the greatest lana del rey songs that never made an (official) album

Before Lana Del Rey, there was May Jailer.

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Apr 19 2017, 4:05am

12 years ago, a 20-year-old Lana Del Rey picked up a guitar, learned four chords and headed into the studio. Back then she was going by the name May Jailer, she she recorded two EPs, Young Like Me and From the End, then an LP called Sirens. None of the albums touched on her future glory, but that certainly didn't mean Lana — sorry May — was going to give up. In 2007, she recorded a demo tape titled No Kung Fu, in a bid to find a producer for her first studio album. She succeeded, landing David Kahne, a producer who'd previously worked with the Strokes and New Order. By then, she'd changed her musical moniker to Lizzy Grant, and had landed a record deal — but not the one that would make her famous.

Together, David and Lana recorded the 2008 EP Kill Kill, and her sort-of-self-titled 2010 LP Lana Del Ray A.K.A. Lizzy Grant (she later switched to the alternate spelling Del Rey). The latter picked up some local press; a Huffington Post piece lauded her sound as "decidedly anti-genre," which still feels true today. The next year she signed with Interscope and Polydor, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Altogether, nearly 200 Lana songs that never saw an official release have surfaced online, from the May Jailer tapes to loose cuts from sessions with producers that never made it anywhere. In fact, her catalogue of 'unofficial' material is bigger than her official library. For those who think Lana's a one trick pony, the stylistic diversity of her back catalogue proves otherwise — from experiments in hip hop like St Tropez and Live or Die, to EDM-influenced songs like Ride Or DieAnd always, no matter what moniker they were recorded under, no matter the genre, these tracks feel true to the Lana we know. She's always had this vision in her: it's just now, she gets to realise it on the world stage.

Like she told Pitchfork in 2011, "I've been singing in Brooklyn since I was 17 and no one in the industry cared at all. I haven't changed a thing since then and yet things seem to be turning around for me." Last week, Lana shared the album artwork for her fifth major album, Lust for Life. She's got plenty more to give — but let's turn our ear to what she's already given.

Bird of a Feather, 2005
Back in the May Jailer days, Lana sang about most of the same things she does today — addiction, love and heartbreak — but hadn't yet started writing lyrics thick with mentions of sunsets, Hollywood streets and the Chateau Marmont. Birds of a Feather is the closing track of Sirens, notable for the pronounced use of Cher Believe style auto-tune, something Lana never really played with again. But writing love songs, dedications to people who changed her life? That was something she would go on to make a career of. 

Jimmy Gnecco, 2007
This ode to the real American musician (and rumoured Lana ex) of the same name was part of the 2007 demo tape No Kung Fu. It's a beautiful — and rare — uptempo showcase for her breathy, soaring highs. These days, Lana tends to favour slower, downtempo ballads, but she handles the quick syncopation of Jimmy Gnecco with ease. 

Get Drunk, 2007
Another No Kung Fu cut, Get Drunk sees Lana play the role of the vengeful woman, not the lovesick ride-or-die kind critics tend to peg her as. Like most of the songs on No Kung Fu, Get Drunk sits in Lana's natural range, not the higher register she used on much of Born to Die. It makes the line "How do you like me now?" hit that little bit harder. Isn't it nice to hear Lana get mean?

Yayo, 2007
Lana released a number of different versions of Yayo over four records, but our favourite iteration might be this intimate live performance, showcasing her voice at its best (a must-watch for those who think her vocals don't stand up live). It's quavering, emotional, and even a little country — not unlike Twiggy, during her career as a country singer. Maybe hers isn't the biggest voice, but it's one of the most emotive. 

Disco, 2007 
Disco is one of Lana's most divine and mature unreleased tracks, offering us another vision of what her legacy could've looked like if she'd stuck with her guitar. The Bonnie 'Prince' Billy-esque song cements at Lana's potential as folk star — instead, she decided to go and become the world's most oblique pop star. 

Kill Kill, 2007
Sneaking Kill Kill onto this list is sort cheating, because it was the lead track of Lana Del Ray A.K.A. Lizzy Grant, her first studio album, but it was too strange and wonderful to go without mention. There's that eery, threatening opening, that gives away to a more tropical, tiki flavour. How very Lana: to span multiple genres in the one song.  

Put Me In A Movie, 2007
In typical Lana fashion, there are a couple versions of this song out there. The acoustic No Kung Fu take and the Lana Del Ray A.K.A. Lizzy Grant version, with much fuller instrumentation. It's a good example of the cross-referencing she tends to do across her songs: "Lights, Camera, Action" is also lyric in Heavy Hitter, and High By the Beach, among others. 

Heavy Hitter, 2009
Lana spent much of 2009 bouncing between studios in New York, trying to nail down her signature sound with different producers. Lyrically, Heavy Hitter — a collaboration with hip hop producer Blockhead — is classic Lana. While Blockhead wasn't happy with the end result, he did respect Lana as an artist. After the SNL debacle, he wrote a lengthy blog post in her defence: "To be clear, all the detractors saying she's some made up by the machine pop star are full of shit. While it's impossible to keep the businesses hands out the pop when creating a pop star, the roots of where this all comes from are firmly inside of Lizzy Grant." And sifting through this mountain of older material, it's impossible not to agree.

Maha Maha, 2009 
New York producer Princess Superstar says the pair worked on the track in 2009, and while Maha Maha isn't a classic unreleased Lana track, it does showcase her versatility. Instead of drawing on typical dark, noirish jazz sounds, the rather uncharacteristically Lana tune is built around a Bollywood sample, which works to great effect.

Raise Me Up (Mississippi South), 2010
With Raise Me Up, Lana gives ones of her loudest, most punk vocal performances — if we can call it that. We rarely hear her shout, which is why this tune really stands out. It did get an official release, on her 2010 debut album Lana Del Ray, but we had to include it here.

Kinda Outta Luck, 2010
Lana released this loose track on her YouTube channel around the same time as Video Games, complete with a homemade music video. It picked up some traction during the time, but Video Games proved the runaway hit, leaving Kinda Outta Luck without the shine it deserves. It sounds a lot like the April March hit Chick Habit — funnily enough, another tale of a daddy meeting a nasty end.

You Can Be The Boss, 2010
Just like Kinda Outta Luck, You Can Be The Boss was one of the handful of songs Lana debuted on YouTube in 2010, before she shot in the internet stratosphere the following year. Rumour has it the track almost made it onto Born to Die, which makes sense, because the track finds Lana latching on to all the themes that made the album so divisive: all that lush, if sometimes vapid, Americana. It's a tune she's still fond of, playing it live during her Endless Summer Tour.

Credits


Photography Chuck Grant via Wikia