The A-side and B-side

There were one-sided records early in the 78 era (and the odd single sided 45) but generally records have two sides. When 78s were largely for classical music, it was common practice, born of necessity, to split a piece over two sides. A long orchestral piece might be split over twelve sides in a six-record boxed album, which is how the word album for LP originated.

These early split-in-two records were labelled side one and side two, a practice which some labels maintained right the way through the vinyl 45 era. Mid-1950s RCA EPs have a tiny legend “(2 Sides) No. 1” and “(2 Sides) No. 2”  just to check that you remember to turn it over, or had hoped there might be a third side lingering in the packet somewhere.

There was a problem in knowing which side to play on the radio for DJs. Say a producer had four tracks recorded by an artiste. It was dumb to put the two best ones together on one disc, and the two weaker tracks on another.

Early 60s Elvis Presley is the case in point. In August 1961, his new single Little Sister was advertised in Billboard in the USA. Both sides got airplay (Elvis was REALLY hot at the time), and a month later, the Billboard advert had switched to promote a “two-sided hit.” (Both were on the short-lived Compact-33 format in the adverts).

In the USA, where airplay and jukebox play could be taken into account, you have a complex equation, and His Latest Flame reached number four in September 1961, but Little Sister reached number five at the same time (combined, as they were as an artefact, they would have easily been number one).

It was different in Britain. In the Guinness UK chart book, Elvis Presley entered the charts with Little Sister / His Latest Flame (a double A side) in November 1961, but a week later the slash has gone and the record is listed as His Latest Flame.

It’s hard to imagine how the UK chart compilers, who considered only sales, not radio play, sorted out which side people were buying.

We are in a shop which reports its sales to the charts. A is the customer. B is the shop owner.

A:        The new Elvis, please …
B:         Ah! Nearly caught me out there. (eyes narrow) What’s the title?
A:        You know, the one that’s in the charts.
B:         You have to tell me the title.
A:        Why? I’ve got the six shillings and eightpence.
B:         Come on! Which side do you want?
A:        I don’t know … I like both of them …
B:         Ah! Double A side.
A:        Except His Latest Flame’s my girlfriend’s favourite.
B:         You’re buying His Latest Flame then …
A:        Maybe. Little Sister‘s better at a party though … I prefer it …
B:         OK, so you’re buying Little Sister.
A:        But the record’s a present for my girlfriend, and she …
B:         Get out of my shop!

Elvis was on a roll. Next, the Elvis film Blue Hawaii generated another Double A-side with Rock-A-Hula Baby / Can’t Help Falling In Love. The American advert initially went for Rock-A-Hula Baby (Twist Special):

Billboard, USA advert, November 1961

Gallery: click to enlarge

The NME chart had Rock-A-Hula Baby entering the chart at #4 on 3 February 1962, with the other side, Can’t Help Falling In Love entering at #30. By 24 February Rock -A-Hula Baby peaked at UK #3 , with the other side at #9. A month later, Can’t Help Falling in Love reached a higher place … UK #2.

The chart in The Guiness Book of Top 40 Charts disagrees, placing Rock-A-Hula Baby at #1 on 22 February without listing the other side, but a week later combined them as a double A-side, Can’t Help Falling In Love / Rock-A-Hula Baby at #1.

Record labels, artistes and managers started to resent selling double A-sides. In the Elvis example, it stopped the record getting to the coveted #1 slot in some charts … and #1 meant more air play, so more sales.

With Elvis’s next, She’s Not You, they made that clear by putting Just Tell Her Jim Said Hello on the B-side, a recording (and title) so dire no DJ could ever mistake it for the A-side. That continued through the 60s.

Producer Lee Hazlewood discussed the error of releasing a double A with a 1967 Nancy Sinatra release:

Summer Wine: Nancy Sinatra 1967, note the smaller catalogue number RS 20527-B

The B-side of ‘Sugar Town’, a frisky duet with Hazlewood ‘Summer Wine’, started to pick up airplay in 1967, igniting a demand for further Nancy and Lee duets. “Then you know you want to slit your wrists because they played ‘Sugar Town’ for three months, it sold about a million and a half,” Hazlewood confessed. “Then they turned it over and it sold another half a million with (Summer Wine) which was on the other side. So what I did is give them a $2 record for a dollar. That hurts your producer ‘s mind, and it hurts your publishing mind and it hurts your writer’s mind and your performer’s mind. No, the performance worked out fine, but all that other stuff you gave it (turned out) awfully. You gave a two-sided hit. And I don’t believe in two-sided hits. So that’s how my wonderful singing career began.”
Ian Johnston Soundlab

As and Bs

So labels wanted to clearly mark the major side.

Most labels chose to call 45s A side and B side, so as to make it clear which was the side to be promoted. Side one and two was a minority choice. Columbia USA circa 1973 had a politer “Suggested Side” marking.

Singles had the A or B marked, either in the main catalogue number (the large number, the number of the disc itself) or in the matrix number (the tiny number, the number of the track). So the sides would be 12345A and 12345B. Alternatively if its catalogue number 12345 without an A or B, you’ll see the smaller matrix number, often upside down,  which on one side might be 34567 and on the other 34568. The lower number is probably the A side.

It wasn’t universal … a few labels were prepared to let the market decide, or the DJ decide. So this 1969 US Promotion Copy of Your Loving Eyes Are Blind / Everyday Livin’ Days by Merillee Rush does not have A or B marking, but Your Lovin Eyes Are Blind has the lower matrix number: 9121-BW, while the other is 9122- BW, but in tiny print. Given choice, Everyday Livin’ Days was a minor US hit, at #130, so DJs flipped it. Your Lovin’ Eyes Are Blind charted in Australia. Personally, I’d say the Australians chose the better side. It has a prominent A on the British release demo.

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So Bell Records in the UK were more decisive than American Group (distributed by Amy-Mala-Bell) in the USA:

British demo copy

promo copies …

The Look of Love: Roland Shaw & His Orchestra, Decca demo 1967
In 1967, the A was large enough for DJ’s to read. It was to get larger

For radio promotion, it was vital that everyone got behind the correct side, so the demo copies sent to DJs were specially pressed with brighter, lighter colours and a prominent A stamped on the A side. Soul collectors prize the demo versions especially highly.

The coke and hookers were much appreciated, but which side do you want me to play?

Flip side?

There were several alternatives to A / B or 1/2:

FLIP SIDE: Geordie’s On The Road: Ralph McTell, May’s Records, 1984

The tiny Mays Records label used “The flip side” on discs, which was DJ-speak (and ironic, I suspect).

 ATCO had ‘Face 1’ and ‘Face 2’ on some releases.

The BBC had plain front and back on sound effects records.

Gallery: click to enlarge

Another oddity was Dindisc, who (in common with many labels in the 80s) had a picture on one side of the centre label, with text on the reverse. It called the sides sceneside and typeside.  

Nick Lowe’s BOWI EP on Stiff had a Live side and a Dead side, with the Dead Side appropriately containing Mary Provost (the story of the actress who died and got eaten by her pet dog) and Endless Sleep. The catalogue number was LAST 1.

This Side That side
Jordan: The EP by Prefab Sprout went for THIS SIDE and THAT SIDE in capitals.

