Adventures on the B-Side

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(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.

22 thoughts on “Adventures on the B-Side

  1. Here are a few more. Hard to believe that the wonderful “Eleanor Rigby” was the B-side of the stupid “Yellow Submarine.” “Strawberry Fields” is the flip to “Penny Lane” and

    The Beach Boys “God Only Knows” is the other side of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” but today I think the former is the more loved song.

    Then there is Motown. I always preferred “I Got A Feeling” the B-side to “Bernadette.”

  2. I have one more from way back when. I always liked Herman’s Hermits’ “No Milk Today” way more than the hit, “There’s A Kind of Hush.” It was an A side in the UK but only the flip here in the USA. The song has interesting story that you can read about here.

  3. David

    I’m a huge fan of Gene Clark, and “She Don’t Care About Time” (the B-side of “Turn! Turn! Turn!”) is one of his very best. Placing that song on the B-side, along with his “I Knew I’d Want You” (the B-side of “Mr. Tambourine Man”), was a very profitable financial decision for him. There’s probably a second, related column to be written about (in)famous instances where a band records self-written flotsam for a B-side of a single where the A-side was a hit cover, simply for pecuniary gain.

  4. David L. Bisese

    Excellent article!!! I think I wore out Elton/Lennon’s live B-side long before I wore out the A-side (“Philadelphia Freedom”). Elton had another truly great B-side the year before. A killer song called “Sick City” was the B-Side to “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me”. It’s curious to me how this song ended up as a B-side given some of the filler that made it onto Elton’s ’74 album (“Caribou”) – but so be it.

    P.S. According to Rod Stewart “Reason to Believe” was first issued as the A-side until a handful of DJ’s started playing B-side “Maggie May” instead. Rod’s life would never be the same again.

  5. bean

    Speaking of Elton John, my favorite EJ B-Side is one that is STILL not on CD. It’s the flip of “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” and it’s another duet with Kiki Dee, “Snow Queen.” Beautiful.

    I remember listening to “Mull Of Kintyre” as much as McCartney’s A-Side “With A Little Luck.”

    Tom Petty had some great ones too, including the songs “Cracker” and “Trailer”

    Another interesting post, JB.

  6. Steve E.

    Like Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney has also put out many non-album gems on his B-sides. My favorite — and in fact, one of my favorites from the 1970s, period — is “Daytime Nighttime Suffering,” the B-Side of “Goodnight Tonight.” And another fine one from Elton John was “Sugar on the Floor,” written by Kiki Dee and on the flip of “Island Girl.”

  7. Steve E.

    Oh, and one correction to a higher post: “Mull of Kintyre” was the flip of “Girls School,” which I think was the B-side in every other country but the U.S.

  8. Wm.

    My favorite is probably Fleetwood Mac’s “Silver Springs,” the flip side of “Go Your Own Way.” Two additional notables for me are the B-sides of the other singles from Boston’s first album: “Smokin'” (“More Than A Feeling”) and “Let Me Take You Home Tonight” (“Long Time”).

  9. Guy K.

    “Winds of Change” is the Bee Gees’ B-side to “Jive Talkin’,” a better song than “Jive Talkin'” and for me one of the best things they ever did. Speaking of Hall & Oates, John Hall sings some lead on “I’m Just a Kid, Don’t Make Me Feel Like a Man,” the excellent B-side of “She’s Gone.” “Harmony” by Elton John was good enough to be an A-side, but ended up on the back of “Bennie & The Jets” (a pretty bad EJ song).

  10. Yah Shure

    I’ll nominate “Draggin’ The Line,” the B-side of Tommy James’ “Church Street Soul Revival” single from late 1970. Unlike the familiar ’71 A-side version, there are no brass overdubs. It’s never come up for air since.

    “Cocaine” was the follow-up A-side (RSO 928) to Clapton’s “Promises”/”Watch Out For Lucy,” although neither it nor its B-side, “Tulsa Time gained any chart traction whatsoever. The sides were flipped on the 1980 “live” 45 (RSO 1039) with “Tulsa” getting the A-side nod over “Cocaine.” (BTW, the B-side of “Lay Down Sally” was “Next Time You See Her.”)

