Besides!

The Jesus and Mary Chain – Something I Can’t Have

Once upon a time, when physical media still roamed the earth, there were A-sides and B-sides.

For the yoots: the A-side of a vinyl or cassette single would contain the song the band or their label was trying to promote. It was, or they hoped it would be, the “hit”. The flip B-side was free space to be filled.

CD singles didn’t have the same space limitations nor “sides”, but largely continued to observe these traditional conventions.

Sometimes for the B-sides, they’d just repeat the A-side again; maybe it’d be a live or remixed or alternate take. Or they would use that real estate as a clearinghouse for odds & ends – experiments that didn’t quite pan out, new directions the artist wanted to try, covers and piss-takes, songs that just didn’t fit anywhere else.

And occasionally, that B-side was a hidden treasure; as good or even better than the A-side. This was like getting to the bottom of the cereal box expecting a set of crappy plastic fake X-ray glasses, and instead finding an exquisite antique loupe.

“Something I Can’t Have” is a great bit of late-period JAMC noise-pop, an excellent example of their Beach-Boys-wired-on-cheap-biker-speed shtick. It’s a frosty milkshake of hilariously-adolescent bad attitude and melodic carefree doot-doot-doo’s.

“Why’d You Want Me” is those same hooligans in gentler, mostly acoustic, reflective-prodigal-son mode, expressing wonder that their poor willfully-debauched delinquent selves could ever be worthy of love. The 2-chord cycling repetitive drone is naggingly catchy and appropriately blues/gospel-evoking, with its classic theme of a sinner’s unlikely redemption:

The Jesus and Mary Chain – Why’d You Want Me

Both tracks can be found on the compilation The Sound of Speed.

*****

Here’s one of my favorite B-sides ever.

“Lovesong” was The Cure’s biggest US hit. Whether through overplay and endless covers, or just personal taste, I find it a little bit simplistic and treacly. It’s not a bad song, exactly, but if I never hear it again it’ll be OK.

But its B-side “2 Late” is a different story; that the band was capable of basically throwing away songs like this as B-sides, so late into their career, is astonishing to me.

I love everything about it: the brief stuttering machine gun snare fill that starts the song and periodically repeats throughout, acting as its own riff or hook (drummer Boris Williams pulled a similar “fills as hooks” trick on earlier tracks like “Inbetween Days” and “Just Like Heaven”); the melodic bass and warm smeary production, with characteristically tasteful keyboards bleeding into the wistful guitars; Robert Smith’s stream-of-consciousness “lost love” lyric, which tosses out impressionistic imagery and surrealistic wordplay in a slurry tumble.

And that’s all before you get to 2:05 – where many singers would shift upwards in key to emphasize the emotional climax, Smith instead drops his vocal down to a lower register and simply repeats the first verse, almost like he’s mumbling it; while the chiming dual guitar lines climb from the murk, twining beautifully around each other high overhead until everything crashes too soon to its end on a suspended chord.

It’s an embarrassment of riches in miniature, and a phenomenal pop song:

The Cure – 2 Late

What’s your favorite B-side?

And in the digital age, are there any hidden treasures any more?

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92 thoughts on “Besides!

  1. I bought the naughty song that Nine Inch Nails did on cd and was amazed to find that it had, like, EIGHT DIFFERENT VERSIONS OF THE SONG.

    And then I looked for more and found that, yeah, he tends to do that with his CD singles. It’s like he’s saying “you want to see snapshots of the creative process? Here are the 7 versions I didn’t put on the album.”

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    • A friend of mine interviewed with Reznor, for a job basically providing textures and stuff (my friend apparently had some desirable and rare analogue gear). He didn’t get the job, but was very complimentary of Reznor as a person.

      Reznor asked my friend if he was a NIN fan, and my friend truthfully answered, “no, not really.” He said Reznor was very gracious, and said that he considered that a plus, he didn’t want someone to come in and do the same old stuff, the whole point was to bring in new ideas etc.

