In this era of downloads, the B-side has almost become a dead art. And what a shame, when you consider some of the astonishing tracks hidden away on the flipside of a single over the years. Not to mention that a number of B-sides have become accepted as some bands greatest songs, or have become live favourites, or both. Back when it was still of use, it was a good place for bands to experiment, or simply to continue releasing material without the pressure of a full album. Or in some cases, simply fill up B-side space with endless remixes, which may or may not have been any good.
So this list is going to be something of a retro list, mainly as so few bands nowadays even bother. But importantly, these are all actual songs on B-sides, rather than remixes or live versions. Obviously I’m going to have missed some great bands and/or songs from this, as always feel free to tell me about it in the comments. And yes, I know this has been posted on Wednesday rather than Tuesday…
Killing of a Flashboy
B-Side to We Are The Pigs
Interestingly, the first six bands noted here all collected their B-Sides into albums, a sign of just how strong they were deemed to be, and another of this list had a set that should have been compiled. And, frankly, Suede are here first as it is generally agreed that Suede’s B-Sides were, for some considerable time, all the equal at least of the singles being put out. Or, consider the fact that Sci-Fi Lullabies is a good contender for being the best Suede album. It is almost all of their B-sides up to and including their third album, doesn’t have a single duff track on the first CD, and various of them were live staples for years. In particular this one, in fact, a monstrous glam-stomp that was played both times I saw them in 96/97, and saw aired in the encore in their shows last spring. In fact, I listen to both this track and sister B-Side Whipsnade more than I do the single itself…
B-Side to Some Might Say
Quite how on earth this song was relegated to B-Side status is one of the more bizarre decisions I’ve ever seen a band make – particularly as the single it was paired with…hasn’t exactly stood the test of time. This song, though, remains fucking glorious. A rock song with a heart – and Noel proving a perfect foil in the chorus to his brother – this track came armed with a planet-sized chorus, and it can only be imagined how ubiquitous this song could have become had it really been the A-side. Remarkably – or maybe not, in the circumstances, seeing as like Suede, Oasis seemed to save their best material for the flipside sometimes – the B-sides compilation The Masterplan went on to sell two million copies worldwide. Not bad for an album of what could be called off-cuts.
B-Side to Take It Easy Chicken (EP Two)
Another band who ended up with a compilation of their B-sides was Mansun, and long before that the various dedicated fans of the band (of which I was one) had made each and every one of their EP series collectors items. Interestingly, like the other bands above, it has to be said that the creative well did begin to dry eventually, but the first four or five EPs at least from Mansun are all as essential as their debut album. An early favourite of the B-sides – and again a big live favourite – was this rather strange track, a poppy, surreal track with lyrics as bizarre as the title. And for once in this list, it is not hard to see why this one was missed off the album – it would never, ever have fitted the mood. Of the band’s various other B-Sides, by the way, it is also worth mentioning the awesome Everyone Must Win (the seething, post-punk collaboration with Howard Devoto of Magazine).
Prologue to History
B-Side to If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next
Here’s one that is a track that would have certainly improved an album immeasurably. This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours wasn’t really that great – although was by far the band’s biggest selling album – probably because it leaned rather more heavily on the pop door than any of their albums – indeed, this was quite a shock when you think that The Holy Bible was just two albums before this, a sign of just how much had changed in the band’s world in that short-ish period. But this track is full of the snarling politics, and the music has signs of (the old) life that the album itself so sorely lacked. Still, it ended up with pride of place as the opener on the B-sides collection, which was as it should be.
B-side to Rhinoceros (Lull EP)
Oddly enough, I actually mentioned the Pumpkins’ greatest B-side only on 147: Long Songs (the epic Starla), so I’ll pick another that also ended up on Pisces Iscariot, a release that was purely to cash-in on the bands new-found success in 1994. Not that any of us were complaining, as the album was brilliant. This song is somewhat schizophrenic: at points a delicate ballad, in others it rocks hard, but with a lovely melody winding through it, something that once-upon-a-time Billy Corgan did effortlessly.
B-Side to Catch the Sun
I have to admit, that as much as I love Doves – and in particular their earlier material – their B-sides collection Lost Sides is very patchy indeed, with more filler than killer here. But songs like this, a wonderful, sun-drenched track that despite the bright demeanour, still has that nagging feeling of utter desperation that inhabits all of this bands best songs.
B-Side to Subhuman
Sadly no compilation exists of Garbage’s B-side collection, which is a real shame, as the original, highly-collectible singles are all of course long out of print. Especially this one, featuring two non-album tracks that were both very different, but equally good. The lead single Subhuman was about as industrial and as heavy as the band ever got, while aside from Vow (relegated to B-side status due to licensing issues), the other track was the bleak, needy ballad #1 Crush, that for a long, long time was one of my favourite songs. It eventually gained greater prominence, in a much-changed “trip-hop” remix form, as one of the lead tracks on the Romeo+Juliet soundtrack. The original is well-worth hunting out, if you’ve never heard it. [Note: On the Spotify playlist, it is the remixed version, on the Youtube playlist, it is the original]
B-Side to Nancy Boy
Aside from the label-released compilation, this track was for many years an utter sod to find. Which was a shame, as it was one of the band’s best songs, and was a long-time killer live track, too (I vaguely recall it closing at least one of the many Placebo shows I saw in the nineties). Something of a flipside to the swaggering confidence of Nancy Boy, appropriately enough, it starts off gently enough, before exploding into a chorus of snarling fury, that perhaps would never have worked as a single, for its title alone?
The Crow Song
B-Side to Graceadelica
(no longer available)
Another long-vanished B-Side – I only have a digital copy, I’ve searched in vain for a CD copy of this damned single for years – this was another track that became a live favourite pretty fast. It is clearly cut from the same cloth as the band’s only album, though – taut, brooding, psychedlic-infused rock that came from dark and unstable corners. With the benefit of hindsight I suspect this track was only missed off the album because there was nowhere it could fit – everything else flowed so well.
Letting The Demons Sleep (Nightmare)
B-Side to Dead Market
A track so good that I very nearly put this in my best of 2011, rather than the single itself – and this is, now I look at it, the only track on this list not from the nineties. An austere, cold synth construction, like most Haujobb tracks, this is as much about the atmosphere created as it is about the tune itself. But the tune is worth hearing, as the synth lines coil tighter and higher, pulling the chorus out into the daylight for a brief moment.