Rock n’ roll, which has been around a hell of a lot longer than I have, was based on the 7” 45 RPM single. Yup, in those days, you put a record on (don’t forget to switch the record player from 33 1/3 RPM to 45 RPM), something that only had one song per side on it, and just like the time you lost your virginity, in less than three minutes, it was all over.
The prime real estate was the “A-side” of the single. That’s where the hit lived, and anything else was the low rent district. Nobody cared what was on the other side of the record, it was all about the hit single. Unless you’re talking the Elvis Presley “Don’t Be Cruel/Hound Dog” Single, who the hell turned over the record and played the other side?
By the mid 1960s, all that changed. (Good.) It started being all about the album, with The Beatles, Kinks and Pretty Things releasing albums that stood on their own. Even though rock music had become more sophisticated, plenty of classic singles were released throughout the ensuing years. And those singles still had a “B-side” that contained another song. Now, most of those songs ended up on the accompanying album, but sometimes they didn’t.
There are plenty of all-time classic singles that never were part of a proper album (“Hey Jude,” “Honky Tonk Woman,” “Jumping Jack Flash,” “Black Night*,” etc.), but that is what it is. We’re not talking about the single, but the song on the OTHER side of the record, the place where angels fear to tread.
Sometimes the B-side becomes more popular than anything else from the album (Led Zeppelin – “Hey Hey What Can I Do”), sometimes it gets lost in the shuffle (The Beatles – “Old Brown Shoe”) and sometimes it’s a result of record company greed, putting the B-side on the cassette version only to force the kids to buy the cassette, not the record, because records use petroleum to produce and therefore cost more per unit (The Police – “Murder By Numbers”).
*That’s a DEEP PURPLE song!
“I’m Down” (B-side to “Help”) 1965
The Beatles’ 1965 single “Help!” was not only another #1 hit for The Beatles on both sides of the pond, but it was the title track for their 1965 movie. It also appeared on the album of the same name (different albums, depending on where you lived), which, was the last of their “beat group” records. From that point onward (Rubber Soul, et al), it was about making the album a stand-alone statement. So there.
But the B-side to the single, “I’m Down,” was a rewrite (of sorts) of the Little Richard standard “Long Tall Sally,” which the band had been playing pretty much since day one and had recorded at one point with Paul McCartney on vocals. Touring for the quartet had become a drag by 1965; new material had to be added.
On the band’s 1965 tour, they replaced their standard closer, “Long Tall Sally” with “I’m Down” (again, with McCartney on lead vocals) most notably playing it at the iconic Shea Stadium concert that August (as well as at all other dates on the tour). Oddly enough, for 1966’s final run as a live band, they ditched “Down” in favor for “Sally.” (They didn’t play “Help!”) on the final tour either.) Why? Ask Bob Spitz.
Fun fact: “I’m Down” was recorded in the same session as “Yesterday.”
Another fun fact: After the recording, McCartney opined “Plastic Soul” – a criticism that was often aimed at The Rolling Stones. That comment – reworked – provided the title for the band’s next LP.
“You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)” (B-side to “Let It Be”) 1970
By the time The Beatles’ final album, Let It Be (and title single) was released, there was less “care” about a public image. So, it was OK to put a “novelty” song on the B-side of a single. “You Know My Name (Look Up The Number” was something that had been brewing for quite a while; it was started in 1967. So old, that in fact, The Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones played saxophone on the song in 1967, which came out almost a year after he died in his swimming pool in mid-1969.
Fun fact: There are two versions of “Let It Be” – the album and single versions were different recordings altogether. Listen to the guitar solo!
“All I Really Want To Do” (B-side to “She’s Tight”) 1982
By the time One On One, Cheap Trick’s sixth studio album (and seventh overall) album was released in May, 1982, the band was on the downslide of its initial fame. Original bassist Tom Petersson had bailed two years earlier, and after touring with an ill-fitting replacement, the band added Jon Brant on bass, who proved to be a competent, if not entirely generic replacement.
The Rockford, Illinois quartet’s first Petersson-free album, One On One, produced by Roy Thomas Baker was either a return to form or a noisy mess, depending on who you ask. Thirty-seven years later, it hasn’t aged as well as some of the band’s other discs but did contain two pop nuggets – the singles “If You Want My Love” and “She’s Tight.” It was the second single that contained this classic B-side, which would’ve been one of the highlights of the album, had it been included.
Fun fact: Videos for One On One’s two singles were shot in the same day.
“Thought The Night” (B-side to “The Flame”) 1988
Fast forward six years, and suddenly Cheap Trick has a second wind. After a slight career boost (the Standing On The Edge album) and a fail (The Doctor album), Cheap Trick reunited with wayward bassist Tom Petersson and was met with renewed interest from Epic Records, which resulted in the hit album Lap Of Luxury and the #1 hit single “The Flame.”
All good, right? Not really. Sure, record sales, airplay and concert attendees are all a good thing, but these things came as a result of force-feeding the band songs from outside writers, a slap in the face of Rick Nielsen, who wrote virtually all the songs in the band’s career.
But – in true major label record company style, a classic tune emerged NOT on the album, but was hidden in the wilderness of a hit single’s B-side. Sure, a #1 for two weeks Billboard Magazine Hot 100 bona fide hit single, but was sadly relegated to the flip side. Give it a listen – it sure as hell is better than most of the track on Lap Of Luxury!
Fun fact: “Through The Night” finally had a CD release on Cheap Trick’s 1996 box set, Sex America Cheap Trick.
“Ride Easy” (B-side to “Heat Of The Moment” AND “Only Time Will Tell”) 1982
Asia – an early 1980s supergroup, made up of former members of Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, The Buggles, King Crimson and more – had the biggest selling album of 1982. No less than six of its nine tracks were radio hits, something that hadn’t been seen in a debut album since The Cars in 1978.
But one of the best songs ended up never ended up on the album. For whatever reason, song number ten missed out on the 12” vinyl album. It’s a shame, because it’s better than the three songs that didn’t get any radio play.
Fun fact: Upon the band’s reformation in 2005, the band performed the entire debut album. AND “Ride Easy.”
“Daylight” (B-side to “Don’t Cry”) 1983
If some is good, more is better. The record company wanted more of that 1982 Asia magic, so it hooked its wagon to the Downes/Wetton writing team that penned “Heat Of The Moment” and the other radio hits. Needless to say, lightning rarely strikes twice, and, of course, the second album was a bit of a damp squib. (Whatever that means.)
Whatever. Alpha, the 1983 follow-up album didn’t come close to the quality or commercial benchmark set by the debut 18 months earlier. Even the B-side of the lead-off single, “Don’t Cry,” was less not up to the quality of the other songs on the album, unlike “Ride Easy.” It DID make some noise on the FM dial in 1983, but quickly was forgotten.
Fun fact: “Daylight” also was part of the record company scam to goad consumers into buying the cassette and not the vinyl record.
“Lying To Yourself” (B-side to “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes”) 1983
By the time “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes” was released as the second single, Asia’s ship had sailed. Vocalist/bassist John Wetton was sacked, the Asia in Asia contest on MTV was lame and the band had run its course.
But, on the flip side of the final single of the classic era, a John Wetton/Steve Howe track emerged as clue to what could’ve been had the suits not elbowed Steve Howe out of the creative process. Oh well, it only took 23 years to get the original lineup back together again. Time wounds all heels.
Fun fact: “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes” was Asia’s fourth (and final) Top 40 hit single.