clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What Is the Best Track-to-Track Transition on an Album?

Ringer staffers write about their favorite song handoffs

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

In response to a recent tweet from The Ringer’s premier concertgoer, Kevin O’Connor, staffers decided to write about their favorite track-to-track transitions.

Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, “Devil in a New Dress” Into “Runaway”

Andrew Gruttadaro: Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is, in my “I’m 29 which means I was at the most impressionable, formative age when this came out” opinion, the best hip-hop album ever made. “Devil in a New Dress” and “Runaway” are the two best songs on the album, which again, is the best. That, generally, is my argument for why this is the best two-song run in music history.

More specifically, “Devil in a New Dress” is a six-minute epic that epitomizes the goal of Dark Twisted Fantasy: introspective ruminations on the consequences of immense fame over lush, maximalist beats. Produced by Bink and Mike Dean, the song is soaring and has a crunchy guitar solo smack-dab in the middle. It features Kanye at his wittiest and most honest as a lyricist: “Hood phenomenon, the LeBron of rhyme / Hard to be humble when you stuntin’ on the Jumbotron.” And when you think the song is over, Rick Ross barges in and barks 28 glorious bars.

“Devil in a New Dress” ends abruptly—and the staggering silence looms until it’s filled with the opening piano keys of “Runaway,” Kanye West’s crowning achievement, a nine-minute track in which he both apologizes for his behavior and digs even deeper into his convictions. “Let’s have a toast for the assholes,” Kanye famously sings/demands. By the end of this 15 minutes of music, it’s impossible not to obey him.

The-Dream, Lovehate, “Fast Car” Into “Nikki” Into “She Needs My Love” Into “Falsetto”

Justin Sayles: Terius Nash is the great should’ve been of post-2000s R&B. With the help of frequent collaborator “Tricky” Stewart, the artist known as The-Dream penned career-defining smashes for ascendant superstars. But despite his stellar Love trilogy, a fervent cult following, and praise from outlets not previously known for R&B coverage, similar solo success eluded him.

It’s a shame—Nash was among late-aughts pop’s finest capital-A Album-makers, sculpting tense, futuristic works that used lingering hooks, overlapping samples, and spaced-out delay as segues. (This occasionally elevated songs with names like “Sex Intelligent” to something resembling high art.) Nowhere is this more apparent than in the four-song centerpiece of Nash’s debut, Lovehate. “Fast Car,” the Prince-indebted opener in that run, masks its intentions before halving its tempo and doubling its harpsichord in its waning seconds. From there, a snare roll introduces “Nikki”—a stunning kiss-off that packs a Here, My Dear’s worth of acrimony into four minutes—down-pitched vocals tease into “She Needs My Love,” and a Zapp-caliber talk box welcomes the sultry finale, “Falsetto.”

It’s a meticulously crafted stretch that clearly resonated with the generation Nash begat. And in a just pop world, those songs would’ve done for his career what the ones he wrote for others did for theirs.

Cursive, The Ugly Organ, “Driftwood: A Fairy Tale” Into “A Gentleman Caller”

Michael Baumann: This album bent my mind when I heard it for the first time at 16, and these aren’t even the two best songs on it. (“Some Red-Handed Sleight of Hand” and “Staying Alive” are better but non-consecutive.) But this is the Shakespearean Act 3, Scene 1 of the record, where it turns from misdirected emo/post-hardcore rage to cathartic melancholy. “Driftwood” features a grooving cello part and a crescendo on the level of Nirvana’s “You Know You’re Right,” then ends with a minute and change of white noise before “A Gentleman Caller” kicks in out of nowhere. The first half of “A Gentleman Caller” is about an argument, and it sounds—even feels—like an argument. The image of a lamp being thrown across a living room is so vividly part of my memory of that song I had to check to make sure it wasn’t mentioned in the lyrics.

Then, halfway through “A Gentleman Caller,” the album just stops having the energy to be angry all the time and switches into a quiet-but-building refrain of “The worst is over,” which is repeated in “Staying Alive,” the album’s finale. It’s like a transition from Every Time I Die’s “Ebolarama” to “Do You Hear the People Sing?” only if you go back and listen, you can hear fragments of the hopeful end in the thrashing beginning. It’s a full spectrum of unhappiness in about eight minutes, and I’m furious nobody’s adapted this album for the stage in the 15 years since its release.

