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“But B-Sides That…”

For whatever reason, UK pop bands in the late-’80s seemed especially prone to leaving a lot off of their albums, in terms of quality tracks they’d written that probably could have really caught on. This would be sharply contrasted with, of course, groups from the ’90s like Blur and Oasis, who all but completely abandoned the “singles” format for the LP, hence rendering the B-side a thing of the past. (This is especially ironic since both of those last two bands veered noticeably toward the poppy and radio-ready, as a general rule.) 

Traditionally, as we know, B-sides are just what they claim to be: the reversed side of a single encompassing the entire opposite side. They came to mean, however, any track that wasn’t included as the featured song on a single or on a long player, but had been stockpiled by the band over time for ready issue on a compilation or collection [1].  Then, obviously, the meaning is further compounded by the fact that CD singles such as Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” and Beck’s “Loser” had more than one auxiliary track, sometimes up to four, in addition to the single selection. This, I guess, would unofficially prove that b-sides are really more fun [2].

Toward further unofficial vaunting of B-sides as a substance soon to replace oxygen as humanity’s primary respiration material, I’m sort of in an unorganized way going to spout off about some of my favorites, certain tracks and moments that carve out their niche at least partiall to the point of being “classic.” Part of my thinking here is a safeguard against this “best albums ever” mentality into which we’re arguably somewhat in danger of falling (I notice a troubling proclivity of purported “Wu-Tang fans” to just purchase or play 36 Chambers every time they listen to the group, which is to put yourself at a serious discursive disadvantage in the scope of their overall musical accomplishments). 

I know I mentioned British bands of the ’80s and I swear they’re not made-up: in specific I was referring to The Jesus and Mary Chain and The Stone Roses. Each of these two bands, in specific, lays claim to at least one B-side, or album outtake, to their name, which arguably could stack up right among their finest material ever issued. With The Stone Roses it’s “Standing Here” and, even more emphatically, the sublime “Going down,” which masquerades as a throwaway song about performing oral on the girlfriend but really totes a staunchly pristine set of hooks and melodies. The Jesus and Mary Chain, then, were generous to give us Barbed Wire Kisses: B-Sides and More (which criminally isn’t available on Spotify but hopefully someday will be), a robust wildnerness of unbridled, edgy rocking greatness that’s probably better than all of their LP’s, as a unified collection, other than Psychocandy. The addictive favorite I keep going back to is “Bo Diddley is Jesus,” which is actually so underdog that it didn’t even make the vinyl version, but did crash the cassette and CD parties with an invigorating mesh of rockabilly beat and a nasal, endless repetition of the mantra “Head to toe I’m dressed in black”. Then there’s that Can cover “Mushroom,” which only draws things into a world that’s weirder and expansive, something probably thought unlikely prior. 

And obviously I know it’s just my opinion, but all the JMC’s albums seem overproduced to me and what’s more, over-thought: like the product of the impetus to NOT MAKE A BAD ALBUM, rather than to just groove along naturally and belt out whatever musical cadences happened to be coming to them at the time. Barbed Wire Kisses, by contrast, is like a product of losing the “warden,” like The Doors did on L.A. Woman when voyeuristic producer Paul A. Rothchild flew the coop, getting freed from one’s shackles and set toward making the kind of music they really wanted. “Just out of Reach” and “Happy Place” are just a couple more infectious, rewarding moments at work here. “Sidewalking” might be the best track on the album and poses an interesting situation of being a non-album single — something apparently relegated a thing of the past by the record labels in the ’90s. Are the profit margins higher on full albums?

Regardless, I think this is kind of what B-sides are: they’re like turning a tape recorder on at a party involving Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx and Tommy Davidson. A-sides are the official, scripted and filmed episode of In Living Color, which surely at its most potent could be pretty loose and juvenile, but B-sides are like what happens after the director yells “Cut!”, and leaves the room, leaving any applicable active minds to impart upon the blank slate that is everyday life whatever naive, puerile or off-the-cuff quip they can, toward making crude sense of it all for us to enjoy. 

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[1] For verification of this alternative connotation of the term we need only refer to resident “Mr. Sensitive” A.C. Newman and his declaration that he’s “Got buckets full” of the ilk — whereas in concordance of the original meaning you can only have as many as you have extant singles. 

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[2] If this doesn’t prove the relative greatness of B-sides then one listen to The Stone Roses’ Second Coming, as an alleged alternative, should do the trick.

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