Friday, 13 March 2009

Requiem For A 'B' Side

I’ve just received a rather curt email from MSN Music telling me that they will be re-launching their downloading operation on March 18th and if I don’t use up my current outstanding balance (presumably by downloading a load of songs I don’t really want), then it will be gobbled up, never to be seen again. Charming.

I’ve been using MSN to buy the odd song for over three years now and it has become quite a handy tool for avoiding having to buy a whole album just to get hold of one good song. It seems that the download has now replaced what were once called ‘singles’ and along with the long-time demise of the vinyl seven-inch and now the CD single, has come the final expiry of that most anachronistic of creations: the ‘B’ side.

In the days of the vinyl single, every new release came with its associated ‘B’ or ‘Flip’ side. Sometimes these were just album tracks lifted from previously released stock or live versions of well known songs, but most of the time they were cast-offs. And it is this latter category that was by far the most interesting. These unloved tracks, rejected from albums were generally seen as ‘filler’ to pad out the release but often they were interesting insights into the nature of the band or artist. Many of them were failed experiments into new directions or styles and offered a tantalising glimpse into what went on in the artist’s mind.

Obviously most ‘B’ sides were a bit of a mixed bag but some bands were very adept at this sort of thing and would offer some high class stuff, especially when CD came along and they were allowed 2 or 3 extra tracks in addition to the main ‘A’ side song. I have a complete collection of Lush’s CD single releases, not because I’m a completist, but because each one boasts three extra and classy tracks not available on albums. I have a playlist on my iPod which sequences 18 of them, enough for an album on their own and a very good release it would’ve made too.

Other, less discerning acts would stuff CD singles with appallingly recorded live versions of songs already released or, horror of horrors, the extended-beyond-endurance remix or, even worse, the sequenced mega-mix patching bits and bobs of all their ‘hits’ into one horrendous racket. No wonder the download became so popular – who wants to pay for this sort of junk?

So RIP to the ‘B’ side. I shall miss you.


Charlie said...

There were a few times (very few) that I ended up liking the "B" side better than the "A" side. One of them was the flip of Lulu's "To Sir With Love." The song was called "The Boat That I Row." It was a really cool song. We once had a DJ in Philadelphia who did an entire 4 hour show playing nothing but "B" sides. He palyed some really cool stuff.

musicobsessive said...

Hi Charlie! Was he ever invited back?! Sounds my sort of DJ but probably not to everyone's taste. My prefered 'B' side is The Monkees' 'Forget That Girl' on the flip of 'Alternate Title' (or 'Scouse Git' as I believe it was titled in the US). Great song!

Barbara(aka Layla) said...

I miss the B sides! I feel ripped off. I just read a blog post about the fact that there is no more album art...and now the reminder of B sides...I think in the case of music we went backwards in some ways with all our technology.

musicobsessive said...

Hi Barbara! I know, I know. I miss album art, record labels, information ON record labels and 'B' sides. Technology has a lot to answer for...