Bloc Party, Silent Alarm, “Like Eating Glass” Into “Helicopter”

Micah Peters: For an album called Silent Alarm with a minimalist black and white cover, Bloc Party’s debut’s two opening songs are unmistakably big, bright, loud, and full of color. “Like drinking poison / like eating glass” are lines that are a bummer to see on a page, and probably alarming to hear your 13-year-old son singing to himself, but I wasn’t thinking about any of that at the time. Only two things mattered: Kele Okereke being able to sing so clearly and forcefully from far down the back of his throat, and the raw power of Matt Tong da Gawd, whom you could see in the “Banquet” video every afternoon on VH1, banging out the frenetic pace that defined the band’s first two albums. And then, and then, and then, before you can even catch your breath, “Helicopter” happens, and it’s a whirring, pounding beast of a song that seems too chaotic to be as organized as it is. It’s also not a song I’d say is danceable, though I’d definitely say it demands movement. They both do. It’s a perfect two-song snapshot of a tight, feverish album that you have to dance and sweat and scream out.

LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver, “North American Scum” Into “Someone Great” Into “All My Friends”

Shaker Samman: Hello! Do you like to dance? How about feeling sad, or grappling with nostalgia for a time or place you can’t ever return to? What if I told you you could do both at the same time? Enter this three-track progression on LCD Soundsystem’s 2007 album Sound of Silver. The first song, “North American Scum,” entrances listeners with a catchy beat that distracts just enough to let the shame of being an American abroad seep in. The next song, “Someone Great,” is a ballad of love lost and the longing that comes with it (in this case, for a therapist who passed unexpectedly). It still goes. And the closer, “All My Friends,” uses a rolling piano riff to build, growing louder and stronger as it goes on. There’s a reason the band ends nearly every show with it. At the start, it elicits head bobs, and maybe some slight bounces. By the time James Murphy begs “Where are your friends tonight?” the bobs become snaps, and the bounces become jumps.

Kelly Clarkson, Breakaway, “Since U Been Gone” Into “Behind Those Hazel Eyes”

Kate Halliwell: “Since U Been Gone” is one of the greatest pop songs of all time. It’s angry, and defiant, and empowering, and just an absolute bop. During my many, many replays of Kelly Clarkson’s Breakaway, it would have been tempting for middle-school me to play the track again and again, never experiencing the rest of the album. But as soon as the final chords of ‘Since U Been Gone’ fade out, you’re hit with the angsty “rat tat tat tat DUHH DUHHH DUHHH” drums and guitar chords of “Behind These Hazel Eyes.” The only thing better than “apartment-destroying rocker” Kelly is “crawling through mud in a wedding dress” Kelly. Also, for what it’s worth, the next song on Breakaway is “Because of You,” completing an incredible trio of pop queen angst.

Frank Ocean, Blonde, “Self Control” Into “Good Guy”

Virali Dave: The last 90 seconds of “Self Control” are a gorgeous outro on a gorgeous song on a gorgeous album. Frank Ocean croons about a lover who is distant—metaphorically if not physically—then ends with an outro that simultaneously accepts the relationship’s end while wanting to delay its final goodbye (“I know you gotta leave … give up just tonight”). This idea, accepting an ending while feeling pain at its demise, closes “Self Control” and brings us into “Good Guy.”

“Good Guy” is easily overlooked. Clocking in at just over a minute, it’s the shortest part of the hour-long album and sonically, it doesn’t break new ground. But it carries so much emotional weight in a simple and deceptively small bit of space. “Good Guy” honors the dynamic pain, gratitude, and love that comes at the end of a relationship. The song’s short lines toast to flashbulb memories, the lingering remainders from time spent with who we’re tempted to think is the same lover from “Self Control.” The fragments Frank sings (“First time I’d ever saw you / And you text nothing like you look / Here’s to the gay bar you took me to”) show his internal struggle, his conflicting feelings, and his valences all in motion at the same time.

These are two great songs, and the transition between the them shows us Frank at his finest—elusive yet warm, smooth yet potent.

Ty Dolla $ign, Free TC, “Know Ya” Into “Credit” Into “Miracle/Wherever”

T.C. Kane: This three-song run at the center of Ty’s criminally underrated 2015 album encapsulates everything that makes him a compelling artist. “Know Ya” finds Ty at his most debaucherous, lamenting the fact he barely got to know the woman he’s cheating on his girlfriend with. He softens up on “Credit,” pleading with his partner to acknowledge the lengths to which he’s going to gratify her. Next comes “Miracle/Wherever,” the second half of which features Ty testing the limits of his vocal range to sing about the joys of finding intimacy in unexpected places.

As impressive as these three tracks are as an R&B showcase, a second narrative runs parallel to the star-crossed lovers theme. At the end of the first two tracks in the sequence, Ty and his incarcerated older brother TC talk over the phone about everything and nothing, providing the perfect prelude for TC’s powerful guest verse on “Miracle.” The songs lend a real and affecting humanity to the pain the criminal justice system can inflict, and I simply defy anyone with a sibling to remain unmoved through this glimpse into Ty and TC’s relationship.