Listeners are rather ignorant about what goes into choosing an album’s track list. Artists often cite reasons like “thematic conflict”, song quality and overall album length when explaining why certain songs don’t make the final cut. However, some of these abandoned tracks do end up seeing the light of day – as add-ons to singles released from the main album.
“B-sides” they were called, as a reference to their being on the reverse side of 12-inch vinyl records back in the day. The term has survived through the decades and is still being used in the digital age. The curious thing about B-sides is how some of them receive greater praise than the main singles and are eventually released as their own independent “A-sides”. Here is a selection of great B-sides that don’t really deserve to be labelled as such.
“Pink Cadillac” – Bruce Springsteen (1984)
Not exactly one of Bruce Springsteen’s biggest hits nor particularly indicative of his style, “Pink Cadillac” stands out for being among the most talked-about songs that he has produced. Backing Springsteen’s most successful hit “Dancing in the Dark”, “Pink Cadillac” is a catchy and easy tune known mostly for its use of car metaphors to refer to sex and female genitalia, much in the same vein as the timeless “Mustang Sally”. Fun fact: Springsteen wouldn’t allow Bette Midler to cover the song because he felt that it was inappropriate for a girl to sing. Ironically, Natalie Cole managed to cover the song without protest and actually achieved more success with her version than Springsteen did with the original.
“The Amazing Sounds of Orgy” – Radiohead (2001)
“The Amazing Sounds of Orgy” is arguably one of Radiohead’s most unusual songs. An experimental track with Thom Yorke droning hypnotically over synthetic riffs and atmospheric thumps, it was on the B-side of “Pyramid Song” off their Amnesiac album. While some describe the robust and echoing sound of the song as dark and creepy, there is something enchanting about it that lingers long after the song has ended. A split vote for most Radiohead fans, “The Amazing Sounds of Orgy” is still one of the band’s lesser-known songs. However, it is definitely worth a listen.
“Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want” – The Smiths (1984)
Released on the flip side of their hit “William, It Was Really Nothing”, this is one of The Smiths’ most-covered songs – most recently, by American indie pop duo She & Him as part of the soundtrack for the 2009 romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer. There are even reports of a Lil’Wayne mash-up doing the rounds. Even though the original is less than two minutes long, it has been credited as one of the band’s most defining tracks. It is often humorously said that fellow British rock band Oasis based their entire career on this one song.
“I Can’t Make You Love Me/Nick of Time” – Bon Iver (2011)
One of last year’s most critically acclaimed artists, Bon Iver released his self-titled sophomore album just a few months ago. The first single was the somewhat surprising “Calgary”. Paired with it, however, was a refreshing cover of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” with a few added seconds of “Nick of Time”. Raitt’s 1991 hit has been re-done numerous times over the years but Bon Iver’s stripped-bare version is right up there with the original. With nothing but a piano and his emotive falsetto, Justin Vernon opens up this song about helplessness and turns it into something reminiscent of the grander, melancholic days of his debut full-length album For Emma, Forever Ago.
“Rain” – The Beatles (1966)
In a sentence: a song about bad weather and being happy in spite of it. However, loyal fans of The Beatles will tell you that it is never really that simple with these guys. “Rain” is one of the band’s most praised songs despite being on the reverse of the “Paperback Writer” single. It is also one of the first songs to use backward vocals, which was far from the norm at the time. Ringo Starr shines on this track with his excellent drumming talents, which Rolling Stone described as “superb”. One thing’s for sure – The Beatles are the only band that could make a song about precipitation sound so groovy.
Photo: Desré Barnard