    Speaking of “Brown Sugar”: ever notice how the studio talkback following the final drumbeats on the mono commercial 45 / mono side of the DJ 45 is completely different than the talkback on the stereo side of the DJ 45 and ‘Sticky Fingers’ LP?

    Agree 100% on Queen’s “’39.” I was extremely disappointed when the not unsimilar-sounding “Long Away” proved to be a stillborn A-side in ’77.

    Much as I loved the Honeycombs’ “Have I The Right?”, the equally brilliant Joe Meek-produced “Please Don’t Pretend Again” B-side has been AWOL stateside since Vee-Jay went belly up in ’66. Come to think of it, the #48 followup “I Can’t Stop” hasn’t been on CD, either.

    A couple faves which have appeared in the CD era, but not in their original 45 RPM mixes: the Bee Gees’ “Sinking Ships” (the flip of “Words” is missing some harmony overdubs on the stereo remix) and, surprisingly, the studio version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Silver Springs”, which was remixed for CD. The original mix (for which the tape is apparently missing) still resides only on the “Go Your Own Way” 7-inch and promo-only 12-inch 45s.

    1967: Ides Of March (Parrot 321) “Give Your Mind Wings” will melt the heart of any true-blue power pop twelve-string lover with its died-and-gone-to-heaven intro alone, yet it lost out to the Mariachi fest (not a bad one at all, but still…) on the “My Foolish Pride” topside.

    1966: Don Williams handled lead on the Pozo-Seco Singers’ “Down The Road I Go” (flipside of “Time”) eight years before taking it country for JMI in ’74. A very no-frills approach on the original Edmark/Columbia B-side.

    Why is that orchestra drowning me out? Okay, okay. Um, um… Monkees: “The Girl I Knew Somewhere” and “Tapioca Tundra,” Ronstadt’s “Can It Be True.” Turtles’ “Can’t You Hear The Cows.” And the best Strawberry Alarm Clock song not by the SAC: “Reflections From The Looking Glass,” the psychedelic bottom-feeder on (of all things) the 1910 Fruitgum Co.’s Bazookariffic “Simon Says.”

    And about 3,972 others…

  11. davewillie2013

    “We Will Rock You” is the B-side to “We Are The Champions” by Queen. Prince’s “Erotic City” is the B-side to “Let’s Go Crazy.”

  12. porky

    this stuff was discussed mightily by record collector geeks (guilty) in the pre-internet days. Dion’s “Daddy Rollin’ (In your arms),” the flip of “Abraham etc” was held in reverence. Darned if Dion doesn’t set the plate for Led Zep with this tune.

  13. My favorite B-side is one that I have by lucky accident: One of the 45s I got from the juke box jobber across the alley when I was a kid – and one of the very few that escaped my BB gun (I was very uninterested in pop/rock when I was 12) – was Bob Dylan’s “I Want You,” from 1966. Its B-side is “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” live in Liverpool with The Band (possibly without Levon Helm). It showed up later on “Masterpieces,” a compilation released Down Under that’s now out of print.

  14. David L. Bisese

    It says a lot that so many folks have cited different non-album B-sides that they loved from Elton John. The truly amazing thing about that is, at the time, he was putting out TWO albums per year and yet still had all these incredible songs left over for standalone B-sides!

  15. Andy

    Interesting that you mentioned both “Crackin’ Rosie”, which was also one of the first 45s in our house (courtesy of my older sister), and “Bits and Pieces”, which was also one of the very few B-sides I ever played regularly from that very-early-70’s era. I didn’t really understand the concept of A-sides and B-sides, I just knew that one side was the one that they played on the radio, and the other side almost always wasn’t as good, so I rarely bothered with it. Once in a while I’d get bored and give the other side a listen, which is how I discovered “Bits and Pieces”. The only other ones I remember liking from that time period were Paul & Linda McCartney’s “Too Many People” (B-side of “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”), and “Chilly Winds” by the Osmonds, which I think was the flip of “Double Lovin'”. I recently went back and listened to “Chilly Winds” on YouTube, and it’s kind of cringe-inducing in its utterly juvenile seriousness, though I can see why my 9-year-old self kind of liked it.

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