B sides

An explanation for the Spotify generation: Our old 45-rpm singles were vinyl records that confusingly did not contain a single song. They contained one song on each side (sometimes two). You’d play one side then — shock — stand up and turn the record over to play the other side.

Singles were generally meant to shine a light on the song that the band or record label thought had the best prospect of becoming a hit in the record charts. Trouble is, it felt mean to put a song only on one side of the record. So, there’d be an additional song on the other side, just to take up the space. Sometimes (yawn) it would just be an instrumental version of the first track.

The song that the record company wanted radio stations to play was called the A side. To make it clear to uneducated and possibly poorly functioning DJs, which side was A and which side was B was often clearly printed on the record.


Not that printing was going to stop those wily DJs. Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive was originally released as the B-side to a cover version of the Righteous Brothers’ song Substitute. It became a worldwide hit after she asked DJs to play that side of the record instead.

Some singles were termed “double A-sides” when both of the tracks were of such a quality that they might become a hit in the charts. The first double A-sided single came out in 1965, when the Beatles’ tracks of Day Tripper and We Can Work It Out were both considered A-sides.

On the whole, however, the B-side was the boring bit.

My favourite B-side is the obverse of You Can Have It All, a single released by the Kaiser Chiefs in 2005. Echoing one of their greatest hits — I Predict a Riot — the track was called I Predict Some Quiet.

The prediction was spot-on, as the track turned out to be completely silent.


Helpfully pointing out that Bridge over Troubled Water is Side A


2 thoughts on “B sides

  1. “Maggie May” by Rod Stewart was also a B side that became an unexpected hit. The original A side was “Reason To Believe”. (No, I can’t remember that, either!)


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