When Bs Should Have Been As

While I suspect most folks can tell an anecdote where they feel a teacher or professor did them wrong, you probably figured this post isn’t about academic grades, though it is somewhat related to grading. I’m talking about the good old-fashioned single from the last Century. Yep, it’s hard to believe that in the age of online streaming and digital downloads there was once was a time when music artists would release singles on vinyl and people would actually buy them!

The most common format of the vinyl single was the 7-inch 45 rpm, which according to Wikipedia was introduced by RCA Victor in March 1949 as a more durable and higher-fidelity replacement for 78 rpm shellac discs. Historically, singles had an A-side and a B-side, and placing a song on the A-side implied it was better than the tune on the flip side. In December 1965, The Beatles disrupted this tradition when they released the first so-called double-A side: We Can Work It Out and Day Tripper. The 70s saw yet another type called double-B, where you had one song on the A-side and two tunes on the B-side. Also known as maxi singles, the initial format was 7 inches and, starting from the mid-70s, 12 inches.

Do singles even matter you might ask. At the end of the day, it’s all music, so who cares how it’s called. Well, I guess I’m a bit of a music nerd, so I get excited about it. That being said, I never got much into buying 45 rpms myself. In retrospect, that’s a good thing, since the handful I ended up were all pretty awful.  Three I can still remember include I Was Made For Loving You (Kiss), Heart of Glass (Blondie) and How Could This Go Wrong (Exile) – indeed, how could things have gone so wrong? Well, to my defense it was the disco era and, perhaps more significantly, I was like 12 or 13 years old and slightly less mature!:-)

Before I go any further with this post, I have to give credit where credit is due. The initial inspiration for the topic came from a story on Ultimate Classic Rock about B-sides that became big hits. Then I also remembered that fellow blogger Aphoristic Album Reviews has a recurring feature called Great B-sides. Both together made me curious to do some research and there you have it: a playlist of tunes that initially were released as B-sides, which in my opinion would have deserved an A-side placement or perhaps double-A side status. This doesn’t necessarily mean I feel the corresponding A-sides were inferior. With that being said, let’s get to it!

What better artist to kick off a rock playlist than with Mr. Rock & Roll, Chuck Berry. In September 1956, he released Brown Eyed Handsome Man, a single from his debut album After School Session. The B-side was Too Much Monkey Business, which I personally prefer over the A-side. Both tunes were written by Berry. Like many of his songs, Too Much Monkey Business was widely covered by others like The Beatles, The Kinks and The Yardbirds. Naming them all would be, well, too much monkey business!

Another 1950s artist I dig is Buddy Holly, a true rock & roll and guitar pioneer who during his short recording career released such amazing music. Here’s Not Fade Away, the B-side to Oh, Boy!, a single that appeared in October 1957 under the name of Holly’s band The Crickets. Not Fade Away was credited to Charles Hardin, Holly’s real name, and Norman Petty. In February 1964, The Rolling Stones released a great cover of the tune, their first U.S. single and one of their first hits.

In November 1964, Them fronted by 19-year-old Van Morrison released a cover of Baby, Please Don’t Go, a traditional that had first been popularized by delta blues artist Big Joe Williams in 1935. While Them’s take was a great rendition, it was the B-side, Morrison’s Gloria, which became the band’s first hit, peaking at no. 10 on the British singles charts. Following the song’s big success, apparently, Gloria was re-released as a single in 1965, with the garage rocker getting its well-deserved A-side placement. G.L.O.R.I.A., Gloria, G.L.O.R.I.A., Gloria – love this tune!

Another great B-side is I’ll Feel A Lot Better by The Byrds, which they put on the flip side of their second single All I Really Want To Do from June 1965. It was written by founding member Gene Clark, the band’s main writer of original songs between 1964 and early 1966. Like the Bob Dylan tune All I Really Want To Do, I’ll Feel A Lot Better appeared on The Byrds’ debut album Mr. Tambourine Man. I’m a huge fan of Roger McGuinn’s Rickenbacker jingle-jangle guitar sound. Another reason I’ve always liked The Byrds is because of their great harmony singing. It’s the kind of true music craftsmanship you hardly hear any longer these days.

My next selection won’t come as a shock to frequent readers of the blog: I’m The Walrus by The Beatles. Other than the fact that The Fab Four are my all-time favorite band, there’s another valid reason I included them in this playlist. You can file this one under ‘what were they thinking relegating the tune to the B-side and giving the A-side to Hello Goodbye.’ Hello? According to The Beatles Bible, not only was John Lennon’s push to make Walrus the A-side overturned by Paul McCartney and George Martin, who both felt Hello Goodbye would be more commercially successful, but it created real resentment from Lennon. And frankly who can blame him! After the band’s breakup, he complained “I got sick and tired of being Paul’s backup band.” Yes, Hello Goodbye ended up peaking at no. 1 but also as one of the worst Beatles singles!

