Sunday, February 17, 2013

Great B-Sides of the Past

Flipping Out!
They Should Have Been Hits

By Randy McNutt

Historically, B-sides were the afterthoughts of the music industry. Sometimes producers didn't even have B-sides (I've been in this position a few times) available, so they dreamed up any trick just to fill that back side of the 45-rpm disc. Other times, producers took their B-sides almost too seriously. One time, I produced a soul record but lacked the money to record a B-side. So I used the A-side's rhythm track, minus the vocals, and mixed it as an instrumental. Most of the time, however, producers did have B-sides available, and sometimes they were so good that they should have been the A- sides. Occasionally, disc jockeys liked the B-sides so much that they played them instead of the intended A-sides. When this occurred, B-sides competed with their own A-sides--or the radio plug sides--for coveted airplay.

But usually, this didn't happen. B-sides languished "on the other side" and no one cared to hear them but a few people who bothered to play them. I was one of those people who bothered. I wanted to know what the producers were doing as well as the artists and the songwriters. I've heard some lousy B-sides in my time, but the occasional terrific one too. Here are a few B-sides that I've enjoyed. Some of them were ahead of their time. They weren't commercial enough for radio of their time, say, in the 1960s and '70s, but today they would be accepted. Most of the time, producers knew what the A-side was going to be, so they told the recording artist to write and record songs for their B-sides. This gave the artists some measure of artistic freedom, but also saddled them with the notion that the B-sides wouldn't count. Nevertheless, they earned some songwriting royalties.

Now for a little history: In the beginning, B-sides didn't even count. What we now call the B side was left "ungrooved" on many records in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Then record companies decided they could place two recordings on one shellac disc by using both sides. Often they were occupied by different artists. The sides were designated A and B, to identify them, not to signify any greater merit. Radio stations didn't exist in the early days of phonograph recording, and the A and B designations weren't always arbitrary. They simply meant sides 1 and 2. Sometimes the best song was used for Side A, but not always. As the years passed and radio came along, sides A and B took on new meaning. Disc jockeys were playing them. Record companies wanted to steer music directors and DJs to the selected songs, so the firms designated them A and B. Usually, the A side was the one chosen by record companies to receive the airplay. Many times in the 1960s and later the companies pressed special promotion copies that had the A side stamped on both sides of the 45. This was known in the trade as a Double A. In the early 1970s, some Double A's held two versions of the same song--one side mono and the other stereo. 

Through the waning days of the 45, the B side continued to thrive. And the public expected it to be filled. The B side became the vehicle to attain greater publishing royalties for many producers and record companies, and, for we music fans, it became a way to hear new songs we enjoyed and sometimes even reviled.

Here are ten interesting B-sides that represent different genres. They are only a fraction of the the unsung B-sides that I could have selected. I must say that some of these sides appeal to me for one or more reasons--the songs, the productions, the musicians, the singers, or whatever other features caught my attention. It could be only a single guitar lick. So as far as B-sides go, it's all a matter of personal taste.

What B-sides do you like?

Randy's Picks

The Guess Who
"New Mother Nature," B-side of "No Time"
I love this record. The vocals are terrific and the production is timeless. The electric piano adds a certain soulful feeling that you don't hear too often on recordings these days. The upbeat "New Mother Nature," written by lead singer-pianist Burton Cummings, was a lively B-side when "No Time" was released in late 1969. Although it was a bit too interesting for Top 40 radio stations at the time, it nonetheless made an attractive recording for people who enjoyed album cuts. Today, I believe it could be a hit on radio.

Wayne Perry
"Gimmethegreenlight," B-side of "Mr. Bus Driver"
I list this one because I co-produced and co-wrote it with Wayne in 1970. After recording "Bus Driver," we had very little money left. So we found a blue-eyed soul band that was willing to work for the glory of it, and we cut "Green Light" on a four-track Ampex recorder in suburban Cincinnati. Turning this 45 over is well worth it for two reasons: Wayne's gritty soul vocals, and Terry Hoskins' jamming B-3 organ solo. The obscure record came out on Counterpart Records in 1973. Both "Green Light" and "Bus Driver" were released on a CD called "Souled Out" in July 2012 by the Fraternity Music Group of New York. See for more information.