Jordan The EP: Prefab Sprout: Kitchen ware, 1990

 When Stiff reissued Johnnie Allen’s Promised Land on the Oval Stiff label, the New Orleans guy was labelled South Side, while on the back of the split single, Pete Fowler’s One Heart, One Song was labelled North Side.

Billy Joel labelled the A-side of Leningrad East Side and the B-side (The Times They Are A-Changin’) West Side.

The England World Cup Squad 1982 had First half and Second half.

N-N-Ninetee Not Out: The Commentators, Oval, 1985

The Commentators cricket parody N-N-Nineteen Not Out in 1985 had an On Side and an Off Side. The B-side is Second Innings. For American readers, in cricket the two sides of the field are the ON side and the OFF side.

Holly and The Italians on Oval called the A side single side while the B-side, which was a punked up version of Chapel of Love, was naturally married side.

Then the nautically themed All You Pretty Girls by XTC on Virgin labelled the sides Fore and Aft.

Bon Jovi, usefully described the sides of Never Say Goodbye as Light side and Heavy side with the A-side being the light one.

The Secret on A&M / Oval had Sunnyside Up and The Dark Side.

Matumbi had an EMI sub label with sleeves, and labelled the sides of Point of View This View and Another View.

Cow Records predictably had the Udder Side.

Panic Records put the B-side in mirror writing as for Tom Robinson’s War Baby.

Graduate had the single side * and the album track **’to mark the sides on the early pre-UB40 singles.

Haircut One Hundred went for Clip 1 and Clip 2.

The Cruisin’ series of split singles from Lightning had an old car on one side with info on both sides on the reverse. Continuing the automotive theme, the sides were called Nearside and Offside.

Ze Records had an idea. Instead of A side and B side, early discs have a Z side and E side.

Tower of Love: Dion DiMucci, promo B-side, Arista 1989

Arista were an exception with demos. They thought a large A on the A side would be complemented by an equally large B on the B-side. Everyone else just marked the A side.

Not only demo discs had prominent A or SIDE ONE stamped on them. Some labels didn’t run to demo discs, and as the 70’s wore on and DJs got dumber (AM) or more stoned (FM), so the A on the A side got bigger. A radio DJ contradicts this and says the size of the A was aimed at the record plugger. The bigger and brighter it was, the harder they sold it to the DJs.

True B sides are the ones originally put on the back of the first release of a 45 record that was itself recorded specifically as a single. A lot of later singles (British and American) were simply two of the best tracks from an LP. Neither side was ever conceived as a single, let alone an A or B side.

In the USA in the 1970s, as radio split into FM and AM stations, many singles had the same track on both sides, the A side being mono for AM stations and the B side stereo for FM stations.  Even if the sell-through copies had a traditional B-side, the demo copies sent to DJs preferred the double version.

This evolved, especially with 12 inch and CD singles, into having a basic mix, often called radio edit as the A side and then a dance mix or club mix of the same track on the other side.

A further trick was to issue a 7 inch single with one B-side, and a 12 inch single with a different B-side, or even two songs on the B-side.

Having given that a couple of years, the CD single with three or four different mixes appeared. Then came the CD singles in pairs. The artist would issue two simultaneous singles, both containing the new A-side, but each would have different B-sides, which were called bonus tracks. Yeah, right. It was a way of selling them twice to hardened fans, and also doubling the fan-base take up in week one, promoting a higher chart entry. The bonus tracks were often live takes. Van Morrison was a past master at this one.

There is precedent for the live B side. Ten Years After did it on Deram in 1970 with Love Like A Man. The song appears on both sides of the single. The studio version is on Side A, with a Live at Bill Graham’s Filmore East version on Side B.

In the mid-90s, some CD singles had only the one track, and Demon followed this with one-sided singles (see Demon). The reverse is smooth and blank. This is annoying, and the American habit of putting the A-side on both sides for DJs would have cost no more. At least then if you scratch it, you still have a copy.

Double A sides

Strummin’ / I’m In Trouble: Chas & Dave with Rockney, EMI 1977
In fact the sides of the actual disc are conventionally marked A and B

A number of records were always promoted as double A sides, usually with c/w in the company catalogue (coupled with) rather than b/w (backed with). Reach For The Stars / Climb Ev’ry Mountain, a number one for Shirley Bassey in 1961 or Blue Bayou / Mean Woman Blues for Roy Orbison in 1963 or Lucille / So Sad by The Everly Brothers.

Cliff Richard had done it with The Next Time / Bachelor Boy from Summer Holiday, and resolved to repeat the feat with A Matter of Moments / On The Beach from the film, Wonderful Life. (LINK to my long review)

New Musical Express, 26 June 1964

You can call a record a Double-Sided Hit, but the eventual verdict is from the record buyer. Wonderful Life was up against A Hard Day’s Night in the cinemas and in the chart. The chart compilers decided immediately that the poppy On The Beach was the seller, NOT the soppy A Matter of Moments. Double-Sided Hit was a rare claim in the 1960s. It was considered foolish to dilute promotion of the chosen side. Few adverts even list the B-side, and when they do, it’s in smaller print.

The Yardbirds promoted Still I’m Sad / Evil Hearted You as double sided. New Musical Express listed them separately, with Evil Hearted You entering the chart at #24 on 9 October 1967. On 16 October, Evil Hearted You was #10, joined by Still I’m Sad at #20. #10 was Evil Hearted You‘s peak. Still I’m Sad got to #9. Evil Hearted You has the lower matrix number 7XCA 28693, while Still I’m Sad is 7XCA 28694.

The Guinness chart records combines both titles as one Evil Hearted You / Still I’m Sad which reached #3/ Their chart was based on Record Retailer and retailers didn’t want to mess about with two titles. One sale is one sale. However, just as with Elvis earlier, you can see how separate entries means lower chart positions.

Day Tripper: The Beatles, Parlophone UL demo 1965

We Can Work It Out / Day Tripper was The Beatles first double sider. In the UK, the demo disc with the large A is Day Tripper. In the USA, We Can Work It Out was labelled as the A side. However, both charts, just a month after The Yardbirds question list it as a double A-side (UK #1).

Strawberry Fields Forever / Penny Lane was the Beatles next official double A-side, probably as a diplomatic cover of John’s choice versus Paul’s choice. That’s a true double A side, launched and promoted as such. They’re listed in charts with a slash: Penny Lane / Strawberry Fields Forever is what it says in Guinness, even if most people think of it the other way round.

In 1972, MCA issued a four-track maxi single of songs from Jesus Christ- Superstar (three years after the original singles). Two tracks were held to have charted, both at #47 … Jesus Christ Superstar by Murray Head, and I Don’t Know How To love Him by Yvonne Elliman.

Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA is the AA side while I’m On Fire is the A side.

Born In The USA: BruceSpringsteen, CBS 1984

Springsteen’s War has Side A, with a demo sized A in the middle, marked as the ADJ Side (without spoken intro) for radio play, while the other side is called A side and has War (With spoken intro).

War: Bruce Springsteen, ADJ side, CBS, 1986

Depeche Mode used a large Double A symbol, but then added AA for Blasphemous Rumours, with a mere A for Somebody.