Next up: Born On The Bayou by Creedence Clearwater Revival, the B-side to Proud Mary, a single released in January 1969. Unlike the previous case, I think this is a great example of two killer tunes that are each A-side material. Written by John Fogerty, both songs appeared on CCR’s second studio album Bayou Country that also came out in January 1969.

In October 1969, Led Zeppelin issued Led Zeppelin II, only nine months after their debut, and one of their best albums, in my opinion. The opening track Whole Lotta Love was released as a single in November that year. The B-side was Living Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman). It may not be quite on par with Whole Lotta Love, but it sure as heck is an excellent tune with a great riff. The song was co-written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.

The Needle And The Damage Done is one of my favorite songs from one of my all-time favorite artists: Neil Young. It became the B-side to Old Man, which Young released as a single in April 1972 off Harvest, his excellent fourth studio album that had appeared in February that year.

Also in April 1972, David Bowie came out with Starman, the lead single from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, his fifth studio album and my favorite Bowie record. The B-side was Suffragette City, a kick-ass glam rocker. Like all tracks on Ziggy Stardust, it was written by Bowie.

Of course, this playlist wouldn’t be complete without featuring a tune from one of my other all-time favorite bands, The Rolling Stones. I decided to go with When The Whip Comes Down, the B-side to Beast Of Burden, which was released as a single in September 1978. As usually co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, both tunes appeared on Some Girls, the Stones’ 14th British and 16th U.S. studio album from June that year. That’s according to Wikipedia – I didn’t count them myself!

Sources: Wikipedia, Ultimate Classic Rock, Radio X, Smooth Radio, Forgotten Hits, The Beatles Bible, YouTube

20 thoughts on “When Bs Should Have Been As”

  1. Thanks for the shout out. ‘I Am The Walrus’ is my favourite Beatles’ song, but I have a lot of time for ‘Hello Goodbye’ as well – it’s one of McCartney’s simpler songs from the period, but I enjoy the bass-line and the harmonies.

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    1. I was perhaps a little too harsh on ‘Hello Goodbye,’ mostly referring to the silly lyrics.

      I think you’re certainly right about Paul’s bass part. In fact, I’m a huge fan of his melodic way to play the instrument, and ‘Hello Goodbye’ is actually a good example.

      As The Beatles became a studio band and their music got more sophisticated, Paul took his bass playing to a new level. Oftentimes, his bass part was one of the last recorded tracks of a song. This allowed him to go beyond the traditional rhythmic role to support the drums by playing melodies that would complement the other melody lines in the song.

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  2. Nice idea for a post. ‘Hound Dog’ was the B-side to ‘Don’t Be Cruel.’ Both wound up being hits but ‘Hound Dog’ really rocked. I don’t know the reason the B’s became A’s in these specific cases but it was very, very common for a DJ to play the B-side and make it a hit if he spun it enough. I used to buy singles, probably had 100 or so, lost ’em in some move. When we went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a few years ago, my son saw one of those plastic thingys you used to have to put inside singles to get them to play on a standard record player and had no idea what it was. I had to explain it to him. He later bought a T-shirt with a picture of one on it.

    The Dead have played ‘Not Fade Away’ for years. It’s so much a part of their show I think some Deadheads think they wrote it. I saw Los Lobos and they encored with Dead stuff and then threw that song in. Nor much of a ‘Hello Goodbye’ fan and – heresy of heresies – the Byrds do not much for me. ‘Living Loving Maid’ is a great tune but for some reason, Page and Plant weren’t crazy about it and never played it in concert.

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    1. It’s funny you should mention “Hound Dog.” As a 10-year-old, I was completely obsessed with Elvis. Then The Beatles came into the picture….

      Anyway, I had contemplated including “Hound Dog,” which I still dig, but decided to go with Buddy Holly instead, since he wasn’t only a great guitarist but also wrote his songs. That being said, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were quite a hit machine. It would actually be fun doing a post about them!

      While I’m not a fan of “Hello Goodbye,” especially when compared to “I’m The Walrus,” it’s not an all-out terrible song. Aphoristic Album Reviews rightly pointed to McCartney’s great bass part. It’s really mostly the lyrics I find silly.

      As for Zep, I definitely dig “Living Loving Maid,” though perhaps a more compelling B-side is “Hey, Hey, What Can I Do.” But again, our friend Aphoristic Album Reviews featured that song not too long ago, so I wanted to go with something different.

      Another contender was Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” but I wanted to keep the list to no more than 10 tracks. I believe there were also configurations of the single that had the tune as the A-side backed by “We Are The Champions”. In fact, on the radio in Germany, they usually played both songs back-to-back, starting with “We Will Rock You.”

      It’s funny that here we are musing about singles, and many young folks don’t even know what that is. I guess the good ole 45 rpm really is a dinosaur in the age of streaming.

