Here at Billboard, we tend to emphasize the big: The major hit singles, the best-selling albums, the headline-grabbing statements. At times, it’s only natural to overlook the small: the in-between musical moments that tie the big ones together, the tiny songs whose impact still ends up being mighty.
In fact, even though it’s rarely talked about, we’re currently in something of a golden age for the interlude — the half-songs that provide the connective tissue for the marquee pop albums of our time. Frank Ocean, The Weeknd, Rihanna, Calvin Harris, Kanye West, SZA, Kendrick Lamar and so many of the other star artists of the ’10s have made the interlude a fixture of their work — though as you’ll see below, from our list of our all-time favorite interludes, they were hardly the first to do so.
So what do we count as an interlude, then? Well, it doesn’t literally have to have the word “interlude” in its title, though many of course do. But it has to have a sense of being not quite a full song — if it’s a song that feels like it could’ve been pulled as a standalone single (or indeed, one that actually was), it doesn’t fit here. That said, it still has to be a song, to at least some extent — much as we love skits like Dr. Dre’s “$20 Sack Pyramid” and spoken-word interludes like those found on Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, they’re not what we’re talking about here.
And it has to be short, of course — we capped the max length at 2:30, give or take a second, so apologies to JAY-Z’s “Public Service Announcement (Interlude),” which is just a little too full-length — as well as short relative to the album it’s found on, so no Madvillainy or Milo Goes to College here either. And finally, for us, the word “interlude” pretty definitively means something that comes in the middle of the album, so album openers and closers were disqualified.
Mostly, though, we looked for songs that made us say, “Damn, I wish there was more.” Songs whose earlier-than-expected fade-outs make us go “but-but…. wait!” Songs that go on for one minute, but we feel like we could listen to for eight — even though deep down, we know they’re so much more lovable this way.
Here are our 50 favorite interludes of all time, with the world’s shortest 50-song Spotify playlist of all of ’em to be found at the bottom.
50. Beastie Boys, “The Biz vs. The Nuge” (Check Your Head, 1992)
On the kind of “how awesome would it be if…?” inside joke few besides the Beasties had the gumption or creativity to actually put on their LPs, friend of the family Biz Markie sings a nonsense theme song (“The Beastie BOYYYYYYYS… they coming home, oh, they coming home…”) over the righteous instrumental to Ted Nugent’s “Home Bound.” On Check Your Head, it only lasts 34 seconds before exploding into the punk frenzy of the trio’s cover of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Time for Livin’,” but it remained essential enough to the BBoys’ character that they made room for it on their The Sounds of Science greatest-hits set at decade’s end. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
49. Calvin Harris, “School” (18 Months, 2012)
For the most part, 18 Months was a victory-lap singles compilation for Calvin Harris, who had spent the titular period scoring smashes with the likes of Rihanna, Ellie Goulding and Florence Welch. But in the middle, he did make room for “School,” a delectable electro-funk throwback that felt more like a well-earned recess period for the superstar DJ in between modern hitmaking sessions, and which pointed the way toward the Funk Wav Bounces era he’d fully indulge in a half-decade later. — A.U.
48. Miguel, “Girl With the Tattoo Enter.lewd” (All I Want Is You, 2010)
To drop jaws and drawers, Miguel needs only his voice. One of the prettiest songs from perhaps the strongest male voice in contemporary R&B is a dreamy a cappella interlude about — honestly, does it even matter? There’s a world in which Miguel sings his shopping list gently and you declare it the most sensual thing you’ve ever heard. He’s manipulated his vocals on his recent albums, or adopted the cadences of hip-hop, making “Girl With the Tattoo” even more impressive: what he’s doing on this song, few of his peers can compete with. That this quickie became the basis for Partynextdoor’s immaculate “Break From Toronto” is just an added bonus. — ROSS SCARANO
?47. Wings, “Cuff Link” (London Town, 1978)
One of Paul McCartney’s underrated assets during the Wings era was his restless genre hopping; he stuffed those albums with stylistic pastiches of everything from British music hall to reggae to space-funk. “Cuff Link” is the lattermost, a synth-heavy, reverb-laden sketch that proves even when Wings was fixated on folk-rock — as on parent album London Town — Macca couldn’t resist a quality creative 180, whether it made sense for its accompanying LP or not. — JOE LYNCH
46. Syd, “Drown In It” (Fin, 2017)
Not that any of Syd’s solo debut Fin suffered from being too busy or claustrophobic, but the sheer breathing room available on the album’s shortest and most intimate song feels almost uncomfortable, like being totally alone with a loved one in the middle of Times Square. “If you’re ready babe, tonight I’m gonna swim in it… dive in it… drown in it…,” the singer offers, casual but determined, as the song begins to slip away from underneath her. Saying no is definitely an option, but it’s one you better choose fast. — A.U.
