For this holiday weekend, it seemed like it would be fun to encourage readers to recommend well-loved songs from the “B side,” as in the side of a vinyl record that the producers deemed as less likely to be popular as the “A side” material. Wikipedia has listed some noteworthy cases where B side tracks outdid the A side selections:
Occasionally, the B-side of a single would become the more popular song. This sometimes occurred because a DJ preferred the B-side to its A-side and played it instead. Some examples include “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor (originally the B-side of “Substitute”), “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice (originally the B-side of “Play That Funky Music”), “I’ll Be Around” by the Spinners (originally the B-side of “How Could I Let You Get Away”) and “Maggie May” by Rod Stewart (originally the B-side of “Reason to Believe”). Probably the most well-known of these, however, is “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets (originally the B-side of “Thirteen Women (And Only One Man in Town))”.
Since the practice of issuing albums in favor of single songs has diminished, please recommend recent songs by popular artists that you very much like but remain sleepers. I’m giving just a few examples as conversation starters.
This Don McLean song, The Grave, was the second to last track on his 1971 American Pie album. I am a huge McLean fan since he typically has evocative lyrics and sings in my range. Oddly, YouTube deems an anti-war song to be too dangerous for anyone under 18 to access (weirdly I got a non “adult only” version on the 5th try, go figure):
The grave that they dug him had flowers
Gathered from the hillsides in bright summer colours
And the brown earth bleached white at the edge of his gravestone
When the wars of our nation did beckon
The man barely twenty did answer the calling
Proud of the trust that he placed in our nation
But Eternity knows him, and it knows what we’ve done
And the rain fell like pearls on the leaves of the flowers
Leaving brown, muddy clay where the earth had been dry
And deep in the trench he waited for hours
As he held to his rifle and prayed not to die
But the silence of night was shattered by fire
As guns and grenades blasted sharp through the air
And one after another his comrades were slaughtered
In morgue of Marines, alone standing there
He crouched ever lower, ever lower with fear
“They can’t let me die! They can’t let me die here!
I’ll cover myself with the mud and the earth
I’ll cover myself! I know I’m not brave!
The earth! The earth! The earth is my grave.”
The grave that they dug him had flowers
Gathered from the hillsides in bright summer colours
And the brown earth bleached white at the edge of his gravestone
Another album from that era, Janis Ian’s Between the Lines, has a great A side song that didn’t take off, From Me to You, and a fine last track, Lover’s Lullaby:
Technically, soundtracks probably can’t be considered to have B sides. I’m a huge fans of soundtracks and one I liked a lot also became popular, the soundtrack for Beverly Hills Cop. I associate it with Japan because I listened to it on my first trip to and from Tokyo.
One song I like that seems not to have gotten much of a following is Gratitude by Danny Elfman. The music video doesn’t give a clue as to how it featured in the movie. But the lyrics are wicked and call out dancing-on-the-edge-of-the-volcano sensibilities:
Readers, your B side faves?
I look forward to listening to above later as herself is still in bed, feeling foggy after an AZ shot.
One early B side that launched the career of Nat King Cole was Nature Boy, a song my parents would dance to when they became annoyingly romantic to my then young self.
Off the top of my head one B’ side in particular has become a treasure for me, recorded by Bryan Ferry as a cover of The Beatles – She’s Leaving Home, which IMO is much better than the original.
Sorry to disagree. But the original is better.
Don’t be sorry….subjectivity keeps us all individual & I probably should not have said better as that is imposing what is just my own opinion.
You young folks may wonder what this “B” side stuff is all about if Spotify is the music playback tech you’re used to.
Back in my parents’ day, they had vinyl records that played at 78 RPM. There was one song per side of the vinyl record, but some artists released “albums” which were collections of 5 to 6 records, each with its own “sleeve” in a book-like assembly that resembled a photo album. My parents had albums of artists like Guy Lombardo, Nat King Cole and Glen Miller. The sound quality was quite poor by today’s standards.
When I hit 7th grade, I began to use my allowance money to buy 45s. These played, as you might expect, at 45 RPM, and phonograph manufacturers began to make machines that could play three speeds: 78s, 45s and the 33s which were also called LPs. The 45s were the province of us teeny boppers, and the songs they contained were the ones played on Top 40 AM radio. These were the records with the “B” sides that Yves is talking about.