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      1. I don’t think I ever heard the Queen tunes separately. I probably thought they were one song for the longest time.

        As to singles, yeah. A relic of he past. Can’t even tell you which ones I owned. Personally I don’t miss record players nor do I give a shit about vinyl one way or the other. My personal legacy of vinyl albums is a bunch of scratched records that had 22 minutes of music on one side that I then had to get up and flip over. Going back to vinyl is progress, how?

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      2. I agree whether going back to vinyl would be progress is debatable. In fact, while I’m writing this on my smartphone, I’m listening to The Flying Burrito Brothers (The Gilded Palace Of Sin) via that awful invention called music streaming!😆

        So what can I say in defense of the clunky old vinyl?

        To start with, I can’t deny there’s an aspect of nostalgia. But there are also other more significant reasons to support vinyl.

        Vinyl can give music a fuller and warmer sound, especially when compared to the standard quality of streaming music. I will readily admit that you probably need a fairly high-end home stereo and pretty decent loudspeakers to really take advantage of vinyl’s sound potential.

        For some reason, as a 16-year-old, I had more money to spend on decent Hi-Fi equipment than I seem to have these days. My current home stereo certainly doesn’t allow me to take full advantage of the above benefits.

        There’s also the ugly truth that I have partial hearing loss, especially when it comes to listening high frequencies. I guess I should have listened to my parents: Don’t listen to loud music, especially with headphones. Don’t crank up your guitar or bass amp too much. Don’t stand too close to it. I guess I couldn’t hear their advice because the music was too loud!😆

        There is also something to be said about holding a vinyl album in your hands. It’s similar to books or old-fashioned newspapers – you lose some of the experience when it’s all digital.

        I’m particularly thinking of the cover art and the liner notes. There’s very little to none of that when it comes to digital downloads and even CDs.

        After my “rediscovery” of vinyl and getting a turntable a couple of years ago, I’ve come to the personal conclusion there’s a place for both vinyl and streaming music. I frequently enjoy the latter during my long bus commute to the office or car rides. As for vinyl, I like it for weekends when I’m home, even though the frequent need to flip records can be a bit annoying!

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      3. I will agree with you on the nostalgia/tactile feel piece. But as it happens, this video popped up on YouTube today. It’s long and very technical. But it completely and utterly shatters any bogus idea that analog is superior. Our ears can only hear what they can hear. If you don’t have time (or inclination) to listen to the whole thing, check it out around the 10-minute mark. But as I’ve done since this whole vinyl resurgence, I call bullshit on the whole thing. I’ve moved forward and will never go back.

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      4. Thanks, just watched the video – interesting stuff!

        I guess I should have made it more clear that I was essentially recapping what “audiophile” type listeners say about the sound of vinyl, not necessarily what I believe. In any case, as noted, even if they would be correct that vinyl has superior sound, I couldn’t make it out due to my partial hearing loss!😆

        In fact, from a purely technical standpoint, I actually thought digital would be superior to vinyl because it can capture a wider frequency spectrum. But I guess it’s not relevant, since vinyl captures the frequency range the average human ear can hear. Anything above or below doesn’t matter!

        When it comes to digital, I’ve also heard the argument it can sound “too perfect,” making it almost “sterile.”

        At the end of the day, it all comes down to personal preference, not whether one medium is better than the other.

        What I will say is that in addition to the nostalgia factor, it feels nice to me to look at a cover art and liner notes, which is largely lost with digital. In the case of a CD, everything on the inserts gets so tiny that it’s oftentimes hard to see the details. If you stream music on a smartphone, virtually all of the visual properties a vinyl cover offers are lost.

        One thing is for sure. My rediscovery of vinyl definitely doesn’t mean I’m abandoning digital. After all, I can’t listen to vinyl records on the bus or in the car. And I can’t be without music for very long, so I’m happy to have my smartphone and Apple Music/iTunes!😀

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      5. I get what you’re saying about the tactile part. But I guess if I really cared I’d be dragging my old records out. But there they sit, untouched for 20+ years.

        BTW, just the day before the Super Bowl I bought a big honkin’ 4k TV. Unbelievable picture. Then I saw another video by a guy who explained that our eyes cannot really see 4k .Too many pixels and too small, just to boil it down. (Plus the files are mega-gigabits so streaming is tough unless you’ve really got a fast router) Also we won’t have a lot of 4k content (minus Netflix and YouTube) for 5 – 10 years.

        The solution here is obvious – I need to stop watching these videos that destroy all our dreams. 🙂

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      6. Based on TVs I’ve seen in stores, I’ve no doubt the image looks incredibly real life!

        We still have a TV set in our living room, which the previous owner of the house left, since he couldn’t fit it in his RV! It has a ginormous screen, but the image quality is mediocre compared to today’s standards. You can actually see that, so at some we’ll need a replacement!😀

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