I’ve decided to write about some of the b-sides from my collection and why looking to the other side of the 45 is a great part of your musical journey.
Great b-sides come about from a range of circumstances – an embarrassment of riches from an epic album with no space to put them, a space to experiment, a place to wriggle free of production strictures that were hunting the hit single, a chance to play homage via a cover version or reinvent a song via a cover. Or sometimes just to shut the drummer up and let him sing his song…
Some people probably never played the b-side of a record at all, others would have just flipped the record out of curiosity and got taken on a new musical journey or quite often remarked ‘what were they thinking of’.
Most bands didn’t write and perform b-sides with the idea of them appearing on superdeluxe edition box sets, but that is where you can get them these days for more successful bands. I’ve bought many myself but I’ve focused here on singles I got at the time.. Given my time behind an indie record shop counter in the 90’s, a lot of my choices stem from this tine because I had so much opportunity to listen to new music and access to promos etc. A few are actually from cd singles, but ‘this was a great third track in the cd single’ just doesn’t sound right does it?
My first memories of singles and b-sides chime with Pete Pephides, as set out in his musically driven memoir, Broken Greek (a moving must read for those who grew up listening to music in the 70s and 80s). The first single I bought was the same as Pete’s – The Baron Knights’ single ‘A taste of aggro’. A very much of its (70s) time comedy parody that Pete explains much better than me! I also remember flipping the single over and listening to ‘ Remember decimalisation’ and playing this many times – (though why I enjoyed this pean to old coinage I’d never used I’m not sure…). It gave me the idea that it was always worth listening to the other side. My other 70s experience of a b-side was via Paul McCartney and Wing’s Mull of Kintyre. My parents had this 45, as did millions of the U.K, watching the windswept video on top of the pops every Thursday for what seemed like half a year. As we didn’t have many 45s in the radiogram singles like this got played over and over. Frankly bored of non stop ‘Mull’ I eventually started to listen to Girlschool, the other side ( technically it was double A when released). I was taken by this rocky track, at the time I wondered if it was this thing called heavy metal, that I was yet to hear…
The next b-side I remember was Woodhenge by Mike Oldfield. A relative had bought me his version of the Blue Peter theme (making it modern for the kids by using synths..) and not much taken with this I spent more time listening to Woodhenge on the flip side. The spooky ambient sounds evoking this lost Neolithic monument must have triggered a musical line that I picked up many years later with Julian Cope.
Beatles – Paperback Writer – b-side Rain
The Beatles were of course the past masters of the b-side. The one that makes it onto my list is Rain – John Lennon’s perfect 1966 counterpart to McCartney’s Paperback Writer. Alongside Lennon’s spacey distant vocal it’s the drums and bass that make this track sound amazing – had anything sounded like this before? Listen to this version on YouTube with just those elements.
Pink Floyd – Point me at the sky – b-side Careful with that Axe Eugene
This b-side was a major part of Floyd’s post Syd direction. As their another single, Point me at the Sky, flopped again, they took ‘Eugene’ from the b-side, a swirly experimental take on a axe murder, with screams and whispered vocals, and turned it into a different live version – a sonic explosion, using quadraphonic sounds to intensify Roger Water’s manic scream and David Gilmour’s guitar went to new heights. You can hear the epic live versions on the Live LP Ummagumma in 1969 and 1972’s film Live at Pompeii. I love this experimentation of early Floyd, when they sought a new direction whilst still using the psych playbook. The massive Early Years box set contains many more versions. Do you really need all those versions of one track my other half asks……Yes!
The Pet Shop Boys – Suburbia – b-side Jack the Lad
In the early part of the 80s my record buying didn’t stray too far from the charts and the smart pop of the Pet Shop Boys started to take a big place in my record buying. I loved that they put more than other bands into the whole single package ( and still do today). My favourite was this double 7” of Suburbia (great cover) and the b-side Jack the Lad, a deep PSB tune that showed more of their insight on modern life and wry chorus – ‘We all fall, even Jack the lad’.
New Order – True Faith – b-side 1963
As I moved my reading habits from Smash Hits to the NME and Melody Maker, my attentions turned to New Order and True Faith was the first single I bought, as I then delved further via the perfect Substance collection. On the b-side of the True Faith was the tune 1963, which grabbed me just as much as True Faith.
Loop – Black Sun – Bside Mother Sky (Can)
In the late 80s I was digging deeper into the indie racks and music press, looking for psychedelic sounds. I found Loop and loved the droning groves of Black Sun. On the flip side I found the cover of a track called Mother Sky by a group called Can and I instantly loved the rhythm and drum sound. This was my gateway to the kosmiche sounds of the German underground of the 70s. I came to love the original Can track but this version still holds a big place for me.
Five Thirty – Air conditioned Nightmare – b-side – Things that turn you on
Of all the b-sides here this one means the most. Five Thirty burned brightly between 1990 and 1992 , producing single after single of psych-mod and pop art influenced rock. Their b sides never disappointed and there are so many I could choose from. They produced the album Bed and then broke up (another blog post on this coming soon). ‘Things that turn you on’ is an epic late night acoustic lament that hits pace into a mass of energy and swooping McCartney bass lines.
Primal Scream – Dixie Narco EP – b – sides Stone my soul, Carry me home, Screamadelica
I love all of these tracks that backed the Movin on Up single so I’ll just pick them all. What an awesome EP that followed up Screamadelica, an album that just bursts with a loved up rush of early 90s dance experimentation and deep stonsey soul. This EP just continued that, with the two ballads recorded in Memphis – Stone my soul and Carry me home. Strangely the track Screamadelica wasn’t on the album of its name – maybe there wasn’t any room left for the epic 10 minute ambient groove with Denise Johnson’s soul for added measure.
Julian Cope – Fear loves this place – b-side I have always been here before.
Julian Cope was on imperial form by 1992, despite being dropped by Island (the greed heads as Copey called them). Baggy 1991 album Peggy Suicide was quickly followed by the druidic Jehovahkill. Fear loves this place was backed by I have always been here before – channelling all the vibes of Avebury stone circle into this track. With Copey you never knew how seriously to take it but it sounded damn great as he projected himself back several thousand years.
The Cure – Letter to Elise – b-side The Big Hand
This was the final single taken from the Wish album and this gem, The big hand, was hidden away on the b-side. It sounds closer to a track from my favourite album Disintegration. All kicked off with a classic Robert Smith guitar motif. You can also find this on the excellent Cure Box set that covers all their b-sides – Join the dots.
Ride – Birdman – b-side Let’s get lost
Ride produced many great b-sides. I’ve chosen this one as it took me a few years to rediscover how great Let’s get lost was. Birdman was massively over hyped by Creation boss Alain McGee and I remember being rather underwhelmed when I heard it. But the prize here is this Quadrophonenia sounding tune.
Boo Radley’s From the Bench at Belvidere – b-side almost nearly there
Lastly, this track from the Boo Radleys. This EP followed the highly successful Wake Uo Boo! Album with the Boos reflecting and looking to a new direction. One of Martin Carr’s finest songs in my view, the final track is an effortless evocation of travelling home by train. The lines about the ‘smoking carriage’ now feel like a long time ago.
Here is the Spotify playlist minus the Boo Radleys