Black, round, shiny and available in 7”, 10” and 12” format with the occasional picture disc thrown in for good measure. From the first vinyl recordings of the late 40s and early 50s to the current trend of re-issues, vinyl records have been at the centre of the music industry for over 60 years and used by many DJs at some stage of their careers. They popped and crackled, fluff collected on the needle, a scratch would result in an annoying glitch, and the record deck arm would jump a mile if anyone danced too close, not to mention the huge piece of equipment required to play them! But, for all its faults, you can't escape the appeal of vinyl. Records also offered something extra, something that digital music doesn't... The B-Side!
I started collecting records in the late ‘70s and by the ‘80s I was buying for both personal and business use. I fell in love with vinyl from a very early age and as a DJ I learnt quickly that many classic hits would often include a hidden gem on the other side. I'm a huge fan of the band Madness and in the 1980s I would collect everything they released and play both sides of the record which often resulted in a hidden masterpiece being unearthed that would otherwise remain unheard and unplayed. It was one of the delights of buying a record, what would the B-side offer? Sometimes artists would stick filler tracks on their B-sides but for many it was an opportunity to showcase their recording talents. Bands like The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Oasis would include B-side tracks that were equally as good, if not better, than the A-side.
The way we consume music has changed dramatically and with those changes the B-side became very much a thing of the past. The B-side was at the height of its popularity during the golden years of vinyl but there was also a similar feature on cassette singles... remember those? Even quite recently a CD single would often include a couple of extra tracks that I guess you could loosely call the B-side! However, today, in this digital world where tracks are available to download or stream on a whim, there is no place for that extra bonus track on a single release.
So the B-side is no more, which is a bit of a worry if you think of all those songs you are potentially missing out on when buying digital music. Imagine downloading Hey Jude by The Beatles. You would get the single track, and what a track it is, but you wouldn't be able to play your song and then flip it over to see what other delights your purchase holds. In this case you would have missed out on hearing Revolution... sacrilege! The Beatles often released double 'A' sides, where both tracks featured equal billing, but are also one of the artists who can brag that their B-sides, when they did follow the traditional format, were often as good as the A-side. Beatles B-sides often threw up some real gems – I Saw Her Standing There, P.S. I Love You, Daytripper and I Am The Walrus are amongst the many classic tracks that appeared on the flip side of a Beatles record... crazy!
If ever evidence was needed to prove that the B-side is worth a listen, and that DJs can influence record company’s decisions on what to release, let me give you four words... How Soon Is Now? This track by The Smiths originally appeared on their 1983 single William, It Was Really Nothing but it was the B-side that captured the attentions of their fans and DJs. The iconic guitar riff has made this one of the era's most memorable tracks but it could have all been so different!
Here are a couple of excellent examples of how DJs have influenced records that first appeared as a B-side. Gloria Gaynor's disco anthem I Will Survive started out as a B-side to her version of the Righteous Brothers song Substitute. When first released in the US it peaked at 107 on the Billboard charts until DJs flipped the disc and played the B-side, the track then became a number one on both sides of the Atlantic and went on to be the first, and only recipient, of the Grammy Award for ‘Best Disco Recording’. In 1990 Vanilla Ice released Play That Funky Music which featured as the B-side a song called... Ice Ice Baby! In the States, it was when DJ David Morales started playing the B-side out as part of his live sets that the song started to gain interest. It was eventually released as an A-side and topped the charts in America, Australia, Belgium, New Zealand, the Netherlands, the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom.
Another example of how important DJs are to the success of a song is Rod Stewart's 1971 recording Maggie May. Initially released as the B-Side of the single Reason To Believe, Maggie May became Rod's first big hit thanks to DJs favouring that song and playing the B-Side. However, unlike in the case of I Will Survive where the record company repressed the single to switch the sides, the Reason To Believe single continued to be pressed with Maggie May as the B-Side. It remains one of his best-known songs and became his first UK number one.
The Champs are an American group who scored a huge hit in 1958 with a song I'm sure you all know called Tequila. It was originally recorded to fill space on the B-side to the single Train To Nowhere but again it was the DJs who decided that it was the flip-side of the record that they were going to play for their audiences and it was to be this track that gave the band a run of five weeks at number one on the Billboard chart. Though the group released several follow up singles they never came close to matching the success of what was seen by many at the record company as a 'joke' recording.
Gene Vincent was one of rockabilly music’s leading names and released Woman Love as his first single on the legendary Capitol label. However, radio stations in America didn't like the suggestive lyrics so it was left to the DJs to rescue things by reverting to the other side of the disc to play a track about “the girl in the red blue jeans” which became a 1956 hit both there and here in the UK. The track was, of course, Be Bop-A-Lula and if not for the intervention of the DJs who played it out Mr Vincent’s career could have been very short-lived. On the subject of rock & roll music, let's give a notable mention to Bill Haley & his Comets who released Thirteen Women (And Only One Man In Town) in 1954. On the B-side was a track called Rock Around The Clock... yes... that one! It was only when the track featured in the movie Blackboard Jungle that is was released as an A-side and became a UK number one in 1955. It is considered one of the most iconic songs in the history of popular music.
I'm sure you are all familiar with the track Green Onions by Booker T & the MG's. It boasts one of the funkiest instrumentals you’ll ever hear with a bass line you can’t help but groove to. But when the executives at the Stax record label first heard it, they thought it was no better than a B-side for the now largely forgotten song Behave Yourself.