Blasphemous Rumours: Depeche Mode, Mute, 1984

An oddity with an A side and an AA side is the 1991 Simon & Garfunkel release of Seven O’Clock News / Silent Night with A Hazy Shade of Winter. Both tracks are on both sides, but in reverse orders. The idea of both tracks on both sides comes from cassette singles, but reversing the order was a novelty.

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The Clash had a great big DOUBLE A SIDE SINGLE sign on Straight to Hell. On the reverse, that comes under the other A-side. The one that became their best-known song: Should I Stay Or Should I Go. Inside Should I Stay gets A, and Straight to Hell gets AA.

The Undertones confused everyone with Julie Ocean / Kiss In The Dark (Ardeck), by calling Julie Ocean Side A, and Kiss in the Dark Side One.

The Buzzcocks do the same with Everybody’s Happy Nowadays (A) and Why Can’t I Touch It? (1).

The charity single for ChildLine in 1988 has Wet Wet Wet doing With A Little Help From My Friends on the A Side and Billy Bragg performing She’s Leaving Home on Side One, a diplomatic solution.

In 1981, The Meteors (on Ace) advertised a disc as Double X side and the sides are duly labelled Side X and Side XX. The catalogue numbers 74-A for Radioactive Kid and 74-B for Graveyard Stomp defeat their purpose.

My Degeneration by The Eyes (Mercury, 1966) has two B-sides. No one else tried this … unless you know better? Don’t count The Chicken Song by Spitting Image (UK #1 1986). This has “Double B-side featuring THE WET GITS” on the picture sleeve, but the sides themselves are conventionally marked Side A and Side B.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre Boogie: Ty;a Gang, Stiff, 1978

Stiff released Texas Chainsaw Massacre Boogie / Styrofoam by Tyla Gang as a Double B-side in 1976. Both sides say BUY4, Side B, but smaller numbers reveal that Styrofoam is BUY4A and Texas Chainsaw Massacre Boogie is BUY4B.

One of the great double A-sides is Queen’s We Are The Champions / We Will Rock You. Officially, We Are The Champions was the A-side, but Queen did them one after the other as a power encore, and rock radio started doing the same. When Rolling Stone published their 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in 1985, We will Rock You came in at #330. To put that B-side triumph into perspective, We Are The Champions got voted first in a Sony / Erikkson international “best song ever” survey, and in 2011 a team of researchers concluded it was the ‘catchiest song’ of all those they tested.

Moving to 2009, Cliff Richard and The Shadows retro single for Singing The Blues has three tracks, so two on the B-side, Dancing Shoes and We Say Yeah. It’s late in the day for someone to think of using B1 and B2, so it can’t be a first. Or can it?

Dancing Shoes / We Say Yeah: Cliff Richard & The Shadows, EMI 2009, Tracks B1 and B2

Last Night A DJ Saved My Life …

Or in DJ parlance how they flipped the flops. Over the years a number of hit singles were originally B-sides, which a DJ decided to flip, and the result was a major hit record.

Thirteen Women: Bill Haley & The Comets, Brunswick 1955. The original A-side

Billy Haley & His Comets recorded (We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock in 1954, and its initial release was as the B-side of Thirteen Women (And Only One Man In Town). It’s often cited as a DJ flip, but it wasn’t really. The B-side got chosen for the film Blackboard Jungle in 1955, and was then reissued as the A side. The 1955 pressing numbers Rock Around The Clock as 45-86163, and Thirteen Women as 45-86164. The lower number is nearly always the A side. The song was chosen because actor Glen Ford asked his son what kids were listening to, and young Peter Ford (not a DJ) handed him a 78 with Rock Around The Clock.

Elvis Presley put out I Forgot To Remember to Forget as a C&W flavoured single on Sun in 1955, with Little Junior Parker’s Mystery Train on the B-side. When RCA bought out his Sun contract, they wisely flipped the single, and got a further hit.

Tennessee Ernie Ford recorded You Don’t Have To Be A Baby to Cry in 1955, and slipped an old Merle Travis song, Sixteen Tons, on the B-side. It got flipped and sold two million copies, beating off cover versions by Johnny Desmond and Frankie Laine.

In 1958, Lee Hazlewood and Duane Eddy chose Stalkin’ as the A side. A DJ flipped it, started playing Rebel Rouser instead and Duane Eddy was a star.

Cliff was no stranger to having records flipped. Move It, his first hit, had been planned as the B-side of Schoolboy Crush, until Jack Good made singing Move It a condition for appearing on the TV show Oh, Boy! in 1958. Producer Norrie Paramour had a knack for choosing the wrong A-sides for Cliff. Would Schoolboy Crush have launched his sixty-year plus career?

Schoolboy Crush: Cliff Richard and The Drifters, Columbia, 1958

Poison Ivy by The Coasters was the B-side of I’m A Hog For You Baby. Doc Pomus wrote Save The Last Dance For Me on his honeymoon. It was issued as the B-side of Nobody But Me on Atlantic, but Dick “American Bandstand” Clark flipped it, and it became The Drifters only #1 American single. Atlantic also didn’t go with the idea of a black singer, Ben E. King, doing Latin-influenced material in 1960. King himself said. “It’s a great tune, but it’s not a black song.” So Atlantic placed Spanish Harlem on the B-side of First Taste of Love. It got flipped, went to #10 and became an all-time standard.

Bobby Vee’s 1963 hit single The Night Has A Thousand Eyes was originally the B-side of Bacharach and David’s Anonymous Phone Call in the USA. At the session, Bacharach spent 90% of the time honing his song, leaving only half an hour to dash off the intended B-side (written by Ben Weissman, Dorothy Wayne and Snuff Garrett), much to the fury of Weissman and producer Garett. Anonymous Phone Call got to #110 in the USA, whereupon DJ’s flipped it and took The Night Has A Thousand Eyes to #3. The British release (also a #3 hit) ignominiously substituted Anonymous Phone Call with Tenderly Yours.

Bacharach and David had better luck with Walk On By, performed by Dionne Warwick in 1964. This was relegated to the B-side of Any Old Time of Day, but DJ Murray the K (the self-appointed “fifth Beatle”) played both sides and asked listeners to vote for their favourite. Walk on By was chosen and got to #6 in the USA, and #9 in Britain.

Cliff Richard’s Bachelor Boy is a song title beloved of tabloid journalists writing about Sir Cliff, but refers to the official B-side of The Next Time. The Next Time raced up the chart at Christmas 1962, and was number one for a week before the slash / Bachelor Boy was added. The jauntier B-side must have had way more Golden Oldies air time since then.

Bachelor Boy: Cliff Richard & The Shadows, Columbia 1963
Reverse of Columbia sleeve, as befits the B-side

What was the best selling record of 1967, the summer of love, in the USA? Guesses? The answer is To Sir With Love by Lulu, which was the biggest selling record of the entire year. In Britain it was a B-side, to the instantly forgettable, Let’s Pretend (#11 in the UK chart in June 1967).  In the USA, it was originally the B-side of The Boat That I Row. Part of the deal for Lulu appearing in the film To Sir With Love as an actress was that she got to sing the title track. Lulu was expecting a Carole King or Burt Bacharach song. Instead she was sent a pile of dire songs, and so persuaded Mark London to write something in her style. The melody took him twenty minutes and he got Don Black to supply lyrics. The film company didn’t seem interested and just said, OK, Fine.

