Sitting here, if I look to my left, I see shelves filled with row upon row of CD singles. But I don’t see CD singles. I see row upon row of marvellous b-sides.
B-sides are, I think, what turns you from someone who quite likes a band into a fan. It’s because they’re so idiosyncratic; they’re like shared in-jokes, free gifts, a rummage into the ‘experiments’ drawer, or legendary-lost-albums-that-might-have-been. It’s the b-sides that give you a real sense of what a band is about when they’re not trying to be commercial.
All the bands I love have great b-sides. Take The Beatles. You could compile all their b-sides, from PS I Love You to You Know My Name and you’d have a CD as good as their greatest hits. It would be a damn quirky CD, certainly, but a damn fine one.
The same goes for Suede – you could compile an album from their first two album’s b-sides and it would be better than either of those two albums. Oasis seemed hell-bent on giving their fans value for money with two or three great b-sides per single; I wonder if Noel regrets doing so, as those tracks are vastly better than their recent singles.
The Boo Radleys were all about the b-sides; oh, how I loved getting hold of those Boo b’s. Blur, The Beautiful South, the Lightning Seeds, the Divine Comedy too. More recently, the Sugababes, Duffy and Robbie have all delivered quality flipsides. And all Erasure fans know their b-sides lie somewhere between Paradise and a Dreamlike State.
As for the bands I’m not that keen on... well, their b-sides showed them for what they were, too; happy for their fans to waste money on filler, on crappy remixes and ‘live versions’. I’m looking at you, Catatonia.