”, not a track could have been added or taken away from this House.
Suicide, Suicide (1977)
The proto-punk band’s first album was a touchstone for all kinds of nascent styles of music — industrial rock, synth-pop, electronica and so many more. Takes a truly special group to pack that all into 7 songs, and have it contain the immortal “Frankie Teardrop” among the bunch.