Lulu: I begged Mickie Most to let me do To Sir With Love, but he didn’t want to. Never mind putting it out as a single, he wasn’t even keen to record it. It was the DJs in America who turned it into a hit. They turned it over and wouldn’t play the other side.

To Sir With Love: Lulu, Columbia 1967
Another reverse of a Columbia sleeve for a B-side

The movie became a smash hit and so did the song, but in spite of the success, Columbia refused all Lulu’s requests to reissue it as an A side in Britain or re-promote it.

Casablanca put KISS’s Beth on a B-side of Detroit Rock City because label boss Neil Bogart thought it a reference to his ex-wife. A DJ flipped it and it was their crossover American hit. Casablanca embraced the change because it enabled them to re-promote a single that was failing to take off.

Rod Stewart’s own composition, Maggie May, was put on the B-side of his cover of Tim Hardin’s Reason to Believe. DJ’s picked up on the B-side, and it entered the charts. Mercury reclassified the song in its catalogues, but copies still had Maggie May marked as the B-side.

Maggie May: Rod Stewart, Mercury, 1971. B-side of Reason to Believe

More surprisingly, the iconic I Feel Love by Donna Summer started out as the B-side of Can’t We Just Sit Down (And Talk This Over) before a DJ flipped it. The British and German licensees put it straight onto the A-side. It has been voted one of the ten most influential songs of the rock era.

I Feel Love: Donna Summer, Casablanca US copy, so it’s the B-side
It’s the A-side in Britain and Germany

Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, that gift to drunken hen night karaoke sessions, was the B-side to her cover of The Righteous Brothers’ Substitute. Part of its appeal was that it was recorded with a natural acoustic: no speeding up, for disco, no auto beat track, no compressed mix. Gaynor has said they’d have done all that to it it had been intended as an A side, so the song’s success is fortuitous. The producers didn’t trouble to disco it to hell and back.

I Will Survive: Gloria Gaynor, Polydor, 1978

But …

A DJ didn’t always save your life though. In 1962 The Vernon Girls had a decent UK #16 hit with their cover of Lover, Please by Clyde McPhatter, followed by a credible cover of The Locomotion. The three Vernons Girls (the cream of a much larger group formed at Vernons Football Pools in Liverpool) looked set to be the leading British girl group. By the autumn, in August 1962, DJs were flipping to the novelty B-side You Know What I Mean, which led to three further chart re-entries. Note the date … funny Liver-Bird Liverpool accents just before The Beatles first entered the chart. The result? They had to follow with more novelty (Funny All Over) and their promising girl group turned full-time into a novelty act.

Louie Louie by Richard Berry is a song covered so often that there are two CDs of cover versions, and an entire book about it by Dave Marsh. The song was originally a B-side, but became a classic under the sheer weight of cover versions. 

Richard Berry & The Pharoahs were popular in Washington and Oregon, and local bands covered their great live number. Covers spawned covers, then you get The Kingsmen in 1963, and there are at least 1500 other cover versions. The Rice University Marching Owl Band is a personal favourite. It would be good to think that Richard Berry B-side inspired all that interest, but I bet more were inspired by The Kingsmen version.

Gloria: Them, Decca 1964. The B-side

Gloria, written by Van Morrison, is a different case of a song generating multiple covers. It didn’t get flipped … it always was a B-side, to Them’s Baby Please Don’t Go, released in 1964; that is until a Deram reissue in 1973. Van Morrison then issued a solo live version as an A side in 1974.  

Because other bands picked up on Gloria, it became far better known than the A-side, and Van Morrison reinforced that by making it one of his concert staples over a forty year span. He had an incentive, after all he didn’t write Baby Please Don’t Go, which is an old blues standard. He did write Gloria

Gloria is a classic three chord song, and it’s easy to play, which is what appealed to other bands. It’s been played by Shadows of The Night, AC/DC, Patti Smith, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, U2, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi and Simple Minds. None of those were seeking an easy song, and it can’t be that easy. I once saw Van Morrison stop halfway through it on the first night of a tour, walk over to the drummer, and demonstrate angrily how to drum rat-tat-tat to the knock on my door line, before restarting the song.

David McWilliams’ The Days of Pearly Spencer on Major-Minor in 1967 has the matrix number  (D-435-B) for B-side, and Harlem Queen has D-435-A. German and Dutch early picture sleeves also feature Harlem Queen on the front. It must have got flipped even before release, because The Days of Pearly Spencer received massive promotion on Radio Caroline, which was owned by Phil Solomon, McWilliams’ manager and owner of Major-Minor.

The spookiest B-side, one that got flipped even before release, was Three Steps To Heaven by Eddie Cochran. It was intended to be the  B-side to the superior Cut Across Shorty. Cochran had a car crash on a tour of England with Gene Vincent. 

Vince Eager visited him in hospital and was told Eddie would certainly die. Emerging from the hospital in a daze, he found manager Larry Parnes (aka Parnes, Shillings and Pence) with the assembled press and ‘half his bloody pop stars,’ and Parnes was announcing the “irony” of the forthcoming Eddie Cochran release … Three Steps To Heaven … and that Vince Eager would be flying back to the USA ‘with the coffin.’ Eddie wasn’t yet dead. 

A last example. The Cars’ greatest hit, Drive. Originally it was a B-side:

The C side?

During the eighties, the cassingle was introduced as cassettes passed vinyl sales in the USA. The cassingle repeated the same programme of two tracks on both sides (so that you didn’t have to rewind) but as length was not an issue, labels introduced a third track to promote cassingle sales, which was known as the C-side. When CD singles destroyed the cassingle this extra delight became known as the bonus track.

Cassettes are most fondly recalled for the compilations, or mix tapes, made for friends. These gave more pleasure to the compiler than the recipient. Cassettes were considered worthless for years … the tape deteriorates … but in 2012, cassette collectables suddenly became fashionable. There are few examples left. People saw them as disposable in a way that never hit vinyl.

Handle With Care: The Traveling Wilburys, Wilbury (WEA), 1988
Actually a cassingle C side in origin

The best-known C-side was the Traveling Wilburys Handle With Care, which was thrown together as the proposed “C-side” of a George Harrison cassingle. As soon as the record label heard it, that plan was scrapped and they were asked to make an album instead, from which Handle With Care became the lead single.

There were a few “double singles” pre-dating the CD bonus tracks by adding an extra single with live material. These had the second single with a C side and a D side (e.g. Take Me Home by The Blues Band on Arista in 1982).

Take Me Home: The Blues Band, Arista Double Single, 1982

The words “free” and “”limited edition” were in use from the start.

The dodgy B-side

The B-side attracts the same publishing income as the A-side, so there was considerable incentive to put your own compositions on the B-side of your single (or your wife or husband’s compositions.) To some old school record company owners, credits were a tradeable commodity. Morris Levy’s secretary, Jackie McGill, was co-composer of many Roulette B-sides, and we won’t enquire what she had to do to get them. Ronnie Hawkins found he had co-composed several songs with a Ms. McGill whom he had never met.

