Now that physical singles are rarely released, many would assume that B-Sides have been rendered redundant, but that seems to be missing the point. B-Sides have never just been about making sure the back of a 45 isn’t blank. In many cases, they offer a deeper glimpse into an artist’s depths and what they are working on beyond the glare of the singles charts.
They can be an unexpected treat, prognostic glance at the future direction of an artist, or a track that goes on to trump its flipside, big brother, no matter what, they are always interesting. Their glory days may be behind them, but with more and more bands releasing B-Side bolstered reissues and bumper gift boxes chocked with charming little 45s, the B-Side will forever linger on, like the unknown glory on the dark side of the moon.
When 45s first arrived over 70 years ago in 1949 when ‘Texarkana Baby’ by Eddy Arnold became the world’s first commercially released 45 RPM record, they changed music forever. Kids were able to snap them up for a handful of change and could swap the newly portable rock ‘n’ roll vibes around until they were beaten up beyond recognition, but which time the next big single would be out anyway.
Since then, the likes of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Patti Smith, the White Stripes and a plethora of other huge names have been first introduced to the world on humble earth-shaking seven inches.
We’re looking at then of the greatest B-Sides of all time, and as a caveat to the list, we’re restricting it to true B-Sides (i.e. songs that were unattached to albums at the time of release, so sadly ‘God Only Knows’ and a handful of others fall foul). Without further ado, let’s look at the best of the little brothers.
10 best B-Sides of all time:
10. ‘Evil Twin’ by Arctic Monkeys
For ‘Suck It and See’ Arctic Monkeys artfully explored all that the B-Side has to offer. The A-Side single is a tender ballad with quirky, heartfelt couplets like “You’re rarer than a can of Dandelion and Burdock / And those other girls are just post-mix lemonade,” while ‘Evil Twin’ explores the other side of love’s coin. They even carried this innovative B-Side embracing onto the music video.
Aside from the fact that the Arctic Monkeys have forever championed the ailing B-Side and the acclaimed originality behind their approach on this occasion, the track is also a riot. Built around a riff you could strike a match on, Turner’s wordplay is in sauntering full swing and the greased-up ‘R U Mine’ stylings race the track home on the back of a rumbling Triumph.
9. ‘Green Onions’ by Booker T & The MG’s
The organ infused instrumental gem of Green Onions is one of the most iconic melodies in early rock ‘n’ roll. Originally released as the B-Side to ‘Behave Yourself’, Booker T and his MG’s soon realised the folly of their ways and later re-released the track as an A-Side when they realised that the ear-worm was an era-defining groove.
The songs irresistibly infectious power has been put to good use in a plethora of adverts and film scores, most notably by Quentin Tarantino in Pulp Fiction.
The songs captivating rhythm means its always impossible to listen to it on the move without affecting at least a bit of hip-snaking walk. It is a gem that touches upon some primordial dancing energy in the ether, and it became a cornerstone of 1960s rock ‘n’ roll.
8. ‘Piss Factory’ by Patti Smith
‘Piss Factory’ was the very first time that the world heard the work of the woman who would later be crowned the ‘The Godmother of Punk’. In 1974 Patti and her band a version of the Jimi Hendrix classic ‘Hey Joe’.
On the flip side of this classic debut single was ‘Piss Factory’, a track that captured Patti’s soaring poetry and the protopunk of youthful fuck-about fun.
In what would become the typical Punk fashion, Patti laments the grinding oppression of the patriarchy with a snarling cascade of verbose poetry, spat out over the almost boogie-woogie piano work of Richard Sohl. Ultimately the track is an incantation that declared Patti’s ambition, and after its release, the world of music would never be the same again.
7. ‘Talk Tonight’ by Oasis
When Oasis first toured America, it was a disaster. They bought what they thought was a bag of cocaine but sadly turned out to be Crystal Meth. The erroneously purchased potent substance had dire consequences.
The sound man, in a state of discombobulated delirium, wrote a different setlist for every band member, so as Noel Gallagher was playing one song, his brother Liam was singing another while Bonehead was struggling to stand up. Aside from a cracking retrospective anecdote, the disastrous gig also offered up one of their best songs and certainly one of the best B-Sides.
The story goes that Noel had met a love interest in San Francisco, and when everything was falling apart around him, he gave her a call. It is a phone call now eternalised in song, and the song in question is a heartfelt piece of acoustic pop perfection that belongs in the upper echelons of B-Side history. It’s A-Side neighbour ‘Some Might Say’ wasn’t bad either.
6. ‘Fools Gold’ by The Stone Roses
‘Fool’s Gold’ was released as the B-Side to ‘What the World Is Waiting For’ as a stand-alone single in 1989, following the release of the band’s self-titled debut. The details behind the song shows just how quickly things turned sour for the eponymous ‘Madchester’ band as Ian Brown told Q Magazine in 2009 that the swaggering anthem was based on the Humphrey Bogart film The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre.
