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As most people know, the music industry has two forms of release in stores. There is the standard two song single and the "full-length" album. However, with most artists, the unfortunate reality is that they usually just aren't creative enough to produce a large number of good songs. This especially gets compounded once they officially make it big, having used up years worth of songs tried and tested with audiences and are usually expected to produce a second album within a year while touring heavily to cash in on their new found fame. So what does one do? Produce Album Filler.
Album Filler are songs that take a perfunctory, Strictly Formula stance on creation in order to have something distinct to fill in some time. They're usually straightforward, unimaginative, and otherwise forgettable. Of course, it isn't set in stone that a song will suck for being filler. Just as how some of the most beloved episodes of many a TV show are quite intentional filler, some of the most popular songs were explicitly created as filler. A famous example of a filler track gaining large prominence is "You've Got Another Thing Comin'" by Judas Priest. This is one of the causes of a Black Sheep Hit.
As a policy for the music industry, this is a bit of a Cyclic Trope as times change and is not entirely consistent across the board. In The Fifties, the single was the primary sales unit and albums were just hit singles thrown together with whatever other crap they didn't have confidence in. It was actually pretty uncommon for artists to enter the studio with the intent of recording an album. Most albums from popular artists of this time were more like Greatest Hits sets. For example, Chuck Berry recorded and released his first hit song ("Maybellene") in 1955, but it wouldn't show up on an album until 1959.
This trend continued in The Sixties; a particularly infamous band were The Beach Boys, who were forced by executives to hastily record some filler to make an album out of a hit single. The hit-factory label Motown took it even further, re-recording hit singles for an album with a new singer and never releasing the new version as a single. So you could get all the versions of the hit song you wanted, if you didn't mind paying album price for a single with junk added.
When groups like The Beatles came about and revolutionized the industry with records like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which began a trend of bands putting out albums that made a unified musical statement, this policy took a bit of a backseat (although most bands still had to produce at least some filler to keep up with contractual demands). The Concept Album started to become popular and rock music was mostly "album-oriented" throughout The Seventies (some bands, like Led Zeppelin, even did their best to avoid releasing any singles at all). It seems to be coming back in some sectors. Bands that release an album every one to two years are particularly guilty of this- it's almost unavoidable when they crank out hit singles to engage in pervasive airplay.
A side-effect of this was the tendency of bands with long songs, such as Black Sabbath and King Crimson, to add "subtitles" for different sections of the songs, in order to make it seem like there were more songs and they would be paid full royalties. (This happened to The Mars Volta too, who were told that for the original version of Amputechture they'd only be paid for an EP despite its length, so they were forced to add "subsections" and split songs apart to get full royalties.)
One can hope that due to the advancement of digital sales (e.g. iTunes) and the slow ebbing of the album as the unit of music sales, that creators of the near future could, if they wish, concentrate on putting out quality songs again rather than having to pad out an album.
Due to its status as a Omnipresent Trope and the subjective nature of what does or doesn't constitute "filler", there shall be no straight examples. Even listing so-called "aversions" would take up too many pages and be way too subjective.
Parodies and mentions
- Subnormality: Mentions it.
- Lampshaded by Finnish artist Allekirjoittanut in the appropriately titled Really Catchy Filler Song:
We've got some extra space on our record, even though we thought it was full
- Similarily lampshaded by the German comedian Hape Kerkeling with the similarily appropriately titled Auf dieser Platte fehlt ein Lied (English The album needs one more song):
Noch zwei Minuten dreißig die fehlen ja das weiß ich (...) Auf Text und Inhalt sch*** ich
- The Sweatpants Boners' "The Label Wanted 11 Tracks", which consists of Robby Roadsteamer trying to get the rest of the band to let his intentionally bad, improvised song close the album, arguing that "we do need eleven songs, and we haven't written eleven songs".
- Sum 41's album All Killer No Filler.
- The 1993 CD reissue of Skinny Puppy's Bites included all the interlude/filler tracks from the various vinyl editions of the album, plus some previously unreleased material. Likewise, the reissue of Remission included alternate versions of "Film" and "Icebreaker" from Bites, plus the previously unreleased track "Incision", to extend the playing time to album length.