Next Song Syndrome

Lately I’ve been listening to the original version of Cream’s “Crossroads” a lot. I first heard that song in 1988 or so, as it was on one of the first CDs my family ever bought. It was on an Eric Clapton four CD box set by the same name. As you might imagine, I listened to those CDs a ton in my teenage years.

As an aside: the version of “Crossroads” I’m talking about is a live recording. As the band finishes, you hear applause and then somebody says “Eric Clapton [something] on vocals”. I’ve always wondered who says that? Bassist Jack Bruce, maybe?

“Crossroads” is track three on disc two (unquestionably the best of the four CDs). It’s followed by a mid-tempo Cream tune called “Badge”, which starts with a nice rolling baseline and some crunchy chords.

Every time I hear the end of “Crossroads”, I expect to hear the start of “Badge”. This is true even though I probably haven’t heard that particular combination of songs for ten or fifteen years. I’ve probably heard “Crossroads” followed by other songs at least 50 or 100 times since then. And yet I still have that aural expectation embedded in my brain. The pattern doesn’t seem to get broken. Odd, eh?

Another example is that my family’s LP of “Sticky Fingers” had a scratch on it, so I always expect to hear a little glitch or skip in the second chorus of the Stones’ “Brown Sugar”. I’m sure everybody has such formative listening patterns. What are yours?

Also, will the iTunes and MP3 generation–people under the age of, say, fourteen–be free from the Next Song Syndrome? They may never have bought a CD, so they may not acquire the same sort of listening patterns.


  1. The Next Song Syndrome may translate itself into the “Next Song in Playlist X” syndrome. Instead of expecting to hear the next song on an album, they may expect to hear the next song in the playlist from a totally different artist, like you might expect on a movie soundtrack album or compilation.

    Other interesting thought that I had recently: what about the B-side? The old process of releasing songs in tandem (the “main” single plus whatever else the record company decided to throw on the opposition side of the 45-single (or the cassette tape, I suppose) becomes meaningless with digital media. Does that mean you’d never have a sleeper cult hit like “Dear God” by XTC, which was the B side of a different single?

  2. Songs, like smells, can create a peculiar association not only with
    other songs, but with places and events.

    Like yours, I have an inextricable link between Jimi Hendrix’s version
    of “All Along the Watchtower” and the Rascals’ “Good Lovin’,” which
    appeared together on a mix tape one of my roommates made back in the
    ’80s. I’d heard both songs before then, and heard them plenty of times
    afterwards, but they’re still linked in my hindbrain.

    Concordantly, Jan and Dean’s hot-rod harmony hit “Little Old Lady From
    Pasadena” (not a song I even like much) always, always makes me think
    of turning left off Canada Way near Burnaby City Hall, also a couple
    of decades ago, in my old Ford Fairmont sedan when the tune was on the
    radio. The opposite happens too: I still visit that intersection
    often, and simply being there makes me think of the Jan and Dean song.
    My friend Alistair, who was in
    the car with me, has the same association.

    Oddly, those links are pretty rare for songs I play in my band
    frequently — I think they’ve been programmed more to my left brain,
    where I analyze how the play them, rather than enjoying them more

    Neurons are funny things.

  3. Incidentally, yes it was Jack Bruce talking about Clapton’s lead vocal — which was, at the time, unusual, since Bruce was the lead singer in Cream most of the time. I have heard that the famous single was edited down from a longer jam, but I’m not sure.

    You might also enjoy this live video of Cream playing “Sunshine of Your Love.” Another group that’s remarkable for sounding like a lot more than three people. I’m glad that fur-hat trend died out, though.

  4. Queen’s ‘We Are The Champions’ always follows ‘We Will Rock You’. If it doesn’t, it feels so disjointed.

  5. As an avid maker of compilation cassettes back in the 80s and 90s (one every 6 weeks or so), I get this a lot; There There My Dear by Dexy’s Midnight Runners should follow The Cutter by Echo & The Bunnymen, Def Con One by Pop Will Eat Itself should come after The Israelites by Desmond Dekker, Wold Cup Theme by Colorbox should come after Making Plans for Nigel by XTC. I have thought about sticking some pairs of songs together to make double mp3s, but that would just be sad.

    Wouldn’t it?


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