Who remembers the B-side? Brian Matthew features one every week on the immortal “Sounds of the Sixties” Saturday morning Radio 2 and every week it prompts a host of memories of the days when a record was a treasured possession, be it on 78rpm or 45. Of course we bought them for the A-side but there was that added excitement – what was on the other side? Would it be a load of old tosh or an undiscovered gem? Might the B-side even turn out to be the A-side? It happened, most notably when Cliff Richard released Schoolboy Crush/Move it. Columbia went for the cover version of the Tommy Sands’ song as the song they thought would put the young Harry Webb on the map. 6-5 Special guru producer Jack Good thought otherwise and persuaded them to take a risk with the original Ian Samwell song. That alone had us maybe even playing the B-side first when we’d got a new disc home to our record player, just to see whether we could be first to brag about it our school mates.
Most times it was rubbish, but it was profitable rubbish. Perversely, the composer of the B-side song received an identical payment from the sales as the A-side, and as a result many such compositions were the subject of less-than-honest activity. We all remember Col. Tom Parker insisting that Elvis be credited as co-composer of many of his recordings, to bring in that extra cash. Similarly, songs written by UK record producers frequently managed to appear on the B-side, using nom-de-plumes of course! During the 1970’s when I was at Polydor records, Radio Luxembourg was still a major influence on record buying habits (highlighted by us using their disc-jockey Tony Prince as our mouthpiece for exclusive stories on The Osmonds) and I was party to many a meeting when a deal was done for a new artist’s single to get peak airplay on the station in return for their publishing company owning the B-side!
Earlier, one world famous, now infamous producer, showed his contempt for the B-side by filling it with (arguably, though I’m sure there are folk who even prefer them to the A-sides) a mediocre thrown-together instrumental, but still credited to the Crystals, Ronettes or Bob B Soxx!
Now there is now no possession. If we want a song we can access it in seconds. We touch and feel nothing; there is nothing to turn over. Do we care? No, not really – the absence of the B-side is probably no loss today.
Record Collectors however are a special breed – for them the B-side is frequently the reason they seek out the original release of a record and some the highest priced rarities achieve the distinction because of the B-side.
So, Phil (Swern, my mate and producer of SOTS), keep digging them out.
What’s your favourite B-side?