The Rolling Stones knew they had a sure-fire hit with their second release when Lennon and McCartney offered them I Wanna Be Your Man, in late 1963 when anything with a Beatle connection was a winner. Cannily they put their own composition, Stoned, on the B-side. Stoned is a throw-away jammed twelve-bar instrumental credited to Nanker Phelge, the invented name for compositions by Jagger-Jones-Richard-Wyman-Watts. It has excellent piano from the Stone made to play behind the curtain because he was uncool, Ian Stewart. Jagger adds a few words Stoned … Out of My Mind … There I Go … Where am I at? It’s the warm up twelve bar any competent band would have tossed off in five minutes. It got the same publishing income as I Wanna Be Your Man. In the USA, the B-side makes the US London version extremely valuable ($1000 up to $10,000). US Decca pulled the single before release when they realized Stoned could just possibly be a drug reference. A handful escaped into circulation, hence the value. Its high value is weird when you consider it’s common enough in the UK in the Decca version.

Producers were fond of putting their own instrumentals on B-sides, and David Seville & The Chipmunks had “The Music of David Seville and Orchestra” on the B-side, which for 1959’s Ragtime Cowboy Joe was called Flip Side, written by Ross Bagdasarian, which is Seville’s real name. It consists of whistling and scat singing to a backing track.

Flip Side: The Music of David Seville and Orchestra, London 1959

This became a common Phil Spector ploy in the early sixties. The B-side of Da Doo Ron Ron is Git’ It (I don’t know what purpose the apostrophe serves) which is labelled The Crystals (instrumental). The Crystals were not renowned for their instrumental prowess.  The B-side of Be My Baby by The Ronettes is Tedesco and Pitman by “The Ronettes” written by Phil Spector. It’s a club jazz jam with not a Ronette in sight. Sometimes Spector put tracks with a different artist name on the B-side, basically the session men jazzing about as above, and he claimed it was to ensure DJs played the correct side. The B-side of Baby I Love You is Miss Joan & Mr Sam by The Phil Spector Group (written by Phil Spector) which is a jam session with predictable sax and guitar solos … and no one “wrote” it. And it’s short. They’re all short. Tape cost money.

Miss Joan & Mr Sam: The Phil Spector Group London 1963
B-side of Baby I ove You by The Ronettes

When Phil met the Rolling Stones for their third single, Not Fade Away, you get a B-side by “Phelge / Spector” called Little By Little. This is Jimmy Reed’s Shame, Shame, Shame with new words hastily scribbled out by Jagger and Spector in the studio. Cynical? Yes, but in retrospect both Stoned (which reminds you of Green Onions by Booker T and the MGs) and Little by Little sound pretty good. Andrew Loog Oldham learned fast.

Little By Little: THe Rolling Stones, Decca 1964

The B-side of To Know Him Is To Love Him (written by Phil Spector) by Cleo in 1964 is called There Are But Five Rolling Stones and is a straight instrumental jam credited to the Andrew Oldham Orchestra. Guess who wrote it?

New Musical Express, front age advert 12 February 1964

That’s The One by Oldham / Page is the B-side of the fourth Immediate single, Down In The Boondocks by Gregory Phillips, 1965. It’s just a piano and percussion with no sign of the writer, Oldham or the producer, Jimmy Page.

The Phil Spector method spread. Shel Talmy recorded the Spectoresque That’s Why I Love You with Goldie & The Gingerbreads in 1965 on Decca. The homage to Phil extended to the B-side, The Skip, an instrumental with nary a Goldie nor a Gingerbread to be heard.

We’re In The Money …

Take the 1962 film Play It Cool. Six singles were released:

Singles from Play It Cool

Billy Fury released Once Upon A Dream as an A side of a single (UK #7) and put the other four on an EP.

Helen Shapiro, on EMI’s Columbia label, released I Don’t Care as the B-side of Little Miss Lonely (UK #8)

Shane Fenton & The Fentones put both songs from the film on B-sides of EMI Parlophone releases, Why Little Girl was the B-side of It’s All Over Now in April 1962, before the film was released (UK #29). It’s Gonna Take Magic was the B-side of his cover of Cindy’s Birthday in July 1962 (UK #19).

Danny Williams, on EMI’s HMV label, put Who Can Say as the B-side of My Own True Love a year later in July 1963.

Bobby Vee gets star billing on the film, and sings At A Time Like This. It’s not listed ion the IMDB soundtrack, but was the B-side of the Goffin-King song Sharing You (UK #10) released in June 1962 just ahead of the film. Note it was the British B-side, but not the American one. It was on the Liberty label, which EMI had just started distributing.

It was considered fine then for an EMI producer to put his own songs on the B-sides of more promising singles (and reap half the writing royalties). None of the artistes involved chose his songs as A-sides.

Most of the music was by EMI’s main staff producer, Norrie Paramor, head producer from EMI’s Columbia label (soon to be supplanted in the EMI heirarchy by George Martin of Parlophone). Norman Newell was the main lyricist, though Larry Parnes ventured into composition with Norrie Paramor on Twist Kid.I guess Paramor brought in the EMI artistes to a film staring Decca’s greatest asset, which makes it complicated.

Keep it in the family

The value of the B-side to a songwriter is such that many artistes would write their own B-sides while acknowledging that if seeking a hit, their composition might not be the best bet.

Cilla Black is the best example. A session musician told me that George Martin would only book the very best players for her sessions. Sheridan Smith starred in the TV series Cilla, and we listened to her rendition of Anyone Had A Heart and discussed the Dionne Warwick original v the Cilla Black cover. Our inclination was the original, but we played them side by side and Cilla Black with George Martin producing and Johnny Pearson directing the orchestra, is definitely the best version. Burt Bacharach agreed and went on to produce her version of Alfie himself. Cilla Black could do no wrong for George Martin and she got her A sides from the very best: Lennon-McCartney (actually just Paul McCartney), Mann & Weil, Goffin & King, Randy Newman and Bacharach-David. However, her partner, manager and later husband, Bobby Willis, got to write nearly all her B-sides. It’s significant:

Cilla Black B-sides: A financial pleasure
A sideyearUK chartB-side
Love of The Loved
(Lennon-McCartney)
1963#35Shy of Love
(Bobby Willis)
Anyone Who Had A Heart
(Bacharach & David)
1964# 1Just For You
(Bobby Willis)
You’re My World
(Umberto Bindi, Gina Paoli, Carl Sigman)
1964#1Suffer Now I Must
(Bobby Willis)
It’s For You
(Lennon-McCartney)
1964#7He Won’t Ask Me
(Bobby Willis)
You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling
(Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil)
1965#2Is It Love
(Bobby Willis)
I’ve Been Wrong Before
(Randy Newman)
1965#17I Don’t Want To Know
(Bobby Willis)
Alfie
(Bacharach & David)
1966#9Night Time Is Here
(Bobby Willis)
I Only Live To Love You
(Colonello-Newell)
1967#26From Now On
(Bobby Willis / Clive Westlake)
Step Inside Love
(Lennon-McCartney)
1968#8I Couldn’t Take My Eyes Off Ypu
(Bobby Willis / Clive Westlake)
Surround Yourself With Sorrow
(Bill Martin & Phil Coulter)
1969#3London Bridge
(Bobby Willis / Clive Westlake)
Child of Mine
(Gerry Goffin & Carole King)
1970That’s Why I Love You
(Bobby Willis / Kenny Lynch)
Cilla Black 60s singles

It must have been galling that his songs never got selected for the A-side. There is ego, as well as money. He was trying hard and has his own fan base on YouTube for his compositions. But George Martin was right in his selections.

