With digital downloads, we often lose sight of the fun that can be found in buying a new album, whether it be in CD or vinyl, and opening it up to find a cool poster of the band and maybe even a signed photograph or two.
When the only option you had was to go to HMV or your local shop and buy the physical album, many bands would take advantage of this and go out of their way to surprise their fans with extra goods.
Take a look of this list of unique album releases, some even including digital downloads.
The Flaming Lips – Zaireeka (1997)
The Flaming Lips released Zaireeka on four stereo CDs which were meant to be listened to at the same time. Basically, you were supposed to play the discs simultaneously (on four different stereos or devices) and you’d get the full album. According to reviews, the band even took into account the nearly impossible act of getting four CDs to play at the exact same time, so the album still sounds great even if you’re devices are off by a few seconds.
Radiohead – In Rainbows (2007)
On October 10 2007, Radiohead self-released In Rainbows as a pay-what-you-want download, including the option to pay nothing and just download it for free. This was a huge event in the music industry, with big name artists rarely ever having done such a move. The idea of Radiohead deviating from a record label and basically giving away their album brought into question the capitalist nature of the music industry and what it means for music to be accessible to the public.
Beck – Song Reader (2012)
In 2012, Beck released a book of sheet music called Song Reader. The book contained 20 songs by the artist, and the idea was instead of releasing a physical album, fans could buy the compilation of sheet music, play it themselves, and interpret Beck’s songs their own way. Beck even encouraged musicians who were playing his songs to submit videos and clips to the book’s publisher, McSweeney’s, to be posted on their website.
U2 – Songs of Innocence (2014)
We said this was a list of unique album releases, not necessarily good ones. U2 pissed off a lot of people on the morning of September 9, 2014, when the band decided it was a good idea to force Songs of Innocence on anyone with an iTunes account. It was a free release, yes, but when you don’t give people a choice as to whether or not they want Bono on their iTunes, things can get ugly.
— Kay|a Mo®gan™ (@kaylamo95675547) September 18, 2014
Flaming Lips – Gummy Song Skull (2011)
The Flaming Lips released an EP buried inside a candy gummy skull back in 2011. The idea was you had to eat your way through the candy to find the USB that contained the four songs. Only 500 were made, and sold at $150 each.
Prince – 20Ten (2010)
For his 35th album, Prince released his CD as a surprise covermount in various newspapers and magazines, including Rolling Stone, the Daily Mirror, Daily Record, and Courrier International. The album was given for free with the publications, with 10 songs for readers to enjoy with their daily read.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! (2012)
With no mention of a new album in the works, fans at Godspeed You!’s 2012 gig at Boston’s Orpheum theatre were confused when they found vinyl copies of an unfamiliar album on the band’s merch table. The album turned out to be the band’s first new album after 10 years, Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
Wu-Tang Clan – Once Upon a Time in Shaolin (2015)
In 2015, Wu-Tang Clan released one copy of an album that the group had been secretly recording from 2008 to 2013. The double-sided album, which also holds the title for the most expensive album ever sold, was stored in a vault at the Royal Mansour Hotel in Marrakech, Morocco. Of course, Wu-Tang could not have expected one of the world’s most hated people, Martin Shkreli, to purchase the album. Being the butthead that Shkreli is, he shared the first song and only a piece of one track after Donald Trump was elected president. He is still currently hogging the rest of the album from the public for his own sick musical pleasure.
Mogwai – “Tracy” (1997)
Steering away from albums for a second, in 1997 Mogwai released a tiny music box that played their new single “Tracy.” Though not exactly an accessible way to listen to music, the idea was still pretty cool. Think HitClips, but more mechanical and only playing the song’s guitar riff.
Misfits – The Misfits (1996)
In the mid-90s, Misfits released a box set that included four CDs worth of the band’s music, a “Fiend Club” pin, a book that included song lyrics, photographs, the band’s discography, and their written history. The items were packaged in a wholesome box designed like a coffin.