Musings on music, old, new, popular and obscure. Post punk, metal, hip-hop, funk, and rock in general. A music fan with a desire to lose boundaries on what should and should not be listened to writes about experience in music from a listener's perspective, hopefully unhindered by prior expectation.

Friday, March 30, 2012

That Make a Small Portion of the World Cry -- B-Sides

There are, I don't know four or five major types of bonus tracks included on reissues and special versions of albums: studio out-takes and "alternate" versions, live tracks, b-sides, BBC sessions (which are occasionally live), and non-album singles. Similarly, there are about four major types of compilation: the best of or greatest hits, which typically collects singles with an occasional popular deep cut;the live album, which may contain a concert or two, or tracks excised from a variety of performances, either on a single tour or throughout a band's career; rarities albums that contain a mix of the "bonus tracks" I've just listed, and occasionally focusing exclusively or almost exclusively on one of them like b-sides or BBC sessions; and "comprehensive" (sometimes!) anthologies of a band's entire career that typically contain all of the above, though they're sometimes just pretentiously named "best of" compilations.

Now, there's debate, concern, wariness, and about every negative (and probably every positive) attitude you can think of when it comes to these "extra" or "bonus" tracks. Some people are annoyed when they interrupt the repeat flow of an album, when playing it numerous times in succession on a CD player or the like. Others think it's a cheap gimmick to gouge people for money. Some people just find them extraneous junk and trim them away in digital form or just eject the CD when the album proper ends. Some artists or labels acknowledge this and program in an extra bit of silence to separate the album from its errata, often using the "negative space" that CD technology allows (I'll talk more about this some other time, as it's actually quite interesting), or doing like Rhino did with their 2008 Replacements reissues, and sticking in an audio cue, which, in that case, was the sound of someone walking to a door and locking up to leave (which I appreciated at the end of "Here Comes a Regular," but was disheartening to find on every other album, including the far more raucous Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash or Stink, where it was less appropriate to the song it followed). They're a mixed bag in "anthologies" and the like, too, being seen in the same light as "valueless filler" to some, and the entire point to others.

Me? I love them.

Indeed, for whatever it says about me, there's little I love more than dissecting these extra tracks--or, better yet, whole compilations of them!--and discovering where they came from, the context they originally appeared in, and how they were originally presented, if at all. My digital music database is filled to the brim with excessive information, like replacing an album title with the name and location of a studio for "unreleased" tracks, which I arrange by their recording dates. It's interesting to find a studio appear in common between seemingly disparate artists, or to find a studio that has seen a huge chunk of a genre come through it. Trident Studios in London, for instance, saw Harry Nilsson recording for Son of Schmilsson, David Bowie recording for many of his earlier albums--and the Buzzcocks, recording demos shortly after Howard DeVoto left to form Magazine.

But let's pare me down here, and for now, let's talk about my favourite of these options: The B-Side.

Now, as many people know (considering Mr. Bell kindly spread my comments around enough that it's my most looked at entry!), I've talked about b-sides before, albeit just in passing. Now, in that entry I noted that b-sides can quite easily be boring junk, or sheer oddity or strangeness. There's nothing untrue about that, in the least. But compared to the rest of the options for lesser-heard material from a band? Well, alternate versions are interesting if you know the original well enough, live tracks and BBC sessions the same, but there are more likely to be quality issues, or you may simply not know the original track well enough for the contrast to be interesting. Non-album singles can be quite interesting--indeed, I often think of them in the same light as b-sides--but they are often, naturally, already very familiar. They were released as singles, after all. Of course, this is a more tenuous claim when we're talking about independent bands, but, even then, there's some weight to this.

"Just a b-side." (Yes, this song was a b-side. The slow version--"Revolution 1"--was Lennon's preferred, and was only released on The White Album/The Beatles. This was recorded in deference to George and Paul maintaining that "Revolution 1" was "too slow for a single.")

What about "out-takes"--songs that were never released but recorded in the studio at a recording session? Ah, that's often the gold for excessive collector who already tracked down the obscure 7"s¹ and has heard all the b-sides. Yet, there's something here, perhaps unfair: these songs were passed over completely. Sometimes, true, it was not a band's decision and generally we care more for what a band wants to release than what a label tells them to do (or not do!), and such decisions can go either way, with labels choosing catchier singles or horrible chart bombs, and bands doing the same. But out-takes? Indeed, often those will carry notes like "Final mix 2007, by _____." They often weren't finished at the time of recording, which hints strongly at the band themselves abandoning the song.

