Death of The B Side

In the modern world of mp3’s and iTunes music has never been more instantly accessible, however the rise of downloading has been to the detriment of the CD single and with it the final nail has been hammered into the coffin of a musical institution, the b-side.

Double sided records were first pressed by Columbia in the early part of the twentieth century, however, the idea of different emphasis being placed upon the either side didn’t emerge until the 1950’s when sales of singles and the idea of the charts became big business for the music industry and labels began instructing radios to play the A-side of the release (Although occasionally DJ’s have preferred the B-side and they have become the hit: Gloria Gaynors – I will survive, The Everley Brothers – Unchained Melody and Maddonna- Get Into The Groove were all initially intended to be B-sides).

Despite some notable exceptions, they were initially covers of other hits or extended, intstrumental or accapella versions of the A-Side, and the heyday of the B-side didn’t began until the punk movement in the late 1970’s. Lasting through to the collapse of Britpop in the late 90’s. A peculiarly British phenomenon, during this time bands like Elvis Costello and the Attractions, New Order, The Smiths and Oasis all produced B-sides in this time that are held up by their fans as some of their best work (Indeed The Oasis B-side album The Masterplan is held up as one of their finest). Not designed for popular consumption, or the casual radio listener the B-side enabled the band to shake of the shackles of success and let the creativity flow.

The B-side also represented value for money, with the record industry in fine fettle, labels were keen to reward fans for their purchase, a quickly thrown together cover, or a half arsed remix that were to become the norm wouldn’t do.

However with the advent of the internet, this slowly changed, in the late 90’s sites like Napster emerged and record sales began to dwindle.Although some bands in the early 2000’s, notably the Libertines, released popular B-sides which became fan favourites like those of their predecessors, in general bands and labels seeing the shift within the industry had put less time and resources on B-sides, cobbling together remixes or acoustic versions of the single. Although the music industry successfully sued Napster they couldn’t halt they inevitable, CD singles had become old hat, music was now changing from a physical product to a digital download.

As the new millenium wore on the music industry took heed of the old adage if you can’t beat them join them the B-side was doomed. With the release of the iPod fans shuffled through albums, picking and choosing songs to download at will, The BBC cancelled Top of The Pops and the singles chart became all but redundant, record shops stopped stocking CD singles altogether and without singles there are no B-sides.

Here’s a few great B-sides.

Oasis – Fade Away (B-side to Cigarette’s and Alcohol)

New Order – 1963 (B-side to True Faith)

The Smiths – How Soon Is Now (Originally B-side to William It Was Really Nothing)

The Jam – The Butterfly Collector (B-side to Strange Town)

The Beat – Stand Down Magaret (B-side to Best Friend)

By Callum West

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