Friday, 18 March 2011

'B' Is For Better - Some top B-sides

Remember vinyl records? Remember 7 inch singles? The ones you could put into a jukebox. Usually with an A-side backed with (B/W) a B-side. Or as the Americans referred to it, a flipside. In the days before EPs, 12" singles, CD Singles with limited editions, remixes and everything that undermined the art of a B-side.

Well sometimes, just sometimes, the B-side was actually far superior to the A-Side. Here's a list of 10. I've inverted with B/W with a F/B for fronted by.


1) New Order "In A Lonely Place" F/B "Ceremony"
There was huge anticipation for the first post-Joy Division release and while Ceremony is good, "In A Lonely Place" is mean, moody and magnificent (helped in this video by Bernard's irritation with Steve Morris' slow tempo). But turns out both songs were actually penned by Joy Division after all, before Ian Curtis' death, since this one appears on some of their live bootlegs. Still great though.

2) The Jam "Butterfly Collector" F/B "Strange Town"
When they weren't rehashing old Motown numbers as B-sides, The Jam actually put out some great value singles because both sides were of high standard. Weller's ropey hitting of the falsetto in "Strange Town" put me off that track, but the B-Side is creepy, unsettling and lyrically quite brilliant.

3) The Birthday Party "Kathy's Kisses" F/B "Nick The Stripper"
"Nick The Stripper" is fairly routine BP sleaze fare, but when you scroll past the bog standard "Blundertown" which opens the flipside, you are caught completely off guard by the jazzy scuzz of "Kathy's Kisses" which hints at Cave's future solo direction. This track shows Cave has a fine sense of humour which BP die hards would not have permitted at the time, demanding music to shoot up in venue toilets by. I know, I saw them... I was at a joint headline gig of The Fall & BP. Half the audience were Nick Cave homaging in their look, the others all had Mark E Smith wonky bowl cuts. The Cave fans were complaining about the Fall fans slavishly resembling their hero; the Fall fans were moaning about the Cave clones. I kid you not...Me I liked both bands

4) The Cramps "You Got Good Taste" F/B "Faster Pussycat"
I love this track for the tease that permeates it top to bottom, in the music, in the lyric and in the delivery. Wonderful and burlesque.

5) The Ruts "Love In Vain" F/B "Staring At The Rude Boys"
If Staring was all Chart acsending tribal bop, Vain displayed The Ruts' other string to their guitar, of really rather noble white reggae. Added to that this is the song of singer Malcolm Owen's confession to his ultimately fatal battle with heroin and it's a criminally hidden masterpiece that always brings a tear to my eye.

6) Spizz Energi "Virginia Plane" F/B "Soldier Soldier"
Everything Spizz did was a bit throw-away, a bit jokey. But this is a wonderfully tongue-in- cheeky punk tribute to he who is the most far removed from punk, and Spizz does a fair Brian Ferry impression. Way better than the A-side.

7) The Clash "Armagideon Time" F/B "London Calling"
I like London Calling, but it's not as great as it's B-Side, even though it's a cover version of a Willie Williams song. The theme and sound of paranoia is common to both, but is so much more held under in Armagideon, that it is a far richer and denser song.

8) The Specials "Friday Night Saturday Morning" F/B "Ghost Town"
Ghost Town was obviously a seminal track for the Thatcher riot-blighted Britain of the 1980s, but The Specials never did a bad song and Hall's wistful delivery counterpoints the 'there must be more to life than this' tone of the lyrics here. This really is a hangover comedown song, but with such aplomb you know you'll go out and do it all again the following evening.

9) The Fall "Fantastic Life" F/B "Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul"
The Fall did honour the 7" format with many fine B-Sides, so it was quite tough to pick one, but I think the jaunty, sweep-along organ of this just clinches it for me. "People tend to let you down/ It's a swine". Quite.

10) Monochrome Set "Alphaville" F/B "He's Frank"
From disorder comes a really tight lead guitar riff and rhythm section. The vocal is pleasingly plaintive as well. Knocks the socks off the A-Side.

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