B-sides, though? Well, now. Someone decided this was worth wasting the wax to press, even if it was just so that there'd be something on the other side of that (hopefully) hit single. And often, because it was just "extra value" and not the true selling point, a band could decide what it was. Granted, some bands took that as reason to put less effort into those songs, drawing lines around which songs would "just be b-sides," and agreed with the notion that they were "extra" material even at original release.

I find few things in this whole subject more disappointing than the lazy approach to b-sides. I'd rather an awful remix or a stupid sound collage throwaway (to reference backward a bit, it actually wasn't a b-side, but it should have been so that it could be more a curiosity than a blight on an excellent album: "Revolution 9") than an album track I can get on the album proper. Sure, there's financial sense there: if it's a non-album single, it gives you a taste of the album the single doesn't, and leaves some value in the single at the same time, and if it's an album single, it serves purely as a sampler for the album. Possibly worse, there's the occasional habit of re-using b-sides or cycling old a-sides into b-sides. There's financial sense again, in that it definitely guarantees a "value" to that single for someone who buys singles, but it still means it's redundant.

I've mentioned XTC as the (probable, if I'm honest--I can't be completely sure, as I started getting obsessive about The Murder City Devils, Aphex Twin, At the Drive-In and a few others before that, though most of them didn't have b-sides, per se, despite releasing heavily on vinyl) reason I check into b-sides, and that's not unreasonable. Indeed, when I wrote about them, one of the songs that brought me in was "Dear God." "Dear God" was not a single. It was not on an album. "Dear God" was a b-side in the UK where it was first released, a b-side to "Grass," which actually didn't do tons on the charts (if you ask me, that's ludicrous--but you didn't, so nevermind). A radio DJ had flipped the single one day and it took off, eclipsing its a-side, being re-released as its own a-side and being jammed into Skylarking in place of "Mermaid Smiled" (screwing up the album's flow and 'concept'/theme, but nevermind that) in the United States.

Lest you think this is some bizarre, one of a kind story, let's look at another famous a-side that wasn't (originally):

Yep. "How Soon Is Now?" a stone-cold classic from the Smiths, sampled heavily for television promotion in the 1990s, by various other artists, and otherwise quite famous, was originally "just a b-side" to the song "William, It Was Really Nothing." Worse than that, it was a 12" b-side, which mean it didn't appear on the 7" at all (that spot was reserved for "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want"). It was edited down to about two thirds of its length for its a-side release the next year, and, yes, jammed into Meat Is Murder for its United States release (which I used to have on vinyl, actually, but sold once I was in line for the Complete Smiths box that included all their albums on vinyl as well as CD, and all the 7" singles, too).

I asked folks about the idea of b-sides, and was met with a variety of responses, but most seemed to acknowledge only one facet of possibility for the thing, which is likely because I don't know a ton of people as ridiculous and obsessive as myself. My father is unabashedly cynical and finds them a marketing gimmick, while my friends who weighed in thought of them as that chance for a band to experiment or sneak something out they might not otherwise get to. I don't think anyone was conveying the entirety of their knowledge, of course, but I think the lesser interest in the histories and minutiae means things like the above can get away unnoticed--huge songs that were "just b-sides."

If I wanted to be ridiculous, I could talk about "the art of the b-side," which I was convinced would be a book somewhere, even an out of print one, or a blog, or something, but it certainly doesn't seem to be.² It's not really an art most of the time. An awful lot of b-sides (probably the majority) are album tracks or old singles. Some time in the 1980s remixes became a popular b-side, too. I'd say Depeche Mode must have had a hand in that, but I'm honestly only guessing. I can't be too hard on them, as I twitchily collected the--no kidding, now--36 disc Singles series of 6 box sets which has (almost) all of their b-sides, down to eight mixes of "Enjoy the Silence," but, still. A lot of people are awful at remixes and/or choosing which ones to release.

