Back when 7-singles were considered disposable junk consumed by teenagers, almost no one listened to the B-side because the song was almost invariably crap. It was either a song judged substandard for inclusion on the album, one of the weaker album tracks, or a sop thrown to someone in the band who didn’t have a hope of being a proper songwriter. Occasionally, though, there was gold to be found on the neglected side of a 45.
I can’t remember what possessed me to flip over Nazareth’s “Love Hurts” (A&M Records Canada, AM-1671-S) but the discovery of the bangin’ “Hair of the Dog” turned me into a hero amongst my friends. A song with the phrase “son of a bitch” repeated 31 times? That rated an 11 in terms of schoolboy awesomeness.
After that, all my friends started flipping their 45s to see what lurked there. My buddy Charlie found Styx’s “Midnight Ride” on the B-side of “Lorelei” (A&M Records, AM-1786-S)
And then someone discovered that The Righteous Brothers’ masterpiece “Unchained Melody” was originally considered too weak to be an A-side.
Other B-side discoveries over the years include XTC’s “Dear God,” “How Soon is Now” from the Smiths and about a dozen Noel Gallagher gems buried as bonus tracks on Oasis singles. “Acquiesce” and “Half a World Away” are but two.
While 12-inch LPs occupy most of the attention in the vinyl revival, a quick visit to any record show will reveal many punters digging through boxes of 45s, looking for original issues with their lost and under-appreciated side twos.
The Vinyl Factory has this (re) appreciation of the humble B-side.
The more you think about the idea of the B-side, the more fascinating it becomes. A B-side is, in one sense, a by-product. A quirk of the format on which it features. Its passage into the world is a precise inversion of the A-side’s journey here. An A-side is a song whose appeal is so great that it’s deemed worth an expense of hundreds, perhaps thousands of pounds, involving studios, pressing plants and artwork. All of this happens because someone wrote a song so good that it was deemed worthy of having an artefact manufactured that would house it exclusively. And once all of that is done, the next thing that requires attention is the B-side. The B-side is both a problem and a solution to a problem. When an empty space needs to be filled with something, something creative can happen.
The thing about a B-side is that if you wrote one and it ends up on the same record as a number one smash, it will accrue just as many royalties from sales as the song for which everyone was actually buying the record. Which brings us to the main use of the B-side as sop. Throughout the decades, B-sides have also been used to placate the entire band when no-one in their ranks has mastered the art of writing a hit. In the early ’70s, recording artists signed to Mickie Most’s RAK label, were typically expected to surrender their artistic pretensions as part of a faustian pact which would ultimately result in them becoming pop stars. Nascent glam stars Sweet and Suzi Quatro deferred to the songwriting might of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, who supplied them with hit after hit. Any dent in their pride incurred as a result of having to sing Chinn and Chapman’s inspired nonsense on Top Of The Pops was soothed by the fact that their own compositions were allowed to occupy the B-sides – and, as a result, allow them the revenue that comes from having a massive hit, if not the actual satisfaction of having written it.
This is fascinating stuff. Keep reading.