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      • Hey, we’re talking about nice family-friendly entertainment here – like Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer”, the only pop hit I am aware of to feature the chorus “I want to fish you like an animal” – not some SMUT from Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell!

        (that’s her birth name. I have a friend who was born to hippies that has one that’s at least that long, and far weirder).

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    • I’m Down, which was the B-side of Help, and is my second-favorite obscure Beatles song of all time.

      You left out one other use of the B-side, which occurs on some of the early Kinks singles. The producer has them record some crappy thing he wrote himself (often a public domain tune with some new lyrics) so he can get composer royalties.

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      • How can you laugh when you know I’m down?

        While “I’m Down” is a true B side in that it was never on a 45 until 1976, I disagree that it is obscure; Paul led off his set in the Concert for New York City with it. Plus, Aerosmith covered it.

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      • I think you mean “never on an LP”. LPs were 12-inch 33 RPM albums, with a half-hour or so of music on each side. A single was a 7-inch 45 RPM record with a big hole in the middle, and usually just one song on a side. (There’s another term gone from the lexicon: sides. ) I’m Down was first released on a 45, and wasn’t on an LP until years later.

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      • In 80’s – 90’s dance music at least, 12-inch singles (at either 45 or 33) were common. Better sound quality, and easier for DJ’s to manipulate, than 7-inches.

        [Please place all jokes about “DJ’s manipulating their 7-inches” here]

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      • Obscure for a Beatles song, which is different from obscure in any absolute sense. Compared to Help, or A Hard Day’s Night, or Let it Be, or Something, or Please Please Me, or Hey Jude, or Eight Days a Week, or While My Guitar Softly Weeps, or All My Loving, or I Wanna Hold Your Hand, or You Never Give Me Your Money, or Ballad of John and Yoko, or I Saw Her Standing There, or I Should Have Known Better, or Ticket to Ride, or Yellow Submarine, or Revolution, or I am the Walrus, or All You Need is Love, or The Long and Winding Road, or Across the Universe, it’s obscure.

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    • 1) The line in “I Am the Walrus” is “Goo goo g’joob”, while the line in “Mrs. Robinson” is “Koo-koo-ka-choo”.

      2) I realize that “I Am the Walrus” was on Magical Mystery Tour, but those B sides that were NOT on a 45 were compiled and re-released in the US as Past Masters in 1988.

      3) Much like B side has left the lexicon, so has B movie.

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    • The Beatles probably have the most incredible B-side line-up in rock history. Looking through that list it seems like they were specifically not using B-sides to put out ods and sods but rather to pick the best “deep” song on the album to complement the pop candy A-side. Of course, my favorite happens to be the exception to this that is “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)” especially given how absolutely incongruous it is to to the A-side “Let It Be”. The Past Masters vol. 2 album which ended up collecting many of these B-sides for American release also happens to be the first compact disc I ever bought.

      Though no longer in “singles” territory, my favorite Side A to Side B transition has to be The Velvet Underground self-titled album which ends side A with the gorgeously pleading “Jesus” and beings side B with the sneering jangle of “Beginning to See the Light”, capturing an entire rock-bottom to relapse cycle with amazing economy. In my naive college days we joked that this song-set soundtracks the transition from Saturday morning hang-over (I’ll never drink again) to Saturday evening boozing (one drink won’t kill me, or two) though I imagine Lou Reed was writing about something other than Dubra Vodka. Squash those two songs together on a single side and the economy becomes calculating, the honesty of “Jesus” immediately dispelled. But force the listener to realize the side is over, get up, flip the record, and reset the needle and both songs retain their individual integrity while also being a statement together.

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      • RE: flipping the records.

        I love Chromatics’ most recent full-length (Kill for Love) but I found on CD that it really blurred together (it’s LONG).

        I picked up the 2xLP vinyl, and realized he must have always intended the album to be split into 4 “suites” or movements – the whole thing just snapped into focus with the “breaks” in the right spots.

        I went from thinking “this is really good, but maybe not as good as the last one” to “this is genius“.

