Songs by famous musicians you'll never get to hear

Ask any artist from any creative profession, and they'll tell you that for every successful release they put out, dozens of other creations get stuffed in a drawer somewhere, no matter how good they are. Whether you're an aspiring YouTube musician or a star who earns daily downloads, musicians write and record many, many songs on their way to finishing an album — most of which you'll never get to hear.

For a lot of artists, these hidden works are never known, never spoken of, and never listened to. But there are exceptions: sometimes, the labels responsible for major acts continue putting out albums even after the artist dies, purging the vaults of unreleased music. On the other hand, some of the most popular musicians on the planet have recorded songs — sometimes even entire albums! — which will never see the light of day, no matter how badly the fans want to hear them. These are some of the biggest secret songs we'll never get to hear, whether due to contractual disputes, outright theft, or the artist's choice.

Michael Jackson's 'Bible'

Somehow, it doesn't seem too surprising that the man proclaimed the "King of Pop" would have a secret album stashed away somewhere. Almost a decade after Michael Jackson's death, Rolling Stone reported on the existence of an LP featuring the master versions of nine previously unknown Michael Jackson songs, found on a blank disc labeled "Bible." Supposedly, the disc was handed over by an anonymous friend of the late musician. If released, Bible would be Jackson's third posthumous album.

Here's twist number one: instead of doing a mass release, the decision was made to publicly auction off the "Bible" disc, with a starting bid of $50,000. And here comes twist number two: as explained by Digital Spy, it was stipulated that whoever won the CD would not own the rights to the music, meaning they could never release or distribute the secret songs. In other words, the winner could listen to their heart's content, but sharing was forbidden. In the end, none of this mattered, because the whole auction idea was taken off the table. Afterward, the album remained available for purchase via private inquiries at Gottahaverockandroll.com, presumably under the same conditions. Since then, news has been quiet, so it looks you'll never get to hear those songs unless you have enough disposable income to own a private yacht.

The (truly) forgotten Beatles

Before the Beatles were legends, they were just a crew of wild, creative, ambitious young men, flying to fame by the seat of their pants. These days, an aspiring musician can't even sing a bad note without somebody uploading it online, but the Beatles didn't have that sort of technology. As noted by the Guardian, Paul McCartney and John Lennon couldn't save their songs to the cloud, so they just relied on their memories… a tool which isn't always the sharpest. "Things have changed quite a bit," said McCartney. "You've got recording devices now which change the songwriting process. For instance, John and I didn't have them when we first started writing, we would write a song and just have to remember it. And there was always the risk that we'd just forget it. If the next morning you couldn't remember it, it was gone. There must have been dozens lost this way."

If you heard a loud crack, that's just the sound of millions of hearts breaking at the thought of unrecoverable Beatles songs. Being the nice guy that he is, McCartney reassured fans that this was no big loss, as the whole "forgetting" problem forced them to write better, catchier songs. Still, the thought of going back in time — and recording those early Beatles concerts with a smartphone — might be too tempting for any budding John Titor to pass up.

Springsteen's 'Electric Nebraska'

Ever since Bruce Springsteen released the solo acoustic album Nebraska in 1982, music buffs have wondered what the album would've sounded like if the full E Street Band had been in the studio. For decades, it's been debated whether such a recording, theoretically called Electric Nebraska, existed — and in 2010, Rolling Stone confirmed the rumors. According to E Street drummer Max Weinberg, Electric Nebraska is out there… somewhere. Weinberg explained that the album was "…all very hard-edged. As great as it was, it wasn't what Bruce wanted to release. There is a full band Nebraska album, all of those songs are in the can somewhere."

Springsteen himself spoke about his struggles with the not-so-mythological album in 2013, telling Uncut that the band's noise collided uncomfortably against Nebraska's quiet lyrics, which was why he decided to go acoustic. He explained, "They overruled the lyrics. It didn't work," he explained. "Those two forms didn't fit. The band comes in and generally makes noise, and the lyrics wanted silence, y'know?"