He explained: “In the film, the friends go up a mountain looking for gold. But as they go on, they start turning on one another. That’s how it felt once the Roses started getting successful. Suddenly everyone was after their piece of gold.”
The acrimonious tension in the studio at the time translated into a beast of a track. It is truly original in both its scope and production, and it rightfully became one of the band’s biggest hits. This humble B-Side has soundtracked a thousand nights out and will no doubt continue to do so.
5. ‘How Soon Is Now?’ by The Smiths
At the peak of their powers, The Smiths were churning out indie hits at such a productive rate that when ‘William, It Was Really Nothing’ was released as a single in 1984, it was backed by both ‘How Soon Is Now’ and ‘Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want’.
In 2007 Johnny Marr told Uncut that he thought ‘How Soon is Now?’ was “possibly [the Smiths’] most enduring record. It’s most people’s favourite, I think,” he declared.
He may well be the right; the track’s post-night-out sadness has graced a million kitchens in its swooning hue of blue. Marr’s trademark tremolo is in full effect, and Morrisey’s miserable wordplay saunters over the top, swinging a wilting bouquet. Perhaps the record’s most remarkable feat is that it escapes insular oblivion behind the song and has somehow managed to worm its way onto a thousand indie dancefloor playlists.
4. ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ by The Rolling Stones
Before appearing on Let It Bleed, ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ had to brave the murky realm of the B-Side before finding itself a home. The track was originally released as the B-Side to ‘Honky Tonk Woman’, another single without an album home, and it failed to chart upon release. It was later reworked for the album closer, and the rest, as they say, is history.
In Bret Easton Ellis’s novel American Psycho, the murderous Wall St. protagonist Patrick Bateman describes this as the saddest song of all time. Yet he seems to think The Beatles recorded it.
However, the truth of the matter is that the Stones were directly influenced by the choral arrangements on ‘Hey Jude’. This is their soaring replication that shows that sometimes changing someone else’s idea is a handy replacement coming up with your own.
3. ‘Silver Springs’ by Fleetwood Mac
One of the added benefits to B-Sides back in the day was that a standard album was limited to around 45 minutes of audio. That was simply all you could fit on a standard 12 inches worth of vinyl, thus unless the record label was willing to foot the sizable bill of a double-album, many tracks sadly ended up on the cutting room floor.
Whilst you’d be a fool to mess with whatever magic is at play on Rumours, Stevie Nicks’ ‘Silver Springs’ is one of the few songs ever written that could certainly be in contention to make a substitute appearance, at least. In the end, it came down to a straight shoot-out with ‘I Don’t Want to Know’, and the rest is history. As the album’s co-producer Richard Dashut once said, “the best song that never made it to a record album”.
The song itself is yet another silver lining to the sad Nick / Buckingham break-up. “I’ll follow you down till the sound of my voice will haunt you.” In 2009, she told Rolling Stone: “It was me realising that Lindsey was going to haunt me for the rest of my life, and he has.”
2. ‘Positively 4th Street’ by Bob Dylan
In fairness, Positively 4th Street was intended as an A-Side and only found itself usurped by ‘Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?’ as an error while printing, thus fate has sealed its place on this list, and we can all be glad of it because it’s one of Dylan’s greatest songs of all time. Regardless of the printing error, this song goes to show the power of a 45.
By modern standards, it seems incredulous that a song of this quality could go without an album home, but back in Dylan’s pomp, he was pumping out classic after classic for fun, and a new little seven inch from the master would have been a nice little way to spend some loose change.
The song itself is the twin brother of ‘Like A Rolling Stone’. It packs all the same punch and caustic acerbic wit, riding along on a slightly sweeter organ tone. The gem in the crown of this piece of folk-rock perfection is the very last verse, perhaps one of the best break-up verses ever penned, “I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes / And just for that one moment I could be you / Yes, I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes / You’d know what a drag it is to see you.”
1. ‘Hound Dog’ by Elvis Presley
‘Hound Dog’ is a song that it would be impossible to imagine music without. For those around upon its release, the song was no doubt ground-breaking, but for everyone thereafter, it has become the eponymous piece of hip-shaking rock ‘n’ roll.
In 1956, The King’s pumped-up version of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s classic standard, back the A-Side of ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ and changed the face of pop-culture.
The greased-up songsmith tears banality asunder in under two and a half minutes, catapulting this humble B-Side to the rarefied realm of icon status. For a simple piece of 12 bar blues, few songs have had as much of an impact on rock ‘n’ roll. It has permeated culture from featuring in Forrest Gump to inspiring The Beatles, and it has achieved quite simply by being a sonic injection of adrenalised fun.