The Up Sides of B-Sides



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The Up Sides of B-Sides

“I’m happy living on the B-side of life.”
- Timbuk Three

    Your albums sell a million copies out of the box, but you want to give your fans a reason to buy your singles. It’s the 1980s, remember, so people still buy singles. Maybe you have some tracks that didn’t fit the album thematically, or you’ve experimented and have some fun songs you think the fans will enjoy. The B-side comes to the rescue. Here are some notable ’80s B-side artists.


    The most important artist of the ’80s was so prolific, and so damn good, he could toss away creative and radio-worthy songs on B-sides. Any other artist could have made a Hall of Fame career from Prince’s B-side discards: “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore?”, “Irresistible Bitch” (1999), “Erotic City,” “17 Days,” “Another Lonely Christmas” (Purple Rain), “She’s Always in My Hair,” “Girl” (Around the World in a Day), “Shockadelica” (Sign ’O’ the Times), “200 Balloons,” “I Love U In Me” (Batman Soundtrack). Each one a classic, and each expendable during His Royal Badness’ incredible string of ’80s recordings; not one was considered worthy of inclusion on an album.

    Better still, Prince would put extended versions of these tracks on his 12” singles. If you can find the vinyl 12” or 45 for “Kiss,” the B-side, “Love or $,” contains a great surprise. Play the track at 45 speed, and it’s a funky track by Prince and the Revolution. But slow it down to 33 1/3, and it’s a note-for-note homage to Sly and the Family Stone. Most of these songs are available on The Hits/The B-sides, but Warner Brothers has never collected the extended versions on CD.


 Bruce Springsteen

    The Boss placed seven singles from Born in the USA in the Top 10, and each one has a classic B-side: “Dancing In The Dark / Pink Cadillac”: It’s amazing this powerful combo couldn’t make it to Number One, until you discover what kept it at Number Two: “When Doves Cry” (“Damn Prince!” says Bruce in his Greatest Hits liner notes). “Pink Cadillac” became a Top Ten song for Natalie Cole.

    “Cover Me / Jersey Girl (live)”: This great Tom Waits song was a natural choice for Springsteen, and inspired the upcoming Kevin Smith film of the same name.

    “Born In The USA / Shut Out The Light”: This folk song about a man returning to Vietnam is an even darker story than its similarly themed A Side. Time Magazine called this song “one of the greatest undiscovered recordings in American history.”

    “I’m On Fire / Johnny Bye Bye”: This heartbreaking tribute to Elvis Presley’s mother features a guitar line so reminiscent of Chuck Berry that on later releases, Berry gets a songwriting credit.

    “Glory Days / Stand On It”: A rocking, shouted track that saw daylight on the soundtrack to “Ruthless People.”

    “I’m Goin’ Down / Janey Don’t You Lose Heart”: It’s entirely possible Michael Stipe based his entire vocal phrasing style on this song, a simple lyric about not givin’ up.

    “My Hometown / Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town (live)”: This holiday favorite had been an FM favorite for years, but was not commercially available until this release.

    A UK release collected all of these songs in a box vinyl set, but except for “Stand On It,” none have seen US release on disc.


 The Police/Sting

    From the very beginning, The Police put non-album tracks on B-sides. “Can’t Stand Losing You” had “Dead End Job,” the ugliest, punkiest song Sting’s ever stood within 10 feet of. “Message in a Bottle” featured “Landlord,” another blast of class animosity. The boys kicked it up a notch with two singles from Zenyatta Mondatta. “De Do Do Do” had “Friends,” an Andy Summers song about cannibalism (“To know you is to eat you,” grins Andy). “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” offered Sting singing the Stewart Copeland showbiz manual “A Sermon,” which tracks a Rock star’s moral fall as his chart status grows (“When you reach Number One, you can bang your drum/Sack your roadies in Birmingham/When your record is platinum, you can stick it to the fans/Screw the world, like you always planned.”) Ghost in the Machine singles featured filler instrumentals, “Shambelle” on “Every Little Thing She Does in Magic” and “Flexible Strategies” on “Spirits in the Material World.” Synchronicity’s blockbuster “Every Breath You Take” featured “Murder By Numbers,” which was not on the LP but was included on cassette and CD versions. “Synchronicity II” offered the sad “Once Upon a Daydream,” in which, in an echo of “Prince’s Another Lonely Christmas,” Sting’s girlfriend dies (her father finds out she is having Sting’s baby so he pushes her down the stairs, killing her. Sting responds by killing the old man. Cheers!). “Wrapped Around Your Finger” had Summers’ “Someone to Talk To,” which probably surprised a few listeners with its emphatic use of the F word. All of these tracks are available on The Police box set, Message In a Box.