45. Cake, “Arco Arena” (Comfort Eagle, 2001)
Sacramento band Cake’s 2001 album Comfort Eagle was the encapsulation of the band’s off-kilter songcraft and tongue-in-cheek lyrics, which makes it even more exciting that one of their most electrifying, standout tracks would be a straightforward instrumental completely devoid of their signature sharp witticisms. “Arco Arena,” named after the band’s now-defunct hometown sports venue, is an ode fit for the Kings, with its heavy backbeat and crunching guitar melody, perfect for a final fourth quarter pump-up. It also got the full song treatment it deserved a year later on JAY-Z’s “Guns & Roses.” — BRYAN KRESS
44. The Microphones, “Instrumental” (The Glow, Pt. 2, 2001)
A touchstone of turn-of-the-century indie rock, The Microphones’ The Glow, Pt. 2 ebbs and flows through multi-part cuts that stretch past the five-minute mark, and smash-and-grab acoustic songs that last 100 seconds or less. The first of the album’s two instrumentals is the latter, and shudders with beauty — with a guitar strum that drifts in search of a home, before the song expands into a swirl of piano and finger-snaps. For its 20 tracks, Phil Elverum’s greatest full-length would feel woefully incomplete if this transition were removed. — JASON LIPSHUTZ
?43. Kelela, “Bluff” (Take Me Apart, 2017)
As a student of R&B, Kelela understands the value and craft of the interlude. On “Go All Night,” from her mixtape debut Cut 4 Me, she teased the listener with a fade-out snippet that left you wanting more. The creaking sensuality of “Bluff,” from her first album Take Me Apart, is the more complicated experience, both fully formed and ephemeral. The emotional work it performs suggests something more substantial than 72 seconds, but the song’s power comes from its brevity. “I’m calling because/ You already taken a beating/ And all that you need is/ Just a bit of this love.” Here, then, is just a bit of a song for you to put on repeat, in pursuit of a feeling that you can’t catch. — R.S.
?42. Hüsker Dü, “Monday Will Never Be the Same” (Zen Arcade, 1984)
A gorgeous, 53-second piano interlude amidst the musical and emotional shredding of double-LP opus Zen Arcade, “Monday Will Never Be the Same” isn’t so much the calm before the storm as the stillness in the very middle of it, serene and more than slightly terrifying. The title goes a long way too; suggesting nothing specific but still appropriately devastating in its general implications. — A.U.
41. Solange, “Looks Good With Trouble” (True, 2012)
Mischief and action get a syrupy slow-down in this 90-second synth-led meditation, which has Solange languidly stretching her vocals over lush harmonies and a drum-machine heartbeat. With “Looks Good With Trouble,” Solange’s challenge to fall in love and ditch the consequences (including the potential for heartbreak) is made all the more compelling, thanks to the cyclical flow of her verses. She dares the listener to leap first and worry later, and “Looks Good With Trouble” is just hypnotizing enough to convince you to do so. — HILARY HUGHES
40. Boards of Canada, “Olson” (Music Has the Right to Children, 1998)
“Olson” floats upward. The instrumental, sandwiched between two extended compositions on IDM duo Boards of Canada’s landmark 1998 album Music Has the Right to Children, begins on the low end of the synthesizer before a melody prods it toward a higher key and the song evaporates into a few final piano strokes. It’s all deceptively simple, and utterly euphoric. — J. Lipshutz
39. Motley Crue, “God Bless the Beasts and Children” (Shout at the Devil, 1983)
“God Bless the Children of the Beast” is an unexpectedly solemn moment on Motley Crue’s ’83 glam-metal classic Shout at the Devil. Amid the screaming rebellion that’s driven by Mick Mars’ howling six-string, this minimalist track (running just 1:31) throws a curveball, with an electric guitar solo set against the gleaming strains of an acoustic. Part of its appeal is its mystery: Its sole lyrics are the seven words in its title, and they’re only sung once. — CHRISTA TITUS
38. Paramore, “Moving On” (Paramore, 2013)
One of three lo-fi, solo Hayley Williams interludes that pace Paramore’s self-titled masterpiece, the breezy tempo and purposeful lyric of “Moving On” belie the song’s distant production and frustrated vocal, reflecting the sense of inner conflict always present in the band’s best work (and segueing like a champ into LP centerpiece “Ain’t It Fun,” too). Not many modern rock albums of the last decade have so prominently deployed the ukulele and still managed to age well, but as with many such truisms, Paramore remains an only exception. — A.U.