Taking the Piss

Hello: Sonny & Cher, Atlantic 1965
B-side of Baby You’re Mine

 One of the biggest B-side fuck-you’s is the Sonny and Cher B-side, Hello (B side of Baby You’re Mine, Atlantic, 1965). It goes roughly like this:

S: Hi, I’m Sonny.
C:  And I’m Cher.
S: And this is the other side of our record … sometimes it’s hard to think of another song and I thought it would be nice to talk to you … (etc etc)
C: I think you should put down the music before the song.
S: There is no song. I’m just plinking on the piano and I only know seven chords anyway …

Then there’s a minute of Sonny trying to get Cher to speak, but she’s too bashful. Then they say Bye.  It makes Jonathan King’s B-sides look meticulous. Sonny and Cher had both worked for Phil Spector before their careers took off, and learned more than just production.

Variations

In 1966, “Anne Mason with Little Mac and The Boss Sounds” released an answer disc to Wilson Pickett’s In The Midnight Hour, called You Can’t Love Me (In The Midnight Hour). Like the original 1965 hit it’s credited to Pickett / Cropper. The B-side, In The Midnight Hour, is the same backing track with her vocal replaced by a Hammond line. In the UK, with its love of Hammond driven instrumentals, it was flipped so that the throwaway B-side became the A side. Not only that, ‘Mac’ became ‘Mack’ and Anne Mason not only suffered the indignity of relegation to the B-side, but had her name erased altogether.

It was common enough to put an instrumental version, marked (instrumental) on B-sides. In reggae it was normal to put a dub version on the back. The B-side of Dynamic Pressure by The Music Specialists is simply called Flip.  

Barry White introduced a variation. Barry White put instrumental versions, but the only marker was a subtle change of title. So his 1973 single was I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby on the A side, but the title was truncated to Just A Little More Baby on the B-side. It made sense. You got less. It was the same track without most of the vocal, though Barry retained a few sexy grunts. In 1975, What Am I Gonna Do With You? is the A-side (written in all capitals). The B-side is an instrumental version called What Am I Gonna Do With You Baby? (in lower case).

 

The Other Side: The Visitors Ember, 1978

It was still going on in 1978, when The Visitors did a disco version of John Williams Close Encounters of the Third Kind. On the reverse for half the cash is a generic computer-driven instrumental: The Other Side. Guess who composed it? The arranger of the A side, Pat Devuono with the producer of the A side, Norman Ratner. On a secondhand copy the disco-used A side has a crackly intro groove from wear. The groove into the B-side is like new.

When Not Fade Away was released in the States, the B-side was the failed (there) second single, I Wanna Be Your Man, which brings us to another category of B-side, one which became more and more common in the 1970s. This is the technique of using an old A-side as the B-side. There are many examples of the revived oldie on the B-side, such as Twilight from The Band in 1975, with the original 1968 The Weight on the B-side.

Backing Track: The Piglets, Bell 1971

Jonathan King took advantage of the low expectations for the B-side of Johnny Reggae by The Piglets in 1971, which is called Backing Track, and that’s all it is.  He adds insult by describing it as “Conceived, created, produced & directed by Jonathan King.” And he wrote it.  It’s more palatable than the A side.

Jonathan King’s UK Records specialized in putting total thrown-together crap on the B sides. In that case it was hard to tell because they put total crap on the A sides too.

Play The Other Side: Jimmy Cross, Wanted 1978 reissue

The B-side of Jimmy Cross’s I Want My Baby Back reissue in 1978 is called Play The Other Side, and is a very short 1m 41s version of the A-side on piano, with the same Garfield-Botkin credits as the A side. It had been reissued after being voted the Worst Record Of All Time.

Are you havin’ a laugh?

!Aaah-ah, Yawa Em Ekat Ot Gnimoc Et Yeth, Napoleon IV, Warmer Bros, 1966

Napoleon XIV took even less trouble. The B-side of  the 1966 novelty hit They’re Coming to Take Me Away Ha Ha is  !Aaah-ah, Yawa Em Ekat Ot Gnimoc Et Yeth.  Yes, it’s the A-side backwards and written like that on later copies. On the first release that’s not quite true. The whole label is a mirror image, except for the Warner Bros Records title, which was sacrosanct. The Kim Fowley version of the same song also had a notable B-side entitled You Get More For Your Money On The Flipside of This Record Talking Blues.

Tin Can Eater: Patty Flabbie’s Coughed Engine, Stateside demo, 1968

Tin Can Eater by Patty Flabbie’s Coughed Engine in 1968. It is simply the A-side (Billy’s Got A Goat) playing backwards.

The witticisms didn’t stop coming. Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore had an excuse; they were comedians, so The L/S/ Bumble Bee in 1967 has a flipside called The Bee Side.

B-Side Blues: The Righteous Brothers, Verve 1966
B-side of (You’re My) Soul & Inspiration

Less amusingly, The Righteous Brothers had (You’re My) Soul and Inspiration backed by B-Side Blues. It was produced by Bill Medley, and was their first hit after leaving Phil Spector. Medley & Hatfield co-wrote it (naturally) and it’s a generic “my baby left me / I’m comin’ down with the blues” belter, done very well, but none of the musicians would have had to ask what their part was.

Want To B Side: Orange Bicycle, Parlophone 1969

Orange Bicycle covered You Never Give Me Your Money / Carry That Weight in 1969. The B-side was I Want B-Side. It was produced by John Peel. The only words are Want To … B Side but it’s pleasant enough instrumental with burbling bass guitar.

A “B” Side: Manfred Mann, Fontana, 1969

In 1969 Manfred Mann called the other side of Ragamuffin Man simply A “B” Side. It’s a bluesy track with a vocal about a ‘travelling lady’ that could have merited a proper title as there’s no mention of B-sides anywhere in it. There’s a lengthy instrumental play out.

2(b) B Side the C Side: B.A. Robertson, Asylum 1979

Ten years on, B.A. Robertson came up with the title 2(b) B side the C side in 1979.

B Side To Seaside: Suzy & The Red Stripes, A&M, 1977

Paul & Linda McCartney (posing as Suzy & The Red Stripes) entitled the B-side to Seaside Woman neatly B-side to Seaside. The B-side is a Paul McCartney composition featuring the chorus:

More Than An A Side / Less than A C-Side / My Little B side / B side to Seaside

… and it has an infectious rhythm and melody. Not a throwaway at all!

Three Dog Night put Our B Side on the reverse of Shambala and it’s a catchy and infectious singalong. Better than the A-side in spite of its jokey title.

Stiff’s B-side to The Ballad of Princess Di, is Three Minutes Silence, a long (unfunny) argument about talking during the Three Minute Silence. They say early on “But this is the B side, nobody listens.”

It’s Always Rubbish On The B-Side: The Hobo Radio Company, Redbus, 1981

The Hobo Radio Company (Chris Sanford and Friends) opted for It’s Always Rubbish On The B-side for their 1981 single. This is a chant (rap?) with clapping and nonsense words. It finishes, It’s always rubbish on the B-side. And it’s shorter. And it is. A lot shorter.