The higher level phonographs that played 45s included a device you could place over the spindle. This device allowed you stack 6-8 45s. Phonographs had an arm that contained the needle that created the sound, and these arms got closer and closer to the center/spindle as the record played and the needle followed the groove. When the song had completed and the arm went closest to the spindle, the arm would rise above the record, return to a spot outside the record, then a new record from the stack would drop into position and the arm would go to a spot at the outer edge of the record and drop to play it.
All this with no chips, no code, no blue screens!
So you could have your friends over, load some 45s with the the latest songs from the Top 40 and dance away the night.
Then came along “underground rock FM radio” playing its subversive devil’s music now contained on 33 RPM “albums” which consisted of a single vinyl record but contained 4 to 5 songs per side. That required one to learn the art of “spot cutting” so that you could skip songs you didn’t care to hear on that album side. For example, I used to always begin Side 1 of “Axis Bold as Love” with the third song, “Ain’t No Telling” rather than beginning with the (I thought) weird “Up From the Skies.” Spot cutting’s real challenge came with dimly lit rooms and plenty of alcohol and THC.
Been thinking about the different possibilities from when I still had 45s – before switching to cassettes, then CDs, then simply computer files – and came up with one by the band Queen. Back in 1978 they came out with the rousing song ‘We Are The Champions’ which you still hear but on the B-side was a song equally as good and memorable – the defiant ‘We Will Rock You’ –
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-tJYN-eG1zk (2:14 mins)
And Henry Moon Pie’s description of needles & records has brought back some serious flash-backs of trying to gently ease a needle down onto a record and that horrible sound of a needle scraping right across the surface of a record. Or a sibling dropping your LPs or 45s in a pile onto a dirty carpet without bothering with the thin plastic sleeves at all. I still wince when I see records mistreated-
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3L3Du0rUAgU (1:01 mins)
A little Steely Dan for your weekend listening. B Side to Rikki don’t lose that number.
“Any major Dude…” will name that one. I thought of this one but can’t say its better than Rikki. As with so many SD songs – almost equally great. This and BOC’s “Dont Fear…” were my first two 45’s. I favor the b side of Reaper…but again its hard to say its better than the A.
Surely, the greatest “B” side in the history of music must have been “Rain” by the Beatles, which was hidden behind the mediocre “Paperback Writer” and was never included on any LP. Yet it was, as with most things the Beatles did, revolutionary.
The estimable site Open Culture has a good video guide to the song.
I came here just for this, as “Rain” is the best Beatles song. Thank you for your service.
Guys, I just listened to it again on youtube and reminded myself that I never liked it. I agree that Paperback Writer isn’t brilliant, but this isn’t either. I guess we will have to agree to disagree on this.
Slightly off topic, but for some reason the one and only 45 I can remember from my collection, and I can still see the maroon and yellow label quite vividly after 50 years, is Smiling Faces by the Undisputed Truth. Man, what a great song. Don’t even know what the B side was.
My guess is, for every good A-side, there are probably at least 2-3 other songs by the same artist that are noticeably better. True, there are also bad A-sides which go to show that sales & popularity are no indication of quality.
Several years ago, while looking online to see if a band I like (Little Barrie) was putting out a new album, I came across this comment: “I like this song so much, I’m going to buy the whole album”.
To me (born in ’67) that’s always been the only option.
PS: Thanks, notabanker. Yes, Rikki’s a goodie – and Any Major Dude is even better.
For those who don’t know the music business, the vast majority of singles are chosen by the record label people, not the artist. The B side was considered empty space so the label would often let the artist decide what to put there. The label people aren’t always wrong when it comes to deciding which single to release (as much as I hate to admit it), but they are risk averse as their goal is to sell plastic. The artist might share that goal, but they are selling what’s on the plastic and much more open to putting something interesting on the B side if given the chance.
Something which seems new or a lot more common now are re-recordings of hit songs done in studio conditions long after the original studio version was released, and turn out subtly better.
Portugal. The Man – Feel It Still (Live/Stripped Session)
The “B” side to “Baby Please Don’t Go” by Them (Van Morrison, lead singer).