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      • I also thought Kill for Love was overwrought and will have to check it out in the way you advise. I would love to find a Spotify track that just has the (needle reset, record flip, needle down) sound effect and just insert one or three of those into a custom playlist to simulate the process.

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      • hey, that’s a good idea. You should sell that to them!

        The other internet function I would like is some way to do an album listening party online. I’ve been pondering it – Google hangout, and everybody presses “play” on the Youtube video at the same time? But what happens when somebody’s connection hangs? Maybe Spotify would be better, it hasn’t hung on me yet, except I am unsure if everyone would get interrupted by the ads at the same time – and I assume paying customers wouldn’t get interrupted by ads at all. It’s perhaps irrationally-important to me that everyone stays in sync.

        Ideas?

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      • Have you checked out turntable.fm? They allow you to create a room and assign DJ’s that take turns queuing up a single track and everyone in the “room” hears the track. They have a very large library of music (not sure from where) and they also allow you to upload mp3s seamlessly. There’s chat and song ratings as well.

        Alternatively, I believe Google Hangouts has a YouTube plug-in that automatically stays in sync for everyone if the initiator hits play/pause. This is how my friends and I watched the presidential debates allowing us to pause the stream and toss in a charming bon mot.

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  2. I used to grab a lot of good live versions off of b sides and eps back in my college radio days. That was the only reason to keep the singles and other odd releases around.

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  3. I inherited a stack of ’45s from my brother that I used to listen to as a kid (this was in the ’60s). My favorite B-side was the other side of Paul McCartney and Wings “Band on the Run”, a song called “2525”. Still like it better than the A-side.

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  4. I should probably be laughed out of the comments for this, but you know who was a great band for B-sides? U2. The B-side of “Desire” was a gem with Billy Preston playing organ and singing called “Hallelujah Here She Comes.” I don’t remember whether “Spanish Eyes” was a B-side, and it got AirPlay aplenty on late 80s/early 90s rock radio in Texas, but I doubt it was an album track, and it was a great rocknroll song. U2 put everything they had into being a “great” band, but produced some of their best stuff when they weren’t swinging for the fences.

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    • I don’t know when or why U2 became such a band people felt they needed to apologize for, but you’ll get no guff from me. Up through Zooropa they were rarely less than interesting. I don’t know why, but I am far more inclined to forgive “pretentious” in UK or European rockers than I am American ones. I liked the B-side for “One”:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9JyRMD_iHs4&hd=1

      These weren’t technically “B-sides”, since they were on the Wide Awake in America EP, but I liked “Three Sunrises” and “Love Comes Tumbling” (though they WERE on its B-side, and I think other versions of the latter song have appeared as single B-sides):

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHtTZWenNlU&hd=1

      “Trash, Trampoline and the Party Girl” was the b-side to “A Celebration” (whose embarrassing video I won’t link – hmmmm…maybe THAT’S why people feel they must apologize for U2):

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      • “I don’t know when or why U2 became such a band people felt they needed to apologize for, but you’ll get no guff from me. Up through Zooropa they were rarely less than interesting.”

        May God bless and keep you for your correctness here. In fact, Zooropa is a great record.

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      • I’ve defended Zooropa around these parts before, and will do so again. A far stranger and better record than its reputation as an odds-and-ends suggests. They were never again so daring, and it’s got a real mood to it.

        I won’t say Zooropa‘s quite in this league, but you know another odds-and-ends album that’s better than most other bands’ real albums? Sticky Fingers. Hell, it’s better than most other STONES albums, and yes, I include Exile in that statement.

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      • I’m not an especially big fan of U2, but from what I understand Zooropa comes up short mostly because it followed Achtung Baby, which was a masterpiece.

        Their next great album, IMHO, was All That You Can’t Leave Behind which was almost 9 years after Achtung Baby.

        Speaking of Achtung Baby I was shocked that they didn’t have a number 1 off of that album in the US. Anyone want to guess what song peaked at number 9?