Gloria is one of those songs that has been covered by many artists including Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Tom Petty and David Bowie to name a few. This Van Morrison classic stands the test of time and includes that instantly recognisable “G-L-O-R-I-A” chorus but it was only deemed good enough as a B-side to the track Baby, Please Don't Go that was performed by Morrison's group 'Them' in 1964.
Whilst we are looking at the 1960s I have to give an honourable mention to the Rolling Stones and their 1969 smash hit Honky Tonk Woman. This is one of my favourite tracks of the decade and I play it often as part of my sets but it's the B-side that is the real star of the show. The track was instantly picked up by DJs and fans alike and has become a regular on the band’s live set lists, appeared on numerous Rolling Stones albums, and Rolling Stone magazine ranked it 100th out of 'The 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time'... not too shabby for a B-side! Let's take a moment to acknowledge one of the finest B-sides of all time in the shape of You Can't Always Get What You Want.
Tamla Motown must be up there as one of the music labels that have produced the greatest number of classic B-sides. It was common practise for Motown artists to record their own version of songs from the label with many appearing as B-sides and often gaining huge plays by DJs who favoured flipping the record in a hope of finding a hidden gem. In 1968 You're All I Need To Get By was released. Featuring Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terreli it was to be a huge hit but it is, for many DJs, the B-side that they now favour. The track in question is the wonderful Two Can Have A Party.
The explosion of the Northern Soul movement is when the B-side really came into its own. In 1965 Gloria Jones released the single My Bad Boy's Comin' Home which was a flop in both the US and the UK. But in 1973 the Northern Soul scene was booming in the UK and one of the club DJs, who had bought a copy whilst on holiday in America, started to pioneer the B-side of the track called Tainted Love. It became, and remains, one of the all-time Northern Soul greats despite never charting in this country.
It is hard to believe that one of the decade’s most iconic songs is a B-side. It was written and recorded in 1977, and first appeared on the album News Of The World. It has been covered numerous times, played all over the world, millions of times, and is a standard at many sporting venues and a favourite amongst DJs for whipping up their audiences. The A-side is We Are The Champions, the group are Queen, and the B-side is – of course – We Will Rock You!
In 1987 Salt-N-Pepa released a track called Tramp. The B-side was a song called Push It. Radio and club DJs in the States were quick to recognise the potential of Push It and started playing the B-side. Once again the record companies bowed to the marketing power of DJs and released Push It as a single. It peaked at number two and became a global hit that is still favoured by DJs to this day.
In 1988 I was the resident DJ at a bar close to the village I lived in and every Thursday evening the place was packed to the rafters whilst myself and another DJ played a selection of current tracks and carefully selected oldies. It was a great time to DJ as people were there to enjoy themselves and the music we played. We would often throw slightly obscure tracks into the mix or challenge each other on the decks to better the song currently playing... it was huge fun for me as a DJ and for the punters too. On one occasion I vividly remember coming back from a visit to the local record shop armed with a healthy selection of new and forthcoming tracks to play that night including a song that I had been tipped off by the DJs who ran the record shop as being “the next big dance anthem”. I bought the song for the A-side called Don't Blame It On That Girl, which was in the UK top 40, but it was the B-side that was causing the stir amongst the club DJs and was to be the track I would sneak in as part of that night’s set. I waited for the right moment in the evening before ‘dropping’ my secret track. The audience loved it, the other DJ wanted to know what it was, and I enjoyed the moment. The track was Wap Bam Boogie by Matt Bianco and to this day remains one of my all-time favourites.
In 1990, Madonna recorded a selection of songs for the movie Dick Tracey that appeared on an album titled I'm Breathless. A year earlier she had enjoyed huge success with the album Like A Prayer which had spawned hits including Like A Prayer, Express Yourself, Cherish and Dear Jessie. In the US there were two other tracks released from that album, Oh Father and Keep It Together. To ensure a strong chart position for the latter, Madonna and DJ/producer Shep Pettibone penned a track that was stuck on the B-side. Record executives and DJs who heard the song via promo services thought it was too good to be wasted as a B-side and it was subsequently released as a single. That track was Vogue which went on to top the charts in over 30 countries, become the world's best-selling single of 1990 and, to date, sell over 6 million copies.
There are loads of other B-sides that I could have featured in this article and I'm sure whilst reading you will be mentally collating your own list. Vinyl may no longer be the essential DJ tool that it used to be but had it not been for those pieces of plastic we would have potentially missed out on so many great tracks. Here's a suggestion for today’s recording artists: when acts sell a digital single, what about giving away a free extra track – a digital B-side? It'd be flipping easy, wouldn't it?
I'll round off this article with my favourite B-side of all time. In 1994 Oasis were at the height of their career and in December of that year they released the brilliant Whatever. The CD single featured three bonus tracks which, as mentioned earlier in this article, would be classed as the B-sides. One of the tracks blew me away and I would play it during my DJ sets as often as I could. The name of the track is Half The World Away. At that time there would have been a handful of groups who would have gladly released it as an A-side but such was the array of tracks being written and recorded by Oasis they could afford to relegate it to the 'bonus tracks' section. Famous as the theme tune to the TV show The Royle Family it is a beautiful song and my favourite B-side.
Until the next article... see you on the flip-side!
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 84, Pages 34-38.