Jerry Butler
"A Brand New Me," B-side of "What the Use of Breaking Up?"
Jerry Butler had a great chart run in the late 1960s and early '70s. When "What's the Use of Breaking Up" hit in the first quarter of 1969, The Ice Man had another song worth hearing. It was the flip side, "A Brand New Me." Both songs were written by the hit-making team of Gamble and Huff out of Philadelphia. Later that year, the song came out of Memphis with Dusty Springfield singing it this time as her A-side.

Barbra Streisand 
"Since I Don't Have You," B-side of "Where You Lead"
When you have the voice, the producer, the arranger, and the song, you can't go wrong. That's why this flip side, the venerable "Since I Don't Have You," was as good as the A-side, "Where You Lead." The producer was the hip Richard Perry, who recorded this single for Barbra in the summer of 1971. I never tire of hearing new interpretations of this great song that was once a hit by the great Lenny Welch.

The Bad Habits
"Night Owl," B-side of "It's Been A Long Time Coming," was produced by Gene Kent and arranged by Ricky Folse for the independent Paula Records of Shreveport, La. Paula had regional music down to a T--for tremendous. Good rockin' soul.

Andy Williams
"You're the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me," the B-side of "Love's Theme," from 1974 on Columbia Records. The great Andy Williams, bless him, was one of the greatest pop singers of all time--smoother than glass. Here he stepped out with some fresh material. One of pop music's better voices sang the song written by one of the era's better composers, Jim Weatherly. The side was arranged by Nick Perito and produced by the versatile Mike Curb.


Rocky Burnette
"Boogie Down in Mobile, Alabama," B-side of "Tired of Toein' the Line," on EMI America Records, 1979. Rocky is the son of Johnny Burnette. He co-wrote this B-side, which was produced by Jim Seiter and Bill House in the U.S.A. and England.


Chuck Woolery
"The Pleasure of Her Company," B-side of "Heaven Here On Earth" in the early 1970s, had a winning team behind it--Woolery, host of The Wheel of Fortune and later the Love Connection; producers Bob Montgomery and Bobby Goldsboro; and arranger Bergen White, who did a lot of arranging in Nashville for a long time. But the big draw was the writing team, the Addrisi Brothers, composers of "Never My Love" and other hits. Woolery began as a singer with his two-man group The Avant Garde on Columbia, and then went solo on the label. Apparently Columbia's A&R executives liked "The Pleasure of Her Company" so well that they featured it as the B-side on the promotional copies too.

Johnny Rivers
"Our Lady of the Well," B-side of the nationally charted "Sea Cruise," is a song by Jackson Browne, who was nearly ready to begin his national hit recording career when this song was released in 1971. When his "Doctor My Eyes" hit in 1972, everyone knew of this talented writer and signer. The presence of his song on the United Artists record makes the cut worth hearing.

Rusty York
All right, I admit it: I like Rusty. He's a great picker. He recorded Roy Brown's "Shake 'Em Up Baby" in a rockabilly frenzy for King Records before he ever cut "Sugaree" for Chess in the late 1950s. So if you can ever get your hands on this record, featuring Rusty's cover of "Peggy Sue" as the A-side, turn it over and listen to "Shake 'Em Up Baby." Rusty knows his bluegrass, country, and rockabilly!





Shnookylangston said...

Thanks for choosing Rocky Burnette's B side in your feature. Rocky and Bill House are long-time friends of mine, and I always liked that song. Cheers!

Jeff Fargus

Shnookylangston said...

Thanks for choosing Rocky Burnette's B side in your feature. Rocky and Bill House are long-time friends of mine, and I always liked that song. Cheers!

Unknown said...

excellent choices of b sides. However I thought the b side to Guess Who "No Time" was "Proper Stranger"?