37. Drake feat. Omarion, “Bria’s Interlude” (So Far Gone, 2009)
Placed after the melancholic track “Sooner Than Later” from Drake’s classic So Far Gone mixtape, “Bria’s Interlude” lessened the heartaches for lovers on rainy days. Drizzy’s right-hand man and producer, 40, artfully samples Missy Elliott’s “Friendly Skies,” allowing his Toronto cohort and Omarion to ruminate about leaving their significant others after a long period of time. Despite the somber tone of the record, the poignant “I’m coming back” refrain injects a warm sense of hope for distant lovers in need of their companions. — CARL LAMARRE
36. The Stone Roses, “Elizabeth My Dear” (The Stone Roses, 1989)
Call it “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Regicide”: one mini-verse and chorus’ worth of Roses guitarist John Squire’s sweetest “Scarborough Fair” acoustic picking, while singer Ian Brown quietly plots: “My aim is true, my message is clear/ It’s curtains for you, Elizabeth my dear.” A bizarre intermission in the middle of one of the grandest collections of ’80s guitar pop, but all the more gleefully disquieting for it. — A.U.
35. Kelly Price feat. R. Kelly, “The National Anthem” (Mirror Mirror, 2000)
The setup is innocent enough: R. Kelly preparing for his hallowed Sunday routine, watching the NFL. But then Price interrupts, saying, “We need to talk right now” (ugh!), and right as the national anthem begins! Kells dismisses her, but she overpowers him — emotionally and vocally — and offers her own reworking of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” climaxing with, “Came through your house last night and her. bags. were. still. theeeeere.” Just as the fireworks should ignite between the power performers… the track fades. But that’s the magic. Given Price and Kelly’s previous showdowns, “Anthem” is an ironic, comedic high in two musical catalogs peppered with heartbreak and drama. — TREVOR ANDERSON
34. Kanye West feat. Common, “My Way Home” (Late Registration, 2005)
Six songs into sophomore album Late Registration, Kanye West was already flirting with a possible classic. On track seven, he took a brief intermission, allowing his Chi-Town predecessor Common to take the wheel on “My Way Home.” The veteran lyricist wowed, packing a slew of indelible lines dealing with drugs, inequality and poverty over a Gil Scott-Heron “Home Is Where the Hatred Is” sample. Kanye’s soulful touch mixed with Common’s candor made “My Way Home” a smooth ride for any longtime rap fan. — C.L.
33. Azealia Banks, “Paradiso” (Fantasea, 2012)
One of the most vital standouts on Banks’ splashy 2012 Fantasea mixtape came in the form of “Paradiso,” clocking in at just under one minute. Over a looped sample of Brenda & the Big Dudes’ 1983 knocker “Weekend Special,” Banks creates a sense of urgency with her ratatat flow, contrasted by relaxed rhymes about a fantastical beach vacation, painting a portrait of opulence that leaves you wanting more. — STEVEN J. HOROWITZ
32. SZA, “Wavy” (Ctrl, 2017)
Between dissecting heartbreak and insecurities on “Anything” and “Normal Girl,” SZA has some fun, gifting us a bouncy, swagged-out beat, and one of Ctrl‘s most quotable mantras: “Give as much as you take/ Forgive as much as you hate/ Or get the fuck out.” Joined by James Fauntleroy’s honeyed vocals, SZA hurtles toward the track’s 1:16 end mark, tossing out playful lyrics about a flaky fling, with a confidence rarely seen on the rest of the album. All the track needs is a few more verses — we’ll wait here, Solána. — TATIANA CIRISANO
31. R.E.M., “New Orleans Instrumental No. 1” (Automatic for the People, 1992)
“That’s a groovy little thing,” R.E.M.’s Mike Mills recently told Stereogum about the only interlude on their ’92 masterwork Automatic for the People. “New Orleans Instrumental No. 1” might be the sound of the alternative pioneers “just messing around making sounds” during a week-long trip to the bayou in early 1992, but the song is actually a crucial pivot point on the classic LP: the listener needs a breather after the emotionally charged “Everybody Hurts” and the fraught, wiry “Sweetness Follows,” and “New Orleans” provides that sweet exhalation. — J. Lipshutz
?30. Alicia Keys, “Feeling U, Feeling Me” (The Diary of Alicia Keys, 2003)
One of Alicia Keys’ greatest assets is her gift for conveying passion and purpose without overpowering. In “Feeling,” the instrumental bedding invites listeners into a seductive scene, with Keys in no hurry to rush the mood. Nearly a minute elapses before the vocals creep in, and even then, she croons with soothing ease. “Feeling” unlocks what we’d hope to find in an album called The Diary of Alicia Keys; its architect is vulnerable and strips layers of production and vocal grunts and groans to muse a question we’ve all grappled with in our internal dialogue: “Are you feeling me, feeling you?” Despite the two-minute runtime, the track made enough of an impression on 2 Chainz that the rapper sampled it for his “Feeling You” in 2014. — T.A.
