Sunday, November 08, 2009

Sonic Sunday: B-Side Bonanza Vol. 1

I've been thinking a lot lately about the many small but meaningful ways in which the "digital age" has changed music as we (old folks) know it. The blank stares of the younger generation used to only come when you mentioned 8-tracks or 78s, but those vacant expressions are becoming increasingly more common during any discussion of cassettes, 45s, and albums. That's depressing.

I've fully embraced digital music now, but it took me longer than most. One of the big reasons for that is that I've always been a liner notes gal. So it saddens me to think that, in a few years, the term "liner notes" will also be met with those horrible blank stares.

But liner notes aren't the only casualty of this new musical era. That wonderful treat known as the B-side will soon be (if it hasn't already) rendered obsolete. And that's probably the biggest tragedy, because B-sides were — to borrow a line from Mama Gump — like a box of chocolates; you never knew what you were gonna get. Often, they were just throwaway recordings, but sometimes they were incredible songs that made you gasp in amazement that they were never included on studio albums. And, of course, knowing about your favorite artists' b-sides always gave you that warm, fuzzy feeling of being a "true fan."

This Sonic Sunday post is dedicated to those Bs that should've been As — and because I haven't quite finished compiling my list of favorites (oh, the anguish of picking only one Pearl Jam song), this theme is going to continue throughout November. I'm even open to requests, so if you know of a real gem you want me to consider for a future installment, shoot me an email.

(No turntable required to hear the music. Click any link or arrow to launch the media player; CTRL-click to download.)

1. "17 Days," Prince and The Revolution - So here I sit in my lonely room lookin' for my sunshine/But all I've got is two cigarettes and this broken heart of mine/So let the rain come down, the rain come down/Let the rain come down, down

Despite the fact that he managed to fill up a disc full of them, Prince has never been known for having a wealth of fabulous B-sides. And of all of them, "Erotic City" is usually the one that gets all the attention. While I like that one well enough, it's just kind of like, "oh, Prince is being dirty again," so it's no big whoop. I much prefer this one, which was the B-side to "When Doves Cry." I can't think of a song that could've been bumped from the Purple Rain soundtrack, but I guess I might have bumped "Take Me With U" for the clearly superior "17 Days." I guess its problem was not fitting well enough into that movie's complex storyline. Heh.

2. "All Your Life," Blur - I need someone to tell me everything'll be alright/I need someone who'll hold me when the day turns to night/I need someone who loves me more than you do/Oh we say that's not true/And you and me in line as double bill/Surrogate heroes on TV and films

Damon's eyes are the 8th wonder of the world.Pearl Jam wasn't the only band to give me problems during this project. Blur has a ton of B-sides: many crap, many good, and at least three that I love enough to nearly get a nosebleed when trying to decide among them. Ultimately, I settled on this flip side to "Beetlebum," because I felt like their self-titled album was the one that could have been most improved by bumping something else in favor of it. "All Your Life" is a better song than at least five of the album tracks, including Blur's only true American hit, "Song 2." But do yourselves a favor and look up "Young and Lovely," a gorgeous track that was inexplicably left off of the nearly perfect Modern Life is Rubbish, and "Money Makes Me Crazy," a wonderfully peppy pop song that might have seemed a bit out of place on the experimental Think Tank.

3. "Hey Hey What Can I Do," Led Zeppelin - I got a woman, wanna ball all day/I got a woman, she won't be true, no/I got a woman, stay drunk all the time/I said I got a little woman and she won't be true

Not only is this one of the best-known B-sides in rock history (backing the "Immigrant Song" single), but it's also one of the best songs ever written about a total sluuuut! I believe this is Led Zeppelin's only B-side, which is as it should be. They knew how brilliant they were. Why would they have left anything off of their records? (Although I will admit to a fierce hatred of "The Crunge.")

4. "How Soon Is Now," The Smiths - There's a club, if you'd like to go/You could meet somebody who really loves you/So you go, and you stand on your own/And you leave on your own/And you go home and you cry and you want to die

I'mma smack that whiny little bitch.When I found out that this song was originally a B-side (later included on compilation album Hatful of Hollow and certain editions of Meat Is Murder), I couldn't believe it. No, actually I could. Because Morrissey is an idiot. But as it turns out, this oversight wasn't Morrissey's fault, but the record label's. (This doesn't leave Morrissey off the hook, though. He's still an idiot.) TPTB didn't think that the song was "representative of the band's sound," and chose not to release it as a single. Well, I'll agree with that because I'm definitely NOT a Smiths fan, but I love this song. Normally, I hate Morrissey's constant whining, but anyone of "clubbing age" can relate to the above lyrics. And anyone of any age, race, creed, or sexual orientation can relate to the hook, "I am Human and I need to be loved/Just like everybody else does."