        In fact, U2 hasn’t has a number 1 song in the US since “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” on Aug8 1987. This didn’t come as a big suprise, but looking at the numbers it is obvious that U2 is MUCH more popular in the Commonwealth than they are in the US.

        FunFact: The video for “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” was filmed in the Astrodome, at a time when it had no football tenants, either pro or college.

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  5. I don’t know if it was a B-side or not since I didn’t buy music when i was young, and when I did start, CDs were pretty much the norm, but I loved the Cure’s Distintigration-all of it, but especially Facination Street, Prayers for Rain, and The same deep waters as you. Frickin’ awesome.

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    • It’s a lot to wade through, but if you like the band, Cure was often really great on B-sides – they were just really prolific and varied. The “Just Like Heaven” cassingle had two terrific B-sides: “Breathe” and “A Chain of Flowers” (which was also on “Catch”):

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CEfFVJFQUTs&hd=1

      The second side of the cassette version of the Standing on a Beach singles compilation collected B-sides; while I imagine you can’t find that any more (and may not have a tape player if you did) they are also collected on the 4-disc (!) Join The Dots B-sides/rarities comp, of which the first 2 discs are very worthwhile, and the last two (IMO) not as much.

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  6. American Music Club has pursued a nightmarish career path* while putting out wonderfully overwrought music (late example here, ignoring the overly earnest fan video), had great B-sides with epic titles, like “In My Role As The Most Hated Singer In The Local Underground Music Scene.”

    * Truthfully, they fell at the first hurdle when they picked that name.

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      • Oh man, Stephen Merritt ought to be in jail. Does that guy even know what a B-side is? He puts out triple albums every year, every song being awesome.

        Say, that reminds me. Guided By Voices. Absolutely insane prolificity coupled with uniformly high quality. They put out 30-song albums, then toss out B-sides like “I’ll Name You The Flame That Cries”, a two-and-a-half minute song that seems as involved as “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

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      • The kind of people who don’t like Morrissey’s singing are the kind of people who think “Desperado” is a better movie than “The Three Amigos.” You know, people that think they know what they’re talking about, but are generally full of shit.

        Actually, I’m listening to “Jeane” now, and you are a kinder man than I for your warning. That is very Morrissey, and I say that as a fella that has sung “Hairdresser On Fire” in its entirety, under a hail of flashlight blows.

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      • Well, I compiled my Guided By Voices collection the old-fashioned way, by scouring record shops and buying everything I could afford (and with GBV, it was very affordable). Everything they committed to vinyl or glittering factory-pressed CD, I’d put dick-to-dick against any band. I’ve yet to wade through the other several-thousand GBV songs I’d need to download to assess properly. There’s only so many hours in the day, and I’m almost out of beer.

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      • Always good to meet a fellow GbV addict. I’d put myself in the “recovering” category – I no longer feel compelled to get absolutely everything (I don’t even have English Little League yet).

        But like any addict…there are relapses.

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  7. Hemingway woulda been a great B-sider, if he’d been a band. I haven’t listened to A Farewell to Arms in years, and remember just nodding along to “Indian Camp,” “Hills Like White Elephants,” and “Big Two-Hearted River,” but then I put “A Way You’ll Never Be” on and had to spend the rest of the day under the coffee table.

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  8. Dog on Wheels is excellent but Lazy Line Painter Jane, I’m Waking Up to Us, and Jonathon David are probably my favorite songs from the EPs.

    I’m not much of a Mumford fan but I don’t see what is wrong with earnestness. Then again, I love Belle and Sebastian and the Decemberists.

    Journey just seems so corny and kitschy and I have generally dislike camp and kitsch. The genes for appreciating things for their kitsch and camp value escaped me.

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  9. Belle and Sebastian can be ironic but I think they can also be rather sincere in a way that is alien in most popular music.

    My tastes seem to flee in the opposite direction from what is big now. Belle and Sebastian are pretty big for an indie rock band but they will never fill Madison Square Garden.

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