Still in 1981. Pigbag released Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag with Backside on the reverse … er, backside. Y records from Rough Trade.

The B Side: Tracy Ullman, Stiff,. 1983

Tracy Ullman has to put her hand up and admit her debt to Sonny & Cher’s influence on 1983’s The B Side which backs They Don’t Know. The B-side consists of comments in Tracy’s range of funny accents on B-sides to strummed guitar or vamping piano. A sample:

Tracy Ullman: (Irish accent) B Side. No, I never play them. (long, long pause) (Advanced RP British accent) Yuh, I once played one once but I thought it was the A side. I thought, hey this is really funny, they put the B side on the A-side

Another Boring “B” Side: Morris Minor & The Majors, Ten, 1987

Morris Minor and The Majors entitled their B-side Another Boring “B” Side in 1987. The Chaps version of Rawhide (in funny Scottish voices) on Stiff has Side McA and Side McB.

The Not So Great Train Robbery (uncredited), Elektra 1980

The B-side of Bar Room Buddies by Merle Haggard and Clint Eastwood is an instrumental which only runs to one minute 22 seconds, with no artist name. Composer credit is producer Snuff Garrett. The title? The Not So Great Train Robbery, which this throwaway certainly is.

Do Not Play This Side (reverse of I Want Candy bu Bow Wow wow. It is blank.)

Bow Wow Wow released I Want Candy as a one sided single in 1982, with a heavily embossed B-side with the warning Do Not Play This Side.

World in Motion by England / New Order in 1990 has a variation mix called just The B-Side on the back, with New Order interrupted by winger John Barnes and various shouts.  Later, England Records releases of the England World Cup Squad called the sides First Half and Second Half. Hilarious. The cricket team had done it before.

in 1997, Dweeb coupled Scooby Doo with Another Regulation B-side, which is a song, so just a snarky title.

I Do Like To Be B-side the A-side: Volume 2: Madness, LP, Record Store Day, July 2021

The political B-side

As the decade wore on, many bands developed feuds between the songwriters and the others. It quickly became apparent that the songwriter(s) became far richer than the rest of the band. Wise and benificent songwriters would often toss their fellow musicians a place on the B-side for their compositions to calm the rumbles of revolution.

As one songwriter described it, It’s weird. It’s always the drummer who thinks he deserves a writing credit. The keyboard player knows enough about music to know he doesn’t.

That quote was before Matthew Fisher took Procul Harum to court. The who-wrote-what battle has lasted forty years for some sixties bands.

Part I and Part II

Oo Poo Pah Doo- Part 2: Jessie Hill, London-American, 1960

It’s more often Part II than Part 2. Classical pieces had always been split, as had longer jazz pieces, but RCA’s original specification for the 45 rpm single gave it a length of less than three minutes. This was restricting, and they couldn’t simply press it like an EP, which commonly ran to six minutes a side. Compressing the grooves meant compressing the sound and losing volume and brightness, which in a juke box or record player would make it sound weaker than the records around it.

Never say something was the first, because in music someone will always find an earlier example, but Sammy Davis Jnr recorded Because of You – Part 1 and 2 in 1954 on Brunswick. Ray Charles’ What’d I Say was an early and prominent example of the Part I and Part II single. Unbelievably, it wasn’t a Top Forty hit in Britain, but in the Billboard charts (#6, 1959) it’s listed as What’d I Say (Part I).  Earlier,  Cozy Cole had a #29 hit with Topsy (Parts I and 2) in December 1958,  but that’s the thing about charts. Everyone knows What’d I Say. Not many could hum Topsy to order.

Because the live sound was part of its appeal, and the reason why it ran to the length it needed to be, the Part I and II syndrome was especially popular with live, or allegedly live tracks. Phil Upchurch’s 1961 You Can’t Sit Down had Part 1 and Part II whoever recorded it.

Part II Can’t Sit Down: Bill Doggett & His Combo, Warner Bros, 1962

Bill Doggett’s version even puts the Part 1 / Part II before the title. Joey Dee split Shout into Part I and Part II.

Fingertips (II): Little Stevie Wonder, Oriole-American, 1963

Little Stevie Wonder made Fingertips (Part II) a hit.  It is listed as the B-side, but it got flipped. The popularity of part II’s for DJs is simple. In the live sound, the level of excitement has built and built so that you can fade into the full experience on Part II. Famously on What’d I Say, Ray Charles doesn’t come in vocally for a full 90 seconds in Part I.

Sunshine (Part II) is labelled Side A for The O’Jays, with Sunshine (Part 1) as Side B.

Jackey Beavers disco record on Buddah was called Mr Bump Man (Give Me A Hand) Part II. There is no Part I.

The two records that were famous as being too long for radio play which then become major hits on radio were The Animals’ House of The Rising Sun and Bob Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone, and they both managed to squeeze a double single or EPs worth of music on one side without splitting the tracks.

Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag – Continued: James Brown & The Famous Flames, London 1965
ex-juke box copy

James Brown specialized in Parts I and II records, or Part 1 on one side and Parts 2 & 3 on the other side as in Hot Pants (1971), or even Part I on one side and Part 4 on the back, (what happened to 2 and 3?) as in Hey America (1971). Back in 1965 he was content with Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag – Continued.

That Lady (Part 1): Isley Brothers, Epic, 1973

Artists as diverse as The Ventures (The 2000 Pound Bee, Liberty, 1962), Julie Driscoll (Save Me, Marmalade, 1967), The Isley Brothers (That Lady, Epic, 1973) and The Intruders (I’ll Always Love My Mama, Philadelphia International, 1973) released them.

Oxygene (Part IV): Jean-Michel Jarre, Polydor, 1977

In 1977, Jean-Michel Jarre released Oxygene (Part IV) with Oxygene (Part VI) on the B-side, but they were tracks chosen from the LP.

Ian Dury’s 1979 hit was Reasons To Be Cheerful (Part 3).

More Girls: Moments and Whatnauts, All Platinum 1979

All Platinum released a series of singles which stretched over two sides in What’d I Say style between 1975 and 1979, creating the twelve inch single in the process. On the 7 inch version, the title was “More …” in front of the B side title, as in Girls and More Girls by Moments and Whatnauts.

Don McLean’s American Pie was an irritating Part I and II record, because like an old 78, you had to flip it to continue the story in Britain. In the USA it was an edit at half the length, but DJs just played the LP track anyway. McLean was once asked what the lyric to American Pie means, and replied It means I’ll never have to work again.

Scrap the vocals

A special category, and  especially demeaning to the vocalist, were the B sides that made it big without the voice that was on the A side. Essentially these were either the instrumental backing tracks minus the singer, given a different title; or a similarly titled Part II that continued the basic rhythm without the lyrics found on side one.

The late 1960s’ disco favourite and American million-seller The Horse by Cliff Nobles & Co. is a prime example. Somehow it’s more biting and exciting than Love Is All Right by Cliff Nobles on the A side. (Although this is precisely the same record with the dubious bonus of words). By the time The Horse was released in the UK on Direction, Love Is All Right is clearly labelled as the B side.