29. JAY-Z, “Beach Is Better” (Magna Carta Holy Grail, 2013)
“Always leave fans wanting more” is JAY-Z’s M.O. on this 55-second gem, which zeroes in on his penchant for witty, self-referential lyrics (“Girl, why you never ready/ For as long as you took you better look like Halle Berry… or Beyoncé”) and double meanings (talking about a date night while flexing his high-life means). Producer Mike Will Made-It told an interviewer that JAY-Z asked him to “cook up something effortless, so dope that it’s just going to kill when it comes out” — given that JAY still drops the song during live sets, it’s safe to say he succeeded. — GAIL MITCHELL
28. The Breeders, “S.O.S.” (Last Splash, 1993)
A 90-second bullet train speeding through the middle of The Breeders’ 1993 breakout LP Last Splash, the careening bass line and shrieking guitars of “S.O.S.” were emblematic of the thorniness that always lay at the Breeders’ center, even in the midst of their full crossover bloom. And if you get the urge to yell “hey, hey, hey!” over the break, there’s a reason for that: the sample provided the backbone for The Prodigy’s epochal big beat smash “Firestarter” a couple years later. — A.U.
27. Tame Impala, “Nangs” (Currents, 2015)
For all its psychedelic haze, Currents is a breakup album of declarations: “Let It Happen,” “Yes I’m Changing,” “The Less I Know the Better.” But that clarity disintegrates on the woozy agony of “Nangs,” 1:48 worth of wobbly synths and ascending, panicked keys that never reach their summit. “Is there something more than that?” a muffled Kevin Parker pleads in the song’s single lyric. When it comes to this mini-masterpiece, we wish. — T.C.
26. Tyler, the Creator feat. Lil Wayne, “Droppin’ Seeds” (Flower Boy, 2016)
A more contemplative Lil Wayne provides the perfect complement to Tyler the Creator’s sensitive and thoughtful tone on the latter’s critically acclaimed 2017 album. The one-minute interlude, which some may deem a euphemism for dropping bars, finds a slower Lil Wayne squeezing in a host of sly back-to-back flower metaphors about gardens, fruit and seeds (while also making room for an inspired N.W.A callback) over a low jazzy beat, in keeping with the album’s melodious backdrop. As Tyler notes in his verse: “Dropping seeds on these n—as/ They can’t fuck with the boy.” — G.M.
25. OutKast, “?” (Stankonia, 2000)
Andre 3000 barely ever drops a wack verse — whether he’s giving you 16 bars, 32, or 160, 3000 always bulldozes his way through a track with his quick-witted lyricism. On “?,” Dre not only stumped his haters again with his dexterity, but with a series of questions aimed at men’s morality. Whether it was the topic of murder or cheating, 3000’s feverish search for answers — over the short, trippy Earthtone III-produced beat — helped push turn-of-the-millennium opus Stankonia into realms rarely heard on a hip-hop LP before. — C.L.
24. Rihanna, “James Joint” (ANTI, 2016)
It felt almost defiant for Rihanna to stick an interlude directly after the first song of ANTI — especially since its predecessor was the SZA-featuring, stop-and-start rhythm of “Consideration” and it’s followed by the wailing guitar riff of “Kiss It Better.” But ANTI wasn’t about the conventional wisdom Rihanna had followed in her hits-studded first few records, and it was nice to see Shea Taylor and Kuk Harrell’s gorgeous, synth-led production and Rih’s syrupy weed-smoking daydreams get a deserved starring role so early on. — KEVIN RUTHERFORD
23. Ice Cube, “What They Hittin’ Foe?” (AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, 1990)
Ice Cube’s quick detour to bark out the play-by-play for a dice game on his classic debut AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted still rattles with life nearly 30 years after the fact. The Bomb Squad’s sample-rich production swerves the beat with each new development in the story, flipping Average White Band, Melvin Bliss, and Stanley Turrentine and Milt Jackson. Cube’s tale concludes with a grabbed gat, licked shots, and the iconic line, “Take that motherfuckers!,” which Easy Mo Bee sampled for The Notorious B.I.G.’s similarly violent tale of robbery in Brooklyn, “Gimme the Loot.” Going out like a sucker is never gonna be in style. — R.S.