5. "Sweetest Thing," U2 - My love she throws me like a rubber ball/Oh oh oh, the sweetest thing/She won't catch me or break my fall/Oh oh oh, the sweetest thing/Baby’s got blue skies up ahead/But in this I'm a rain cloud/You know she wants a dry kind of love/Oh oh oh, the sweetest thing

This is one of only two B-sides on this list that I actually owned on 45, the other being "Hey Hey What Can I Do." It was the flip side to "Where The Streets Have No Name," and, for me, paled in comparison. (I was really pissed when U2 re-recorded this for their greatest hits compilation. The new version is much too slick and lacks most of the original's charm.) While The Joshua Tree was pretty flawless, I would have swapped out "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" for "Sweetest Thing" in a heartbeat. I'm sure most of you think I'm crazy, but I never quite understood the popularity of the former. It's long and plodding and just plain boring. This song, on the other hand, is pure joy. I played the shit out of it, even after we lost our turntable's little 45 doo-hickey. I just weighed it down with pennies. Sometimes it sounded a little distorted, but a distorted "Sweetest Thing" was better than no "Sweetest Thing" at all.

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Penny said...

Love some Prince.

Scope said...

"Hey Hey What Can I Do," Led Zeppelin - I haven't heard that song since 7:58 this morning. I hear it on the radio (XRT) so often, I would never have thought it was a B-side.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Radiohead b-sides are so incredible that they beat the pants off anybody else's a-sides. But you knew I would say that.

Cora said...

How Soon Is Now? was a B-side?! Whu--?

SkylersDad said...

I love the looks I get when I tell those younguns about 8 tracks.

There are still songs I hear on the radio today that I fully expect to hear the chuchunk in the middle of switching tracks.

Malcolm said...

"Take Me With U" gets my vote for the song to boot off of "Purple Rain" in favor of the outstanding "17 Days".

words...words...words... said...

U2 is my favorite band and I don't care if I ever hear "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" again.* I fully support your swap.

*But the gospel version on Rattle & Hum is amazing.

words...words...words... said...

Also, "Computer Blue" is hands down the song that needs to get cut from Purple Rain

Anonymous said...

I agree, I bought singles because I couldn't wait to get my hands on the mysterious B-side. And you found a lot of remixes, assorted dross and the odd gem. And finding the odd gem was a MAJOR satisfaction. On those occasions I always seemed to prefer the b-side over the a-side I bought it for.

I miss vinyl! I know it's back but you need a record player and all that. It just has a warmer, more comforting sound than the CD in my opinion.

BeckEye said...

WWW - See, a lot of people would think that "Computer Blue" is a throwaway track, but those people are wrong. That guitar solo (which is like, most of the song) is AMAZING.

Alice said...

even though i am totally old enough to have B sides... i never had any. i didn't own any of my own music until COLLEGE. and by then i could illegally download everything, before we knew it was illegal to download it! ah, those were the days.

Moxie said...

Cool list - how wild that "How Soon Is Now" was a B side. I know I've got the 45 for "When Doves Cry", but I don't remember "17 Days." Once I get a turntable I'll have to check that out.
I think I saw on iTunes that a few artists have set up music downloads that include a "B side track."

Revenge of the Flipper Kids said...

I have a fair vinyl collection and there's something about the crackle of vinyl, the noise where the stylus hits the record and that fun little scratched message you used to find sometimes on the run off track, that just makes records far superior to CDs. Well that and B sides. And 12 inches with extra tracks. And the smell of the vinyl when it's so new the sleeve sticks to it. Ah!

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater said...

I love the Smiffs.

I like that Zeppelin song too, but I can't help but think that if she stays drunk all the time and she won't be true, he needed to find a new one.

bloody awful poetry said...

Love the theme! Also, How Soon Is Now was a B-side?

I think I have to go lie down now.

cube said...

Mama Gump apparently never heard of the Whitman's sampler... where you know exactly what you're going to get.

elaine said...

In my record collection, I have a "one sided single." Side A is Kenny Loggins with Steve Perry singing "Don't Fight It." The label on Side B just says "One sided single. Do not play this side," and the black part has no grooves. The record also has just a small hole instead of the usual larger hole that required either a special attachment on your record player or the use of one of those yellow squiggly things. What was that yellow plastic thingy called?! That's another concept lost on the youth of today.

WendyB said...

I used to stare, rapt, at album covers while listening to my music on vinyl. Memorizing liner notes and so on.

Tennyson ee Hemingway said...

'The Sweetest Thing,' is my wife's favourite U2 song. Like you, she was pissed when they re-recorded it and the stupid film clip that came with it was a fucking joke. But, for great B sides, it's hard to go past many of Depeche Modes B sides. They had some killer songs that didn't make.

J. Hi said...

My favorite B side when I was little was "Carry me Away" by Rick Springfield. On my "Jessie's Girl" 45.

red said...

Your player works for me know. Yay!

Also, while on vacation this week, I watched an episode of this British show called Nevermind the Buzzcocks and Alex from Blur was the host and he is so hilarious and adorable and makes his own cheese!!! Love.

red said...

Ugh...that should be "works for me now" obvs.


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