Rock & Roll Part 1: Gary Glitter, Bell, 1972

Gary Glitter’s first hit, Rock and Roll Part 2, was the flip-side to the intended main release Rock and Roll Part 1. On Part 1 there is a lot of vocal. On Part 2 there isn’t. The B side is instrumental and heavy beat interspersed with an occasional chorus of “Hey!” – getting it known later in the USA as “The Hey Song”, a popular chant at sporting venues. But it was in Britain that Rock and Roll Part 2 first became an unexpected hit. As the notation on the original single clearly shows Part 2 is numbered (on the left of the label) as the B side (BELL 1216B). Like the even more successful Bony M, Glitter made his name gyrating to a beaty backing track while grunting rather than singing.

The pastiche B-side

Many Phil Spector Productions have a different performer on the B-side, but the pastiche group is a B-side possibility.  Pastiche groups are fun. XTC invented The Dukes of Stratosphere, but that was a whole album’s worth. Paul McCartney has posed as Percy Thrillington, and gone by the name of The Fireman for side projects.

Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonite: Earl Vincent & The Valiants, Immerdiate B-side 1969

Fleetwood Mac did as a one-off B-side, posing as Earl Vince & The Valiants.  

Backside: Ciggy Barlust & The Whales From Venus, A&M, 1972

The Strawbs did it, and they are not alone. The Strawbs called the track “Backside” and extracted the Michael out of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars.

Desirable B’s

One of the attractions of having 45s was that B-sides were sometimes non-album tracks which only existed as B-sides. Their rarity value has been diluted in recent years as they turn up as bonus tracks when the chronologically nearest LP gets the CD Remaster treatment. This will invariably be the second or third CD release with added value to get punters to buy it again. When non-album tracks were used as the B-side of singles, they missed Greatest Hits compilations as well. The desirable B’s are the ones that didn’t get flipped by DJ’s, but exist outside the scope of the original albums.

The Beatles made a point after Please, Please Me of keeping singles and albums separate in the UK. In the USA Capitol just made more LPs by adding the singles and B-sides, but until the Past Masters series appeared, Beatles 45s were the best place to locate B-sides. Ticket To Ride is fine, but the B-side, Rain, is one of the ten best Beatles tracks ever. Can’t Buy Me Love for many people is dwarfed by the B-side, You Can’t Do That. All You Need is Love may be wonderful, but the B-side, Baby You’re A Rich Man, ranks with Strawberry Fields Forever as their most psychedelic recording.

Gallery- click to enlarge

Paul McCartney made a point of putting non-album B-sides on several singles. Little Woman Love was the B-side of Mary Had A Little Lamb in 1972, The A-side has a retro image of Mary and sheep with the title printed below, and the British reverse sleeve is untitled, just carrying the number R.5949. This is common with picture sleeves. Mary Had A Little Lamb was attacked ferociously by the critics (ever a fervently Lennonista bunch). McCartney has been consistent in sometimes writing deliberate children’s stuff, and the critics have been consistent in attacking it. The Americans, shaken by the vitriol the A-side had attracted in Britain, insisted on overprinting the title Little Woman Love over the B-side in the hope of DJs flipping it. They didn’t, and the B-side had to wait for a CD release until 1993 as a bonus track on Wild Life. But then again, Mary Had A Little Lamb is conspicuous by its absence from the various McCartney / Wings compilations, so adverse criticism knocks even the most successful.

Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues: Bob Dylan CBS 1966
Recorded live in Liverpool

For years, the only place you could find the live 1966 Liverpool recording of Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues by Bob Dylan (with The Hawks) was on the B-side of I Want You. For years it was the only official release from the 1966 tour. There are so many Dylan completists that many bought an Australian three album CD set just to finally get a copy.

Get Up Jake: The Band, Capitol 1973
Reverse of Capitol sleeve

The Band (who were on the above) had a typically desirable B-side to Ain’t Got No Home in 1973, Get Up Jake. The US version had said this was from the live Rock of Ages album. The British didn’t. In fact both had the unreleased studio version, possibly in error.

Van Morrison’s uncharacteristic song Mechanical Bliss could only be found as the B-side of Joyous Sound for decades (see Warner Bros).

Somebody’s Waiting: Gene McDaniels, Liberty 1962
Reverse of Liberty sleeve

You should always check B-sides for unexpected gems. When singles get compiled, the B-sides are often ignored (hence the “Complete As and Bs” label on some compilations). The example illustrated is Somebody’s Waiting, the B-side of Gene McDaniels 1962 recording of Spanish Lace. Nestling in the writer’s credit is the name Randy Newman, and it’s very early in his career, though he had written for Pat Boone, The Fleetwoods and Vic Dana. It’s the plea of a soldier serving overseas, a mirror of Soldier Boy. It isn’t great, though the horn arrangement promises quirky things to come.

Randy Newman: I remember being thrilled that Gene McDaniels was going to do this song. And I heard the record and I just hated it. It wasn’t what I had in mind at all.

Yes, McDaniels over-enuciated careful style grates. Most of us would have been content with selecting the A-side as Spanish Lace (written by Pomus-Schuman, and more than a bit reminiscent of Surrender in places). It was a respectable #31 US hit. Randy Newman’s credit hasn’t lifted its value over other McDaniels singles, but that might be because no one’s noticed.  

The Killer Bs

Attack of The Killer B’s: BBC, 2 record set 1989 (LP and CD)

Listing the Killer B’s is a parlour game to rival Desert Island Discs. If you’ve never listed your ten favourite singles for a potential Desert Island exile, we’re amazed that you’ve read this far. Killer B’s is the B-side variation. In 1989 the BBC issued a double CD / LP compilation, Attack of The Killer B’s based on radio phone-ins. Allowing for the fact that The Beatles, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones were unavailable for the compilation, the BBC one still boasts an impressive list of thirty-two excellent and well-known tracks.

In the USA, Warner Brothers used the same title for a compilation which sold so well they followed it with Revenge of the Killer B’s.

If you want to play the game, see if you can better the  B-sides chosen here.

Ten from Peter

  B sideA side
The BandThe Night They Drove Old Dixie DownUp On Cripple Creek
The Beach BoysWouldn’t It Be NiceGod Only Knows
The BeatlesRainTicket to Ride
Eddie CochranCut Across ShortyThree Steps To Heaven
Bob DylanShe Belongs To MeSubterranean Homesick Blues
The Four SeasonsSilence is GoldenRag Doll
Little RichardTutti FruttiLong Tall Sally
Elvis PresleyThe Girl of My Best FriendA Mess of Blues
The Rolling StonesPlay With FireThe Last Time
The KinksWhere Have All The Good Times Gone?Till The End of The Day

Ten from Paul

  B sideA side
Average White BandYou Got ItPick Up the Pieces
The Beach BoysDon’t Worry BabyI Get Around
Elton JohnBennie & the JetsCandle in the Wind
Johnny & the HurricanesBuckeyeRed River Rock
Cliff RichardDynamiteTravellin’ Light
The Shirelles BoysWill You Love Me Tomorrow
Dusty SpringfieldThe Look of LoveGive Me Time
SteppenwolfSookie SookieMagic Carpet Ride
VelvelettesNeedle in a HaystackHe Was Really Saying Something
Geno Washington & Ram Jam BandSeven ElevenMy Little Chickadee   

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