Indeed, there's the whole "maxi-single" idea, typically released on a 12" (though the name was later applied to CD single releases sometimes, too). "Extended remixes" got really popular, too, but they were typically a-sides (though occasionally matched with extended album cuts on the other side--which DM have also done) to those 12" singles.

But buried in all that stuff, there are these songs. I'd say interesting songs, but they often aren't and would have been filler on the album, or at least another "okay" song. But sometimes, oh, sometimes...I compiled a list of all the b-sides I think are just fantastic songs, and maybe some that might surprise you to find are b-sides and not singles, or at least might actually be familiar. Before I bore or overwhelm anyone with that list, let's just look at the cream of the crop.

[As a quick aside, one of the more delightful things is the way that bands will occasionally release b-sides compiled and use wonderfully clever or punny names for them. Sometimes they're boring and just call them B-sides and Rarities, but sometimes they are like The Charlatans and call them Songs from the Other Side or they release matched sets of singles and B-sides, like XTC's Waxworks and Beeswax or Anthrax's Attack of the Killer B's which was later met with Return of the Killer A's. This kind of ridiculous titling, and the freedom of knowing that these are albums destined for fans that don't need marketable titles is just wonderful. Or maybe I just like stupid puns.]

I'm not going to go too far with actually getting into these songs, and I may have trouble with finding YouTube links for some, but I'm going to go from here and see what happens--I'm not going to number them, but you can think of them as a loosely labeled "Top 5 B-sides" for me.

"51st Anniversary" by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
B-side to: "Purple Haze"
Released: March 17, 1967
Oddly (at least, I think), this is probably my favourite song from The Jimi Hendrix Experience. It's consistently released on Are You Experienced? now, but only because they didn't record too many non-album singles or b-sides. Of course, the U.S. label had to do their thing and that album was crammed with the a-sides, at least, and knocked off a bunch of other songs when it was originally released here, thus the confused tracklisting of the CD-era. This particular song was originally the b-side to "Purple Haze," though in the U.S. it was later re-used as a b-side to "Hey Joe," which had been released a year earlier in the UK. It's all about that guitar line sitting under the chorus, followed by that Hendrix™ freakout at the end of it, if you ask me. Not too much weird showing off, not so much visibility the song was run into the ground, just all around good stuff.
You can find this on pretty much any CD release of Are You Experienced?

"Mindless Child of Motherhood" by the Kinks ("Featuring Dave Davies")
B-side to: "Drivin'"
Released: June 20, 1969
One of the more intermittent and uncommon compositions by Ray's little brother Dave, this might be one of my favourite Kinks tracks ever, balancing some of the rawness of early Kinks ("You Really Got Me") with the more complicated and intricately produced work of the late 60s on The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, Something Else by the Kinks or Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire). Dave was to release a solo album which never came out, and this track was to appear on. Instead, it became the b-side of Arthur single "Drivin'." Shame, really. Dig that fantastic bass work from John Dalton, who had recently replaced longtime Kinks bassist Pete Quaife permanently. If you want this song, well, you have a few options: track down the 2004 Sanctuary reissue of Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) (which I had but sold), its 2-disc deluxe edition from 2011 (which I have now), or the rather random compilation The Kink Kronikles (to be fair, this is one of those "anthology" type releases, and it's quite well thought of, and is more for people who want more songs, rather than the chance to hear three different versions of "Drivin'"), or even the newly released Hidden Treasures, a collection of Dave Davies' "solo" material.
NOTE: Yeah, this is the only Kinks version available. Sorry. All the others are bloody covers by YouTubers, mostly.

"Handsome Devil" by the Smiths (recorded live at the Hacienda in Manchester, England on February 4th, 1983)
B-side to: "Hand in Glove"
Released: May, 1983
While there's a cleaner, clearer version recorded for John Peel (in May of the same year), this is the b-side version and it allows Andy Rourke's lovely dancing bassline to show through a bit better. Well, in all honesty, the actual released version sounds a little cleaner than this, but how can I resist the fact that someone actually posted video of the very recording I'm speaking of? Madness! Still, the killer part is that guitar lick from Johnny Marr, climbing endlessly up and hitting that perfect note of "Gah! Give me more of that!" without ever losing its grip throughout the song, despite repetition. It's got a nice (if a bit sharp, in the pointy sense) melody, and it's just fantastically rhythmic, too. I think I can probably say this is my singularly favourite Smiths song of all. This is a relatively rare version, outside it's original 7" release, there are approximately two ways to get it: The Sound of the Smiths in its deluxe 2-disc form or The Smiths Complete, by which I mean the version I have, the out of print, deluxe vinyl-and-CD version which will set you back $500 plus shipping. Or, you could go to Amazon and get a used copy! Which is only $400. If you're not in dire need of this version, go find Hatful of Hollow (soon to be re-released outside of the more reasonable CD-only Complete set), which is one of their three (sort of...long story) rarity compilations and contains the Peel session version.