…and the “B” side to “Behave Yourself” by Booker T. & the MGs:
Those two jumped out at me too but I thought it was cheating ;-)
The B Side to Hey Jude, which was played often although a little to long for AM Radio, while the B Side, Revolution was just right.
And since I’ve covered The Beatles, it is only fair to cover the well known Rolling Stones B Side of Honky Tonk Woman
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqMl5CRoFdk (of course it was a studio version, not this one)
And finally, although played to death on AM radio but still an excellent tune, the Doobie Bros. Black Water, the B Side of Another Park, Another Sunday.
And the famous B Side by Elvis Presley
“What were once vices, are now habits” is a fine album. Good call on Black Water- one of those overplayed hits that Never lost its vibe.
Hound Dog never made much sense coming from a man.
Big Mama Thornton – Hound Dog
Steve Stevens – Atomic Playboys
This is Spinal Tap.
Legend – Cheque Book
Good movie soundtrack, and different performances than in the “soundtrack album.”
The Broken Circle Breakdown – The Boy Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn
The Broken Circle Breakdown – Ending scene
Probably not a B-side but lots of fun.
Stray Cats – Stray Cat Strut
That’s a fabulous film – I also like the cover they did of Townes Van Zandt’s – If I needed You.
Currently enjoying the cover of Waiting to Die by the Be Good Tanyas. That man wrote a lot of good songs in the short time he was here.
‘Cover versions’ would in fact be a good candidate for a Musical Interlude of its own.
That is another great track which I picked up from the film Hell or High Water.
Dead Flowers is one that I kinda howl along with.
Here’s a couple of legit 7-inch B-sides, both fantastic, better IMHO than their respective A-sides, that in addition to their inherent virtues carry a Naked-Capitalism-adjacent pedigree.
Lambert frequently hauls gems from the Twitter feed of Scott Benson (@bombsfall; these include Sid the Cat, last week’s Sappho translation, game culture insights, etc.) into Water Cooler. The name of Scott’s watershed video game about small-town America in decline, Night In The Woods, is taken from the first track on the first LP (“The True Story of the Bridgewater Astral League”) of The World/Inferno Friendship Society, whose ringleader Jack Terricloth passed away about a month ago (Scott and WIFS go way back; he’s had a lot to say about them lately on his feed).
The World/Inferno Friendship Society is not easily described, but it’s truly a wonderful world.
Ich Errinere Mich An Weimar is the B-side of the 1999 7-inch “It’s Pumpkin Time”; it was later worked into “Addicted To Bad Ideas: Peter Lorre’s 20th Century,” a “concept album” LP about the arc of Peter Lorre’s life from the Weimar Republic through the Third Reich and his eventual flight to the United States. Both the single and the later LP capture a loss that feels immensely relevant to a certain kind of romantic’s experience of the current trajectory of America.
Original 7-inch version: link
LP version (in context): link
All The World Is A Stage Dive, also glorious, is something in the same vein on the B-side of the 1999 7-inch “I Wouldn’t Want To Live In A World Without Grudges”: link.
Not by any means for everybody, but I can’t recommend them enough.
Thanks for this.
I Say A Little Prayer – Aretha!! She’s just so cool…
Back in the day when I was trying to learn how to play drums like Jon Bonham I bought all the Led Zeppelin music I could get my hands on. Took me a while to realize one of the tunes I heard on the radio that I liked wasn’t on any of their albums. B side to The Immigrant Song – Hey Hey What Can I Do
I love singles and obscurities so this is right up my alley. (At one time I had a huge record collection but these days I’m down to “only” 2000 45s, a few hundred LPs and CDs, and about 300 78s.)
If you like country/bluegrass harmony it doesn’t get any better than the Louvin Brothers. The B side to the Louvin’s 50s hit “Cash On The Barrelhead” was this great country ballad, “You’re Running Wild”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jd2oKBIb1R4
One of the last singles released by The Band was a song called “Arcadian Driftwood”, but I like the B side “Twilight” much better: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BP13TpmcS8Y
The great blues artist Jimmy Reed had a minor hit in 1958 with “Baby What You Want Me To Do” but the slower B-side is great: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bu-yn72Ny5A
Damn! Do we have the same record collection (minus 45s none of which I still have)? A man after my own taste.