So basically, fans will never get to hear Electric Nebraska because Springsteen wants it that way. And he's the artist, so he should have the last call.

Amy Winehouse's destroyed demos

Amy Winehouse was only 27 when she died of alcohol poisoning in 2011, cutting short a musical career that could have lasted decades. At the time of her demise, Billboard observed that Winehouse had an entire third album nearly ready to go, with 14 songs she'd written herself. Afterward, Winehouse's producer David Joseph, the CEO of Universal Music U.K., made a point to publicly state that he had destroyed her existing demos, specifically for the purpose of preventing their release. He cited ethical reasons, stating, "Taking a stem or a vocal is not something that would ever happen on my watch."

Despite Joseph's efforts, NPR reported in 2018 that a former associate of Winehouse, Gil Cang, had posted a posthumous release of Winehouse's previously unknown song "My Way" to YouTube. This 2018 release was a surprise, but when it comes to the other unreleased demos that Joseph dealt with, it's unlikely that they'll ever be heard again.

Prince's vault in legal limbo

When it comes to writing and recording an unbelievable number of great songs, Prince's record is pretty unbeatable. According to Rolling Stone, Prince wrote over 100 songs for Purple Rain well before filming got underway, and at his home in Minnesota, his vaults are said to contain "thousands upon thousands" of tracks. True to form, Prince was careful about which of his songs he officially released on his studio albums, once coyly claiming, "I didn't always give the record companies the best song."

Exciting as it might sound to know that so many "best" songs are just waiting to be released, there's one catch: when Prince died, he left no will. As a result, the fate of these numerous songs has become tied up in a complex tangle of legal confusion between Prince's next of kin, Universal, and Warner Bros., the longtime label he partnered with for a series of reissues shortly before his death. Still, everyone has a lot of hope — financial as well as creative — resting on getting those songs out there, so hopefully someday the legal tape will all be sorted out. No matter what happens, however, the odds that you'll ever get to hear the entire contents of that vault are exceedingly slim.

David Bowie and Queen's secret tracks

The unforgettable team-up of David Bowie and Queen, who came together for the hit single "Under Pressure" in 1981, is the sort of crossover that usually only happens in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Casual fans long assumed that the two superstar acts never did anything else together, but in 2017, the Guardian revealed via roadie Peter Hince that there's still more Queen/Bowie music stashed away somewhere. Reportedly, the whole team-up started when Queen drummer Roger Taylor invited Bowie over and he and the band decided to jam together, resulting in "Under Pressure" — but also in many unreleased cover songs, and even some original tracks that have somehow remained under wraps. Hince also confirmed that these secret songs were recorded as complete, finished tracks, making it even more mysterious that they've never seen the light of day.

At this point, now that original Queen frontman Freddie Mercury and David Bowie have both passed away, it's possible that there might be some copyright complications regarding which estate owns the songs, so don't hold your breath.

Jeff Beck's Motown Album

Ask almost any rock 'n roll buff about the great lost recordings, and they'll probably mention guitarist Jeff Beck's so-called "Motown Album," recorded in Motown's famous Hitsville U.S.A. studio. Widely known as its existence might be, don't expect to actually hear it — according to Beck, who looked back on the experience in an interview with Rolling Stone, his Detroit trip didn't go quite as planned. He brought along his own drummer, Cozy Powell, and the combination of Beck, Powell, and Motown's session men, the Funk Brothers, apparently didn't quite mesh. As Beck puts it, rather bluntly, "they hated us right away."

Nonetheless, the strange and mismatched team kept at it, putting together between nine and ten songs — which Beck specifies were "finished, not mixed" — before they ran out of time. The tracks were never released, though Beck still claims to have a copy of the original multi-track tape, which has become a prominent "missing piece" of rock history. Though Beck acknowledged that he could probably sell the tape for big bucks, he laughed the idea off, explaining, "I bet if you put that on the machine now, it will collapse into pieces."

Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopes' unreleased vocals

Rapper and songwriter Lisa Lopes was known to the world as "Left Eye," one third of the musical trio TLC, which also featured Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas and Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins. Lopes was one of the prime creative forces in the group, as well as being a singer and rapper, and her death in a 2002 car accident left a gaping hole in TLC. The tragic event also caused conflict between the group's remaining members and Lopes' family, according to Variety. While both sides have their own take, the Lopes family allegedly felt "marginalized" by how TLC handled Left Eye's legacy, including such projects as a UPN reality show aimed at finding Lopes' replacement. As a result, when TLC released a comeback album in 2017, it didn't include tracks of unreleased vocals recorded by Lopes before her death: when asked why, TLC responded that the family was "trying to hold her vocals hostage." This led to a messy public dispute, with the overall sense being that, either way, Left Eye's lost vocals were probably going to remain lost.

Meanwhile, it's worth mentioning that before her accidental death, LA Weekly says Lopes was working on a solo album for Death Row Records, reportedly under the pseudonym N.I.N.A. (New Identity Not Applicable).

Green Day's stolen album

Considering that American Idiot proved to be the breakout hit that made Green Day into a household name, it's rather surreal to think that the whole thing resulted from some seriously unfortunate circumstances. As written by New Musical Express, the band originally planned to follow up their 2000 album Warning with an album titled Cigarettes and Valentines. Everything seemed to be going according to plan: the songs were written, the album was recorded, and it was earmarked for release. Then suddenly, the physical recordings were stolen from the studio. Oops.

Needless to say, the band was in a jam. Rather than rerecording the same songs, Green Day took the rather unconventional approach of simply recording an entirely new album. While this might sound like the plot for a raunchy comedy movie, it instead became the smashing success that was American Idiot. Since then, Green Day have occasionally played one of their lost songs, but the band's lead man, Billie Joe Armstrong, has insisted that the majority of the music from Cigarettes and Valentines is locked away "in the vault," and that they plan to keep the songs there for the foreseeable future.

Tool + NIN = an unreleased Tapeworm

Hey, when you have nails that are nine inches long, you need a serious "tool" to work with them. Puns aside, let's talk about the rusty metal crossover that came this close to happening when Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails got together with James Keenan of Tool to form Tapeworm. If that combination sounds too perfect to be true, it kinda is. Sadly enough, the supergroup split before releasing the album. According to USA Today, Keenan and Reznor had high hopes for the music they could produce together, but the real-life results didn't quite satisfy either of them, so they packed it up, went back to their own industrial corners, and called it a day.

Heartbreaking as this may be for fans of both bands, it's worth noting that some recordings must exist, somewhere, which millions of people would probably want to hear. As it is, some of Tapeworm's material reportedly wound up being incorporated into other projects. Both Keenan and Reznor have expressed interest in maybe giving it another go, so keep your fingers crossed — but don't star thinking you'll ever get to hear those old Tapeworm tracks.

Dr. Dre's Detox

In the computer world, there's a term called "vaporware," which refers to a digital product — such as a video game, operating system, or piece of hardware — which is announced to the public but never actually released, with the developer issuing periodic updates that it's "on the way." Such a label could easily be applied to Dr. Dre's Detox album, which Rolling Stone notes that the rapper and producer announced as his "final album" in 2002. Over the next decade, updates about Detox suggested Dre was supposedly recording tracks with 50 Cent, Mary J. Blige, and Busta Rhymes, among others. Dre continued teasing the album's forthcoming release, with Scratch magazine calling it "hip-hop's unreleased masterpiece." Songs were definitely recorded, but none of them ever surfaced publicly. In 2015, Dre released a totally different third album, the Straight Outta Compton soundtrack, causing many fans to wonder whether Detox had quietly been buried. 

In 2018, XXL reported on new rumors that Detox was still on the way… maybe. Regardless, even if Detox does someday see the light of day, you'll never get to hear the album Dre started just after the turn of the century.