"Don't Lose Your Temper" by XTC
B-side to: "Generals and Majors"
Released: August 29, 1980
I've mentioned my friend/former manager Gerald before, and he weighed in on XTC after I wrote about them yesterday and noted that Andy Partridge had a tendency to be very much in-your-face with his cleverness. It's true. How could you hear "Don't Lose Your Temper" and not think it's a plea with a lover or friend not to get angry? And yet, after he repeats those words, he follows them with, "'Cause I love you when you're wild" and then again repetition leads to, "'Cause I'd hate you to grow mild." That picking, poking guitar intro and Terry Chambers' pounding, danceable beat on the drums? Andy's characteristically animated vocal delivery? And good lord, is that chorus catchy. Not a song I think should've fallen away, but it's readily available on the re-release of Black Sea, thankfully. [Despite Amazon's listing as such, I'm almost positive that ISN'T an LP-facsimile version, but it could be. It'd be neat, as it originally came in a solid-green-with-black-lettering sleeve over the image of the band in diving suits]

"City of the Dead" by The Clash
B-side to: "Complete Control"
Released: September 23, 1977
The Clash had a bunch of fantastic b-sides, enough that the b-side compilation Super Black Market Clash (an expanded version of the 10" Black Market Clash, which even my father has, which says something, considering he's nothing like a completist like me) is basically one of the Clash albums you're "supposed" to have. There are some great tracks on there, but I'd say this is my favourite, and the one that comes to mind when I think of this collection. How do you get it? Didn't I just tell you? I mean, you could always be utterly insane like me, too. But I doubt anyone reading this will be that nuts. Then again, it's one box of 19 discs, not 6 boxes with a total of 36, so maybe I should cut myself some slack on that one.

There are two songs I wish I could have linked you to videos for, but they aren't available at all. One or the other likely would've pushed the Clash off (guess maybe they aren't always the only band that matters?). Those two songs are The Boomtown Rats' "How Do You Do" and Leon Russell's uptempo cover of the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses."

"How Do You Do" was the b-side to "Like Clockwork" from A Tonic for the Troops, and it was released in June of 1978. It's one I actually think might be better than the tracks on the album--which is saying something, as that is a great album. One of Geldof's sneering anti-authoritarian songs, with a driving guitar over a hi-hat-heavy beat from Simon Le Crowe that just forms as jet propulsion for a wildly energetic song. Unlike a few that are impossible to find outside the vinyl (and the technically illegal digitally distributed recordings of said vinyl) like "Europe Looked Ugly" and "It's All the Rage," "How Do You Do" (along with two other Rats b-sides) is available on both the original CD release of A Tonic for the Troops and the 2005 reissue of The Fine Art of Surfacing.

"Wild Horses" is turned, somehow, more country-flavoured by Russell, sped up a good two minutes, and flavoured heavily with Russell's distinctive piano playing. Somehow, it's made more forlorn than the Stones' version anyway, and I love Leon's approach to the vocal lines. When he chops up "hands" at the end of "slip through my hands," it's just perfect. Now, my friend Brian, I think, finds the Flying Burrito Brothers' version to be the best of all, and I can't argue too much, but there's something about Leon's that hits my catchy buttons as well as capturing the mood of the song perfectly.
Want this song? Um...good luck! You have two locations: Gimme Shelter, named for Russell's label Shelter Records and another "anthology" type Best Of, or Stop All That Jazz, his June '74 album, which is intensely out of print. Copies generally go for $75. I lucked into an FYE that had priced it before that jump and got it for $6.99 earlier this year through some stroke of absolute fortune. Shame, as this is truly an excellent version of that song.