22. Sufjan Stevens, “Redford (for Yia-Yia and Pappou)” (Michigan, 2003)
After four straight songs set in the upper half of Michigan, Sufjan Stevens swoops back down to the Detroit area for the penultimate track on his sprawling ode to his home state. Maybe a strange choice if you’re concerned about what this journey would look like on a map, but that anxiety is washed away with “Redford,” a lyric-less two-minute piece populated by a repetitive piano line, layered background harmonies and the occasional creak of wood. One could imagine the latter sound to be that of a rocking chair; after all, the song is dedicated to Stevens’ grandparents, who lived in Redford. If nothing else, it’s destined to soundtrack YouTube videos of pristine nature for decades to come. — K.R.
21. The White Stripes, “Little Room” (White Blood Cells, 2001)
Driven by Meg White’s relentless, primordial drumming, “Little Room” demonstrated how less was usually more for the White Stripes. With Jack White’s voice a laconic smirk, “Little Room” succinctly makes a clever point about the self-sabotaging nature of success in creative endeavors (“But if it’s really good/ You’re gonna need a bigger room”) in a mere 50 seconds. Some bands — hell, some of White’s other songs — take five times as long to say something half as intellectually stimulating. — J. Lynch
20. Queen, “Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon” (A Night at the Opera, 1975)
Playful, theatrical and brief, the second track on the album that delivered “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “You’re My Best Friend” has Freddy Mercury scaling the rafters of his register. The cartoonish pomp of “Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon” cleanly paves the way for a flash of a pristine solo from Brian May, too, so consider this lark an all-too-brief detour from the full-throttle intensity of the rest of A Night at the Opera. — H.H.
19. The Weeknd feat. Lana Del Rey, “Stargirl Interlude” (Starboy, 2016)
The Weeknd and Lana Del Rey have long shared a kinship that seemed to exist in their music even before they started to appear on each other’s albums. Perhaps the greatest testament to their spiritual companionship is “Stargirl Interlude,” from The Weeknd’s 2016 double-platinum album Starboy, where the title protagonist cedes the mic to his celestial counterpart. Del Rey’s breathy voice is intoxicating over atmospheric production that reverberates and snaps, as her vocals climb an incredible range to reach the song’s climax, where we find the two star-crossed singers together in a moment that feels like it exists in a world of its own. — B.K.
18. Radiohead, “Hunting Bears” (Amnesiac, 2001)
Sounding like the score for the weirdest walk through the woods you ever took, “Hunting Bears” is an uneasy moment to breathe and wonder before Radiohead’s marvelously strange Amnesiac enters the homestretch of “Like Spinning Plates” and “Life in a Glass House.” Palate-cleansing is one function of the interlude, and the instrumental “Hunting Bears” downshifts the album after the near-funky “Dollars & Cents,” the guitar-and-synth track revealing that you’ve been left alone, while whatever ramshackle party might have accompanied you before has disbanded. A good instrumental transports you, and “Hunting Bears” leaves you somewhere unfamiliar and haunted. — R.S.
17. Justin Timberlake feat. Timbaland, “Let Me Talk to You” (FutureSex/LoveSounds, 2006)
Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveSounds remains one of the top pop albums of the 2000s, and his second solo effort features several interludes worthy of discussion — but “Let Me Talk to You” stands out. Tonally different from its “Sexy Ladies” beginning and the “My Love” single that follows, “Talk” teases us with the story of two men trying to seduce women on the dance floor. JT and Timbaland go back and forth, begging their partners to go “do what we’re supposed to do.” But before we know if the ladies took the bait, “Talk” fades into “My Love,” leaving us all begging for a little bit more. — DENISE WARNER
16. Björk, “Frosti” (Vespertine, 2001)
“Frosti” is the fulcrum of Bjork’s brilliant Vespertine LP, separating her fourth full-length into two halves and segueing from the sexuality of the first five tracks to the self-discovery of the final six. It does so with a sound reminiscent of a music box, its chiming tones spinning in place, until it blends into the gentle scraping that starts the following song, “Aurora.” Vespertine focuses on intimacy, and “Frosti” unfolds like a hazy dream slowly coming back into focus, its personal importance malleable but evident. — J. Lipshutz
15. Marvin Gaye, “I Wanna Be Where You Are” (I Want You, 1976)
Soul connoisseurs Marvin Gaye and songwriter-producer Leon Ware sparked an erotic revolution with I Want You, arguably the hotter and sexier segue from Gaye’s 1973 rule-breaker Let’s Get It On. Unlike that album, this project is essentially an 11-track love song to Gaye’s then-girlfriend (and later wife) Janis Hunter. Gaye’s creative mind-set — feeding into his all-consuming passion for Hunter — can’t be contained, overflowing into this cha-cha/jazz-fused interlude that doubles as a fervent soliloquy. “I’ll always love you, Janis,” Gaye whispers seductively as the final notes fade away. — G.M.
