“B-sides” are anachronistic in these days where everything is available digitally, but they used to be an odd vestigial thing in the music industry, as singles needed something on the other side of the record, so companies and bands had to put something on there, right? I was never a big purchaser of singles – by the time I was buying music, they had become a bit passé, and I stuck to buying albums – but they hung on for a while into even the 1990s. Now that singles seem to be back and albums aren’t quite the thing anymore, I think B-sides should make a comeback. Unless they already have, in which case I’m behind the times again. It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last!
The point is that I don’t know much about B-sides, so I want to know what you think is the best one. I should clarify that I’m looking for songs that don’t appear on any of the band’s albums (unless it’s on a compilation from years later). It’s easy enough to release a single and put a song from the album on the back side, but some bands just put songs they don’t think are good enough to make it on the album as a B-side, but sometimes those songs turn out to be pretty great. A few examples from my favorite band are “Charting the Single,” which Marillion put on the B-side of “He Knows You Know” in 1983, and “Cinderella Search” on the B-side of “Assassing” in 1984. “Charting the Single” is full of dazzling word play – “Schnapping my fingers on an alcoholiday / Sniff round a Fraulein when I’m scent to Cologne” and other fun lines, and “Cinderella Search” is a poignant quasi-love song that leads to the terrific lyric “And was that love in your eye I saw, or a reflection of mine? / I’ll never really know for sure, you never really gave me time”. Both of these songs are terrific, but neither made it onto the albums that the singles came from. “Charting the Single” doesn’t really fit the aesthetic of Marillion’s first album, so I can buy that, but “Cinderella Search” feels like it would fit on their second. Such is life, I guess.
The best B-side I can think of, though, is “Hey, Hey, What Can I Do,” the B-side of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” from 1970. I used to hear this all the time on classic rock stations when I was growing up (93.3 WMMR FTMFW!!!!), and when I started buying Zeppelin albums, I was grumpy because I couldn’t find it on any of them. I didn’t know it was a B-side until years later – Pierre Robert just liked playing it, I guess, so he didn’t care that it was a B-side! It’s a terrific song – yes, it’s Plant singing about why the hooker he digs doesn’t love him back, but Plant is so danged charming when he sings about hookers who don’t love him that the lyrics work, and of course, Jimmy’s guitar is superb. I’m not sure why this didn’t get onto Led Zeppelin III (because Plant sings about wanting to “ball all day” and the record execs couldn’t handle that level of overtness from the dude who sang about getting his lemon squeezed?), but it’s got to be the best B-side in music history, right? If it’s not, what are your choices? Let me have it in the comments!