Monday Morning Playlist — #4
If you were born post-Napster and only a cursory music fan, you might not have any idea WTF I am talking about with a B Side.
A side > B side
If you were born in the ’90s or early aughts, you might have heard the term but probably don’t care.
And if you were born prior to those periods, your interest is probably varied, depending on age, but you’re probably at least familiar with it.
If you purchased a 45 single, it was almost always for the A-side. Maybe you’d flip it over a couple of times to play the other side, but that was about it. It’s not always that the songs were worse …it’s just not why you purchased the single. Often, B-sides were either deep tracks from the artist’s album, or they were considered toss-away songs.
By and large, no one gave a shit about the songs on the B-sides.
BUT sometimes when you flipped the A-side over, you found a diamond in the rough.
I’ve never been a huge Billy Joel fan, but I did purchase the single “You May Be Right” off of Glass Houses when I was a kid. The B-side was “Close to the Borderline.” Now, if you believe Wikipedia, “Close to the Borderline” was the B-side only on the Japanese single. I don’t think that is true.
I can’t say for certain, but my copy of “You May Be Right”/“Close to the Borderline” 45 is buried deep in some Minnesota landfill by now.
I can tell you that I preferred “Close to the Borderline” to its A-side …I still do.
Cultural historian Ben Yagoda goes balls deep in his book The B Side: The Death of Tin Pan Alley and the Rebirth of the Great American Song and attributes the beginning of the B-side to a few things:
The death of Tin Pan Alley
The battle between ASCAP and Broadcast Music, Inc (BMI)
The revolution of jazz after WWII
The influence of radio and television
The decades-long battle of Frank Sinatra and Mitch Miller
Those five events reached their apogee just as Elvis Presley was kicking up dirt with this thing being labeled as “rock and roll.”
It could very easily B-said that the birth of the B-side coincides with the advent of rock and roll.
“Hound Dog” — Elvis Presley
It would only seem appropriate that one of Presley’s best-known songs and a benchmark at the dawn of rock and roll is a B-side.
“Hey Good Lookin’” — The Replacements
The Replacements have never been shy about who they admire. They may not have always paid their respects in the best of ways, but this playful cover of the Hank Williams classic shines. It captures the best of the ‘mats at that time (circa 83/84). Now, technically, this isn’t truly a B-side as it was part of the 12-inch version of “I Will Dare” off their album Let It Be.
For some reason, in the mid-80s, record labels tried to turn 12" singles into a rock and roll thing — they were popular in the dance music world. As far as rock and roll goes, 12" singles are kind of like the cassingles of vinyl.
“Suffragette City” — David Bowie
Revisiting last week’s excellent discussion on Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars on The Riff’s Album of the Month Club. This gem of an album was picked and the discussion hosted by Terry Barr, but who knew this was the B-side to “Starman?” Not me.
“Close to the Borderline” — Billy Joel
I don’t think Billy Joel always gets the respect he deserves. He doesn’t earn any respect as a driver, but he does as a singer/songwriter. And while I don’t love him, I have much respect for him; again, as a songwriter, not so much as a driver. What makes this tune interesting is that it’s not pop-heavy like the singles from Glass Houses. This song has a slight edge to it and captures just a pinch of punk. It’s a lyrical, not rhythmic, harbinger of “We Didn’t Start the Fire”:
Blackout, heatwave, .44 caliber homicide
The bums drop dead and dogs gone mad
In packs on the West Side
Young girl standing on a ledge looks like another suicide
She wants to hit those bricks
Cause the news at six gotta stick to a deadline
While the millionaires hide in Beekman Place
“Hallelujah Here She Comes” — U2
U2’s B-side to the first single, “Desire,” from Rattle and Hum — the peculiar follow-up movie and double-album to The Joshua Tree. Who knows what Bono did to warrant the writing of this song, but odds are it was probably dumb. And whatever it was, it gave us this song, so thanks for being dumb, Bono.
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” — The Rolling Stones
Can’t have a playlist like this without a Rolling Stones tune. Originally a B-side to the #1 song “Honky Tonk Women.” That said, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” pre-dated the Let It Bleed sessions, where it would close out the album. Eventually, the song would get released as a single, where it charted modestly. And it would hit again when it served as the funeral song in the 1983 baby-boomer classic film The Big Chill (arguably one of the best movie soundtracks in history, IMHO.)
[Fun Fact: The movie The Big Chill opens at a funeral — Kevin Costner played the character whose death the friends are mourning. All of his scenes were cut from the finished film.]
“Black Water” — The Doobie Brothers
Long before The Doobie Brothers sound got usurped by the surprisingly shrill baritone voice of Michael McDonald, they were a pretty decent FM rock band. This is the B-side to “Another Park, Another Sunday” and would become the first of the two Doobie Brothers’ #1 hit singles in 1975.
“Gloria” — Them
This is Van Morrison’s band before he flew solo. And the A side is “Baby Please Don’t Go,” which is an equally brilliant song. Both songs have been covered ad nauseam by virtually every artist under the sun, but none can touch either song.
“I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” — The Byrds
This was the B-side to The Byrds “All I Really Want To Do,” and while both songs charted, “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” is generally considered their first “hit.” I include Tom Petty’s version from Full Moon Fever here because I like the Tom Petty version better, even though it’s almost identical. It’s the sentiment that matters here …and we’ve all had this one!
“Hey Hey What Can I Do” — Led Zeppelin
There is very little in the mighty Zep’s catalog that didn’t make it on to an album during their prime or in the decades since. But then Led Zeppelin wasn’t a singles band in their prime, so having a B-side was not crucial to their career. In any event, of the few singles they had, “Hey Hey What Can I Do” is the B-side to the first single from Led Zeppelin III — the tolerable ONLY once every five years “Immigrant Song.”
“I’ve Got A Feeling” — Pearl Jam
This is the live version off of Let’s Play Two, that I put on the playlist. If you can, find the studio version released on the promotional CD for the first single from Ten, “Alive.” Ok, technically, not a B-side like The Replacements.
“Aneurysm” — Nirvana
Yep, this was the B-side to “It Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Imma go ahead and presume this track didn’t get a lot of play as a B-side. It got much more attention when it appeared on the compilation album Insecticide. Deservedly so, I might add.
“Fools Gold” — The Stone Roses
Here, once again, not technically a B Side. “Fools Gold” was released as a double A-side (both sides are designated the A-side, with no designated B-side) with “What the World Is Waiting For.” And apparently, what the world was waiting for was “Fools Gold,” as this would become one of their best known songs. British magazine NME placed “Fools Gold” at number 31 in their “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” — not sure where “What the World Is Waiting For” ended up though.
I left SO much off. I didn’t include any songs by The Beatles, because lets be honest, almost everything was a hit, A-side OR B-side, for the band for about five years. I also left off “Silver Springs” because we just covered that one.
B-sides were a fun moment in time for music and music fans. Some people go really deep on this stuff. So, let’s hear it Kevin Alexander, Rob Janicke, S.W. Lauden, Jessica Lee McMillan, Terry Barr, Reuben Salsa, Chris Zappa, Paul Combs, Nicole Brown, David Acaster, Christopher Robin, TheWellSeasonedLibrarian, If Ever You’re Listening, and all other Riff writers and readers, what am I missing?