14. The Beach Boys, “Pet Sounds” (Pet Sounds, 1966)
Though the instrumental title track of Brian Wilson’s magnum opus would’ve made for the perfect intermission if Pet Sounds required one, it serves as an ideal reverie just before the emotional wreckage of closer “Caroline, No.” The heady interlude works in elements of the inventive orchestrations that set Pet Sounds apart from the rest of the Beach Boys’ surf-ready repertoire, from the buoyant percussion of “Sloop John B” to the jangling verses of “God Only Knows” and bellowing woodwinds of “I Know There’s an Answer.” (Added bonus: Wilson originally intended for “Pet Sounds” to serve as a swanky theme for none other than James Bond.) — H.H.
13. The Notorious B.I.G., “B.I.G.” (Life After Death, 1997)
Biggie was no stranger to the interlude—on his debut album Ready to Die, he and Lil’ Kim made some, er, beautiful music on the X-rated “Fuck Me” intermission. But he cut his pivotal “B.I.G. (Interlude)” short on the Life After Death inclusion to more musical results, playing like a skeletal throwback to leaner ‘80s hip-hop — built and structured around an inspired Schooly D lift, and wrapped in a lyrical conceit where, for under a minute, Biggie tosses out a few rhymes about his acronymic name. It’s just enough of a tease to make you wonder what could have been had he carried out the thought in full. – S.J.H.
12. Blink-182, “Built This Pool” (California, 2016)
Yes, blink-182 occasionally stuck sub-two-minute songs into their discography — sometimes non-fully formed interludes, other times punk-laced songs that were simply meant to be that short — but had 2016’s California exhibited none of that, it wouldn’t have been a shock. After all, previous album Neighborhoods said, “To hell with that!” and stripped away the usual juvenile fun of the band’s earlier releases in the process, jokey songs or otherwise.
Who knew bringing in the guy from Alkaline Trio would not only get them back on the path to, uh, righteousness… California sticks a few of these carefree fragments of tunes amid the tracklists both standard and deluxe, but “Built This Pool” gets the nod here for a number of reasons — perhaps most of all its succinctness; there is a joke, and boy howdy, it’s gonna give it to you and ollie on out of there without killing the bit, thank goodness. Then there’s the sheer moxie to make this the second release of the album cycle, a little over a week after lead single “Bored to Death” and a solid month before “Rabbit Hole,” and casting it as a lyric video release on YouTube.
Oh, and of the song’s 17-second runtime, two of those seconds are devoted to drummer Travis Barker, listener stand-in if there ever was one, asking, “Is that really it?” Yes, Travis, that’s it and that’s all. And now it’s No. 12 on a Billboard list. Congratulations. — K.R.