There is a thing about 45 rpm singles that I love — the way I can so easily flop one on the turntable and it plays only the exact song I want to hear at that moment. No searching through tracks on a CD, no looking for a file or searching youtube etc. I find playing them very enjoyable, although I don’t pull them out every day, if someone comes over who is interested I can easily kill several hours playing them. It’s about the song, not the album.
Having said that, at my age I know I must at some point divest myself of all this stuff, it takes up a lot of room and we’ll need to downsize at some point. But until then…
Albums are about marketing more than art. When there are more than two great cuts on an album, it usually means they didn’t realize that the others would be so popular. Life is too short to listen to all that filler more than once. I even heard a songwriter admit that she once came up with a line so good that she didn’t use it in the song she was writing at the time, but saved it to make a different song.
One more… New Orleans singer Bobby Marchan released this killer B-side in the 1950s, “Rockin’ Behind The Iron Curtain”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L36U_bXnaCA
Shake Yo Mother For Ya – Champion Jack Dupree
Los Lobos – Set Me Free Rosa Lee
Los Lobos – West L.A. Fadeaway
Maybe not a B-side, but who could resist a baritone sax
Electro Swing, my new favorite genre:
Swingrowers – Dreamland
Swingrowers – Pump Up the Jam
I didn’t expect to like the Swingrowers cuts but that first one sounds like ska music, which I do like.
A little trippy around the edges of that tight swing beat—what’s not to like? Like a mashup of Morcheeba and the Fat Babies (they used to play Sunday nights at a Chicago club I frequented and a group of dancers always turned up who went the whole nine yards—clothes, hair, makeup—and had all the moves down, great fun to watch).
From their CD 18th & Racine: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=FJ6sGRt1gxo&list=OLAK5uy_n4esrBt_km1mrMuGrMwKJVBQ4KFcPnsj8&index=7
A little more Electro Swing:
Jamie Berry, Octavia Rose – Lost In The Rhythm
Jamie Berry feat. Octavia Rose – Lost In The Rhythm
Caravan Palace – Lone Digger
The B side to the rather forgettable Shine, recorded live at the Manchester Apollo,
Motorhead’s cover of Muddy Water’s Hoochie Coochie Man
Thanks for these posts Yves & great new stuff in regard to the first two of your posted songs.
One for the road – A B’side that I heard during my first over 16 disco, that coincided with my first pair of Doc Martens & skinhead moonstomp,
Shotgun by Junior Walker & the Allstars.
You can’t go wrong with Jr. Walker! Saw him live in the 90s at an outdoor show, it was amazing. He still had some of his original guys in the band and during the last song he played the horn on his back while kicking his feet, old school horn battle style.
“Beverly Hills Cop” taught me that a good tune can make a movie much more popular and seem better than it would have otherwise, like:
Car Wash – theme song (1976)
The Rocky Horror Picture Show – Sweet Transvestite
Susan Sarandon on Rocky Horror
Sarandon already had a career going and did not have to do this movie. Terrific instincts.
Pearl Jam Yellow Ledbetter. B-side to the ‘Jeremy’ single
All of the Monochrome Set’s material is quite obscure and underrated but they are a New Wave band from the 1980’s that is something like a cross between 60’s cabaret rock and the Smiths. I recommend it all. To start with, here are some of their songs…
B-I-D Spells Bid
Eine Symphonie Des Grauens
The Puerto Rican Fence Climber
In Love, Cancer?
Eine Symphonie des Grauens rocks. It put me in mind of Elvis Costello:
Pump it Up
Do 12 inch 45 rpm singles count?
Grace Jones’s cover of the Joy Division classic “She’s Lost Control” is one of my favourites. Recorded in ultra glorious analogue sound at the legendary Compass Point Recording Studio in the Bahamas, and with maestros Chris Blackwell (producer) and Alex Sadkin (engineer) at the controls and a creme de la creme reggae all star session band (Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, Micky Chung, Uziah Thompson) backing her the results are sensational.
The A side of Private Life is pretty good but She’s Lost Control is the track I always go back to!