I recently mentioned to my daughter that Tame Impala just released a few B-Side singles. She asked “what is a B-Side?” Good question. If you are above a certain age, you probably know what a B-Side is but here’s and explanation and some good B-Side info.
Back in the day musicians released complete albums (referred to as LPs for “long playing”). LPs were issued on 12″ vinyl discs and usually contained 30-50 minutes of music and 10-12 tracks.
Musicians also released singles off the album on smaller 7” vinyl discs (commonly referred to as 45s because they spun at 45 rpms vs the 33 1/3 rpm of LPs). The “A side” of the 45 was intended to be the hit and was promoted, while the “B-side” was either a song not on the LP or some lesser song from the album.
There are instances where the B-side hits it big as well, sometimes bigger than the A-side song. For example I am the Walrus by the Beatles was the B-side to Hello, Goodbye, also a big hit. Unchained Melody by The Righteous Brothers was the B-Side to Hung on You which was not a hit. When a B-side hits it big it sometimes is issued later as its own A-Side single, such as How Soon is Now by the Smiths (B-Side to William, It Was Really Nothing) and We Will Rock You by Queen (B-Side to We are the Champions)., both of which were originally B-Sides and then later released again as A-Sides.
What is really fun is when a great B-Side is not on an album like Hey Hey What Can I Do by Led Zeppelin, which of course is the B-Side to Immigrant Song but was not released on Led Zeppelin III, and Silver Springs by Fleetwood Mac, the B-Side to Go Your Own Way but didn’t make it on to the album Rumours. These songs were only available on the 45 which made those 7″ quite valuable (as a teen I treasured my Immigrant Song/Hey Hey What Can I Do 45).
Despite the decline of physical single sales, the digital world has kept the B-Side concept alive, with today’s bands still adding B-sides to iTunes and Spotify single releases. Today, B-Sides are usually alternate versions of the A-Side single or songs not included on an album. Musicians now often release multiple B-Sides at once as there is no physical limitation of a single back of a piece of vinyl in the digital world.
Here’s a Spotify playlist of some of the most notable B-Sides: B-sides Playlist
We’ve covered LPs and Singles, what about EPs?
EP is short for “extended play” and was a vinyl record that contained more music than a single but less than a full-length album. An EP usually has 3-7 tracks of music. EPs are a very popular way for punk and independent bands to release music. EPs are now often made up of B-Sides – usually songs recorded in the production of an LP which did not get included on the LP.
Finally, in researching this IFOD I discovered that according to the Urban Dictionary “B-Side” also can refer to the backside of a person (especially in a sexual context). Example: “Wow, Kieffer has obviously been doing lots of squats, his B-Side is looking great.”