With all that said, I hope something interesting is stirred: it's the search, the find, the rarity that makes b-sides so interesting, even when a lot of them are readily available elsewhere, or just crap (or very weird--Wire did a lot of these in their early days). I'll leave you with my one cheating entry (it will make sense when I explain, I think) and my list of excellent b-sides that I know of. I encourage anyone and everyone who sees this to throw out some b-sides you like--even if they're album cuts or they were singles later or earlier. I don't expect anyone to be obsessive about this like me. But maybe you'll point me toward some I've neglected--even some I may have access to and passed over!

First things first:

"Smokeless Zone" by XTC
B-side to: "Generals and Majors" (a second b-side on the 7", yes)
Released: August 29, 1980
"Generals and Majors" was a Colin Moulding song, and it was backed, interestingly, with b's from both Colin and Andy. It has the weird backing of a song like "Fly on the Wall" and opens with a heavily distorted call-out of the title before it seems to shimer in and float outside of any release (which makes for a good call on not including it on the album!), completely isolated from any songs around it, even though it begins with a transition. It's a clear "ender," somehow, even though it doesn't fit next to anything. Still, another song that made me very happy that XTC re-released with b-sides intact. This one, too, is on the Black Sea reissue.

Now, as for that list, It will appear on the side bar of this page when I'm done with it. I want it to look nice, and it'll be a bit long, so I'll save this post from becoming just blindingly large.

Now, how about those b-sides you know?

Back to Post ¹One day, I will figure out how to look through huge bins of these. Right now it's just plain overwhelming. Considering 45s are often sleeveless now, or came in plain label sleeves in the first place, it's mind-numbing to flip through them. And, of course, they're often packed into bins in record stores. And filled with absolute junk, and not even fun singles, which I've occasionally picked up--I've got a 45 of Murray Head's "One Night in Bangkok"--just...stuff. Yet, I wish I could dig through for old Boomtown Rats or XTC singles. Don't have the patience, though.

Back to Post ²That isn't to say that no one has written about it, of course. Blog postsmessage boards, and even more general music articles tackle the subject on occasion. Stylus once wrote a "Non-Definitive Guide to the B-Side" but it gets into things like EPs, which I think is cheating. EPs occasionally get full releases, are and were often released on 10" and 12" vinyl (meaning they'd often be stocked next to full albums and thus more visible, like, for instance, the copy of Big Country's U.S. EP Wonderland that I picked up used, recently). They also get CD releases, which is exceptionally silly when you note that one of their inclusions was "Flim" by the Aphex Twin. Come to Daddy is easy to get a hold of, and indeed was smashed into a single (rather lengthy) release for its Sire-distributed U.S. release, which took the two opposing UK singles (a common practice there, at least in the 1990s) and combined them into one, which is what you will see in any U.S. store, or, at this point, any store, as original label Warp has done the Magical Mystery Tour thing and taken the U.S. release and adopted it as definitive. Yeah, Magical Mystery Tour was an EP, by the way, and just combined with a single, an a-side--originally backed with one of the EP songs, and a double a-side in the U.S. to create the full-lengtth album recognized as Magical Mystery Tour now. The more you know, right?


  1. I've always loved non-album, non-remixed B-sides. It's one of the reasons I still like the idea of the 'single format'. You get a song that may be on an album already, but with that B-side bonus. Incidentally, this is also why I agree with the Beatles in that singles shouldn't necessarily be included on albums (at least those they released in the UK) as it give a value added sort of approach to singles. Sorta like 'hey, we just released an album a few months ago, but here's a couple of tracks for you to munch on in the interim.'

    Oh, and to be a stickler, I think Hey Jude/Revolution was technically a double A-side (which kinda makes no sense, really).

  2. No promises on whether I run into accurate information or don't fail to miss anything, but I checked and apparently it was widely considered a true "b-side." Believe me, I definitely suspected that had to be another double A, but apparently, nope.

  3. Oh! And they did release some UK singles from albums, as well as some album track B-sides. Though we are talking ca. Help!, and earlier, to be fair.

    Well, except "Hello Goodbye." That was much later, as you know, and had a b-side from MMT.


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