11. Kanye West, “I Love Kanye” (The Life of Pablo, 2016)
With one ridiculous 44-second interlude, Kanye West proved to the world that he sees your tweets, he reads the headlines, and he’s in on the joke. “I Love Kanye” is a commentary about not only Kanye’s evolving artistry (which he references by reciting criticisms about himself), but also the incredible hype surrounding The Life of Pablo, whose rollout in 2016 was about as memorable as the album itself. The track is just barely a song, registering just as much a self-aware personal statement — closing with the ever-definitive “I love you like Kanye loves Kanye.” — XANDER ZELLNER
10. The Beatles, “Wild Honey Pie” (The Beatles (The White Album), 1968)
In an album overflowing with bizarre experiments and stylistic diversions, “Wild Honey Pie” from The Beatles (aka The White Album) was the strangest. Yes, the musique concrete foray “Revolution 9” is the more obviously odd song, but it’s never unsettling because it’s so clearly set up as an art statement. The 52-second proto-freak-folk of “Wild Honey Pie” — which follows the uber-accessible “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” and slides surprisingly seamlessly into “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” — is far more contentious, thanks to Paul McCartney’s banshee wail and the stabbing, vibrato guitar picking. It’s hard to overstate the importance of the world’s biggest pop band releasing a track this willfully and wonderfully weird in 1968 — and putting it as just the fifth track on the LP, no less. — J. Lynch
9. Frank Ocean, “Fertilizer” (Channel Orange, 2012)
Following the introductory heartache of “Thinkin Bout You,” Frank chases the tears with this 40-second gateway to the high-priced comedowns lurking around Channel Orange’s corners. Our protagonist jingles along –“Furt-uh-lizer, I’ll take bullshit if that’s all you got” — as the analog keyboards squawk and squish like the titular substance. The melody is so easy on the ears they’re left pining for more, only to lose it around the same instant it registers. It’s like an errant transmission from the kaleidoscopic album ahead, a sonic smidge of the dizzying personal journey Ocean has in store. In all fairness, “Fertilizer” isn’t exclusively his; it’s actually a bite-sized cover of a full-fledged James Fauntleroy song. But Ocean’s triumph was digging out the hookiest bit and letting it grow roots of its own. — CHRIS PAYNE
8. DJ Shadow, “Organ Donor” (Endtroducing….., 1996)
A two-minute retro diversion on one of the most inventive albums of the late 20th century, you can feel how much it kills DJ Shadow that “Organ Donor” is the song he’s best remembered for every time he glumly promises fans that it’s coming up in his live set, don’t worry. Sorry, Josh — the funk stays the funk, and the soft-shoeing “Organ Donor” packs a breathless, peerless combo of keys and pads that’s as exhilarating and epic as it is loose and ultimately low-stakes. Shadow has plenty of compositions more towering and essential than this, but that’s fine; “Eruption” wasn’t Van Halen’s greatest moment either, but it’s the first song you play for the uninitiated to simply say, “Holy shit, listen to this.” — A.U.
7. Drake feat. Kendrick Lamar, “Buried Alive” (Take Care, 2011)
Drake has always had a sharp ear for rising talent, from his impressive host of collaborators like The Weeknd, Sampha and Jorja Smith to his burgeoning OVO roster. But back in 2011 when he was still laying his foundation, Drake gave Kendrick Lamar a major look on Take Care’s “Buried Alive.” The young Compton MC sounds raw but prophetic as he confronts the trappings of fame while trying to keep his head above ground. He’s the spark between two heavier tracks — the R&B-tinged advance single “Marvin’s Room” and Drake’s Pimp C tribute on “Under Ground Kings” — but more importantly, the song marks a pivotal power-shift moment in hip-hop, when a hungry Kendrick proved he could dominate any feature with bold, captivating insights. Just give him two minutes. — B.K.
6. Daft Punk, “Nightvision” (Discovery, 2001)
Daft Punk is not known for its quiet moments. Discovery, the 2001 album that includes “Nightvision,” houses some of the best electro-pop songs — “One More Time,” “Digital Love,” “Harder Better Faster Stronger” — of the century. But regarding the muted, yearning “Nightvision” as merely a break from the dance floor downplays its quality. In truth, Discovery would be imbalanced without the interlude’s beating heart, as mysterious a Daft Punk song as exists, and the type of connective tissue that turns the LP into an album instead of a DJ mix. In truth, the power of Daft Punk lies within the robots’ ability to find equilibrium between their left-of-center impulses and radio fodder; this decade, for instance, they composed the Tron: Legacy score and recorded “Get Lucky”; only one dominated top 40 for a full summer, but both have high artistic value. The emotionally affecting mood music of “Nightvision” will never have the cultural importance of “One More Time,” but that doesn’t mean it’s any less significant. — J. Lipshutz
5. Public Enemy, “Show ‘Em What You Got” (It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, 1988)
It was used by JAY-Z to announce his post-retirement return. It was weaponized by Ice Cube for the title soundtrack cut to his screenwriting debut. It’s pretty much the only reason you’ve even heard of either Wreckx-n-Effect or N2Deep. But the first hip-hop act to recognize the potential of that soul-sticking five-note clarion call that is the sax riff to Lafayette Afro Rock Band’s “Darkest Light” was Public Enemy, who unleash it underneath two minutes of furious drums, Dr. Ava Muhammad speech samples, and Flavor Flav spewing the title command on “Show ‘Em What You Got.” It may lack the musical density and political complexity of some of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back‘s most enduring cuts, but it’s every bit as galvanizing, and shows just how little effort was required from Chuck D, Flav and the Bomb Squad to instantly get listeners in full show-bum-rushing mode. — A.U.