    When Sting went solo, he continued the tradition. Notable Sting B-sides, which have not yet found a compilation on disc, include “Another Day” (B-side of “If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free,” “Another Day” was recorded live for Bring on the Night), “Gabriel’s Message” (B-side of “Russians,” “Gabriel’s Message” was included on the first Very Special Christmas CD), “Mack The Knife” (B-side of “Moon Over Bourbon Street”), “Conversation With a Dog” (B-side of “We’ll be Together”), and “Tempted,” the Squeeze song, which appeared on the B-side of “Mad About You.”


 Tears For Fears

    Every TFF single had a nifty B-side, often an experimental instrumental or re-mix. New versions of TFF CDs Songs From The Big Chair and Sowing The Seeds of Love have the B-sides as bonus tracks. Highlights include “Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams” (which features Oletta Adams rapping the lyrics of “Sowing The Seeds of Love”), “When in Love With a Blind Man,” “Pharaohs” and “The Big Chair.”


 Simply Red

    Some of Simply Red’s most soulful work appeared on US 45 B-side cover versions of famous soul songs. These songs excel because Mick Hucknall’s blue-eyed vocals perfectly interpret the classics. Almost every US B-side was a non-album track A side in the group’s native Britain. None of these have been collected on CD, but are rumored to appear on an upcoming box set: “Come to My Aid” features a brilliant cover of Bill Withers’ “Grandma’s Hands.” “Holding Back the Years” offers Ray Charles’ “Drown in My Own Tears.” “The Right Thing” B-side was a version of Gershwin’s “Every Time We Say Goodbye.”


 Billy Joel

    “Elvis Presley Boulevard”: This “Allentown” B-side is one of Joel’s most biting and satirical lyrics, as it chronicles a fictional visit to Graceland, a few years before Paul Simon got there. Best lyric: “I saw that silent mansion, and I knew that I was lost/They were selling plastic souvenirs of Elvis on the cross.” Joel paid tribute to other masters of Rock on B-sides of “An Innocent Man” (he covers The Beatles’ “I’ll Cry Instead” and sounds so much like Lennon you’ll have to check the label) and the 12” to “Tell Her About It,” where he covers Sam and Dave’s “You Got Me Hummin’“. None of these are available on CD.


 Bryan Adams

    “Diana”: This rollicking plea for love and lust to Princess Diana isn’t as much fun now, but at the time, this “Run to You” B-side was hilarious, with Adams dissing Prince Charles, and telling Diana that he’ll bring the love, if she’ll bring the limousine. Not available on CD.


 Paul McCartney

    “Rainclouds”: “This Ebony and Ivory” B-side is an acoustic strum of morning glory that has a typically vapid lyric and a typically insanely catchy melody. My Mom loved this one. Available on import CD.


 Tom Petty

    “Heartbreaker’s Beach Party”: Petty has a great sense of humor, and this 2-minute wonder (B-side of “You Got Lucky”) showcases it with style. Over a beach-movie beat, Petty enthuses about his party (“We’ll have potato salad! Let’s dig some clams! We’ll wear mosquito repellent! Break out the big muumuus!”) At the end, Petty chuckles and says, “Another Modern Classic!” Now available on the Petty box set.


 John Cougar

    To prime his band for the roots rock sound he wanted for his most successful album, Scarecrow, Cougar made his band learn dozens of Rock classics form the ’60s. A few of those songs appeared on subsequent B-sides, such as “Under the Boardwalk” on “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A,” “Pretty Ballerina” on “Cherry Bomb” and “Shama Lama Ding Dong” on “Check It Out”. Mellencamp also used B-sides for acoustic versions of “Pink Houses” and “Small Town” that appeared on a number of different singles.

CDs from

Billy Joel
The Nylon Curtain

Billy Idol - Rebel Yell
Billy Idol
Rebel Yell - Expanded Edition

with 5 extra tracks

The Police - Synchronicity
The Police

Huey Lewis - Sports
Huey Lewis & The News
Sports - Expanded Edition

with 5 extra tracks

Cyndi Lauper - Shes So Unusual
Cyndi Lauper
She’s So Unusual

(with 3 bonus live tracks)

In Association with