(Pictured: Boston on stage in the late 70s.)
Ultimate Classic Rock wrote about B-sides recently—specifically, non-album songs that found their way to the back side of famous singles. Certain artists made a regular practice of this: most famously Bruce Springsteen, who had enough stuff in the vaults to stash songs as good as “Pink Cadillac” on B-sides. Even “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town,” which had been released on a children’s album that came and went in 1982, saw its first major release in 1985 as the flipside of “My Hometown.”
In college, we’d put a handful of quarters into a barroom jukebox and play nothing but good-quality B-sides, but that’s because some of us were B-side aficionados of long standing. Shortly after Christmas 1970, I turned over Neil Diamond’s “Cracklin’ Rosie,” one of the first singles I ever owned, to find “Lordy,” a rough and rockin’ song that sounds like little else in Diamond’s catalog. In the summer of 1971, the flip side of Tommy James’ “Draggin’ the Line” was the marvelous “Bits and Pieces,” which I liked every bit as much as the A-side. That same summer, I listened to the Stones’ “Bitch” as often as to “Brown Sugar,” although unlike the others, “Bitch” was getting airplay on WLS.
A few years ago, I did a bit of research into B-sides, compiling a list of famous classic-rock songs that found their way to the back of successful 45s. Some notable ones follow, in no particular order.
“You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)”/Beatles. The B-side of “Let It Be,” “You Know My Name” is part parody of the British music hall style and part drugged-up nonsense. It remained highly obscure until the CD era, when it was finally released on the Past Masters compilation.
“Fortunate Son (live)”/Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. The B-side of the 1986 single “American Storm,” this is a cover that had to happen. No other performer was better suited to capture the almost physical anger in CCR’s original.
“I Saw Her Standing There (live)”/Elton John. Another live rarity stashed on a B-side, this is the smokin’ version with John Lennon recorded during his famous last appearance on stage in November 1974. It, too, was hard to find until the CD era.
“Ol’ 55″/Eagles. The B-side of “Best of My Love,” “Ol’ 55” is easily good enough to have been an A-side.
“Cocaine”/Eric Clapton. The B-side of “Lay Down Sally,” which is also good enough to have been an A-side. On FM radio, it was; “Sally” got only a fraction of the airplay “Cocaine” did.
“Ziggy Stardust”/David Bowie. Similarly, I suspect that “Ziggy Stardust” got more airplay in the long run than A-side “The Jean Genie.”
“’39″/Queen. The B-side of “You’re My Best Friend.” Brian May was about as likely to get a vocal on an A-side as John Oates or Andrew Ridgeley. If forced to choose, I might pick this as the best thing Queen ever recorded.
“Reason to Believe”/Rod Stewart. Another ringer of the “Bitch” variety—this got radio play right along with A-side “Maggie May,” and in fact, it appeared on the Billboard Hot 100 before “Maggie” did.
“Hey You”/Pink Floyd. Another classic-rock radio favorite, this was the B-side of “Comfortably Numb.”
“Foreplay”/Boston. Here’s a real oddball, from the B-side of “Peace of Mind.” “Foreplay” is best known as the instrumental introduction to “Long Time” from Boston’s debut album, and there’s not a classic-rock radio station on Earth that doesn’t play the whole eight-minute thing. But “Foreplay” alone was chosen as the “Peace of Mind” B-side. (The B-side of “Long Time” was “Let Me Take You Home Tonight.”)
If you have a favorite B-side, please share it in the comments.