4. Led Zeppelin, “Bron-Yr-Aur” (Physical Graffiti, 1975)
Zep’s first double-LP allowed plenty of airtime for individual indulgences, and while one or two of ’em may have ended up ill-advised — no offense, “Boogie With Stu” — it also allowed for quickly transcendent moments like the Jimmy Page solo interlude “Bron-Yr-Aur.” Two minutes of swirling, immaculate six-string plucking, named after the Wales cottage where the band recorded in the early ’70s, “Bron-Yr-Aur” was simply one of the greatest guitarists of all time messing around as only he knew how to. The windswept riffing — which sporadically reverses on itself, in a glorious bit of subtle studio trickery — remains jaw-dropping four decades later, and even in the midst of four LP sides stacked with FM classics and ten-minute prog-blues epics, its shimmer still radiates. — A.U.
3. Beyoncé, “Yoncé” (Beyoncé, 2013)
Queen B. Sasha Fierce. Bey. Mrs. Carter. Beyoncé is a woman of many names. But she forever etched Yonce onto that list with this prelude to “Partition,” from her self-titled surprise album. In between questions of self-worth, drunken come-ons to her husband, and declarations of undying love, Beyonce shifts her mood and goes for broke in just two short minutes on “Yonce,” confidently sing-rapping her way through lyrics like “Radio said speed it up, I just go slower,” speaking to her give-no-fucks-attitude about what’s expected of her music.
And then there’s the video. Starring Bey and three Victoria’s Secret models — Chanel Iman, Jourdan Dunn and Joan Smalls — the quartet of woman strut and twerk, daring you to try to upstage them, as if that were even possible. Between the confidence of the song and the beauty of its visuals, “Yonce” gave a taste of what was to come with Lemonade, but with that unmistakable bite of liqu-ahhhh. – D.W.
2. Earth, Wind & Fire, “Brazilian Rhyme (Beijo)” (All ‘N All, 1977)
Earth, Wind & Fire guiding light Maurice White always infused the group’s music with different musical and cultural influences. All ‘N All, the group’s Brazilian-vibed eighth studio album, is no exception. While the album spawned several hits (“Fantasy,” “Serpentine Fire,” “Love’s Holiday”), one of the most enduring tracks ended up being this lilting interlude. It’s White’s nod to famed Brazilian singer/songwriter/guitarist Milton Nascimento, whose own “Brazilian Rhyme (Ponta de Areia)” is also a featured interlude on All. Some 40 years later, the infectious “Beijo” — which means “kiss” in Portuguese — remains a sing-along fave at EWF concerts. It’s also left an indelible impression on R&B/hip-hop, sampled by Big Pun (“Still Not a Player”), The Fugees (“Refugees on the Mic”), A Tribe Called Quest (“Mr. Muhammad”) and BlackStreet (“Givin’ You All My Lovin’”) and countless others. — G.M.
1. Rihanna, “Birthday Cake” (Talk That Talk, 2011)
To be fair, Rihanna did release an (arguably unnecessary) full-length remixed version of “Birthday Cake” with Chris Brown in 2012. But it’s the barely-a-minute original interlude from the year before that really endures. By that point, Rih had graduated from a singer whose musical identity hadn’t been entirely formed, to one audibly growing more confident with each release. Sixth LP Talk That Talk dropped in 2011 as her most assured to date: Here was an artist openly embracing her sexuality, and remaining, well, unapologetic for it — long gone were the days of sampling Soft Cell for kitschy dancefloor bangers and delivering hard-edged vocals about second-guessing her infidelity.
“Birthday Cake” came at a time where she felt like she was still coming into herself, but it was the baddest, fullest version of Rihanna yet. Talk That Talk was as varied as Loud and Rated R, and the songs felt more assured and experimental — “We Found Love” was exuberant, EDM-heralded megapop, while further down the tracklist, “Watch n’ Learn” incorporated island riddim into an R&B-lite hip-swinger. And in the middle of the fray, “Birthday Cake,” all guts and glory. At 1:18, the interlude is cocky, overtly sexual and entirely hinged on innuendo — “It’s not even my birthday, but he wanna lick the icing off,” she offers with a knowing grin. For one of the first times, Bad Gal RiRi was in full display, unabashedly who she was without a single fuck given, all set to an aggressive, handclapped intermezzo on a whopper of an album. She hasn’t strayed too far from that Rihanna since, and the world is better for it. — S.J.H.