The rise of the digital download closely followed by Spotify, streaming and all that killed the B Side stone dead. That’s a fact and it’s a crying shame because in the great history of pop, B Sides deserve their own chapter at the very least. A good B side used to be an art form in itself; a song recorded quickly and cheaply, a bit of a throwaway not deemed worthy of a place on an album or alternatively a chance to experiment. And if it turned out shit so what, because no-one listened to B Sides right? Wrong pop star twats, everyone listened to B Sides. 

   Here’s 45 of my favourites, but they don’t even start to scrape the surface. A bit like Guilty Pleasures or Buried Treasures, when you really put your mind to it and start thinking of all the B Sides you loved, or the tunes on all those 12” EP’s or CD double pack’s, there’s thousands of them. And actually, quite a few were better and have lasted longer than the main feature. 


01. MAGAZINE ‘My Mind Ain’t So Open’ (‘Shot By Both Sides’ January 1978)

The focused energy and dark paranoia on Magazine’s ‘Shot By Both Sides’ arrived a year after Howard Devoto had grown bored of punk and bored of his own group The Buzzcocks. Unquestionably the first post punk single, the magnificent B Side rarely got a look in, but when it did its frantic tempo, choppy guitar and brief, squawking sax solo sounded equally different and mesmerising. 


02. WIRE ‘Options R’ (‘Dot Dash’ June 1978)

Wire always thought of themselves as a pop group which sounds ridiculous now, although in the chaos of punk it's invariably forgotten that catchy, simply structured songs often lay at the core of all that bluster and dissident noise. And there were few simpler than the one minute 35 seconds of ‘Options R’, which may or may not have been pop but still wormed its way into my head as all great pop should.


03. MEKONS ‘I’ll Have To Dance Then (On My Own)’ (‘Where Were You?’ December 1978)

In 1978 Britain B Sides often matched the A Sides in terms of quality, most groups reluctant to waste vinyl on some knocked up, studio concocted drivel through fear of it being their last opportunity to impart something meaningful to the world. The early Mekons were no different in that respect, ‘I’ll Have To Dance Then (On My Own)’ close enough to punks origins to sound revolutionary and exciting yet far enough away to reveal the awkward angular sonic spasms that would soon become the epitome of post punk. 


04. BUZZCOCKS ‘Why Can’t I Touch It?’ (‘Everybody’s Happy Nowadays’ March 1979)

Buzzcocks influential brand of buzzsaw pop still doesn’t get the credit it deserves which is truly shameful. Featuring one of Pete Shelley’s most insistent and memorable riffs, ‘Why Can’t I Touch It?’ was a beautifully constructed, gem of a tune with a wonderfully droning rhythmic groove.


05. KILLING JOKE ‘Are You Receiving?’ (Turn To Red EP October 1979)

Coming across as threateningly thuggish and with an underlying interest in the occult, even today Killing Joke remain largely on the sidelines. But for a brief period in the late seventies, radicalised by punk and led by the Anglo-Indian, classically trained Jaz Coleman, you could often find them ranked alongside the likes of The Banshees and Joy Division. Incredibly ‘Are You Receiving?’ was written at their first rehearsal!         


06. GANG OF FOUR ‘He’d Send In The Army’ (‘Outside The Trains Don’t Run On Time’ April 1980)

No group typified post punk more than the conceptually progressive Gang Of Four. And yet whereas the message within their songs was often dismissed as left wing rhetoric, musically the echo of Andy Gill’s guitar playing on skeletal songs like ‘He’d Send In The Army’ can still be heard in the work of most modern day guitar groups.      


07. THE BEAT ‘Stand Down Margaret Dub’ (‘Best Friend’ August 1980)

If there’s one song that instantly takes me back to 1980 it’s The Beats ‘Stand Down Margaret’. Regularly dismissed as riding in on the back of Two Tone, The Specials and Madness, in truth they were too musically adventurous to be tied down by the ska revival, preferring instead to detail their own angst and paranoia in jittery, post punk masterpieces touched by the right wing Tory politics of the time.   


08. THE SPECIALS ‘Friday Night, Saturday Morning’ (‘Ghost Town’ June 1981)

Horrified and disgusted by what he’d seen on The Specials tour of Britain in 1980, Jerry Dammers spent a year writing ‘Ghost Town’, one of the greatest singles not only of the eighties but of all time. Backed not by one but by two B Sides, Terry Hall’s typically downbeat and downtrodden tale of a night out at Coventry’s Locarno just edged it over Lynval Golding’s plea for racial equality on ‘Why?’


09. HUMAN LEAGUE ‘Hard Times’ (‘Love Action’ July 1981)

As if to underline The Beat and The Specials view on Thatcher’s Britain, Phil Oakey opted to back one of The Human Leagues most popular singles with a two worded message of his own laid over producer Martin Rushent’s cut up and paste construction.   


10. ULTRAVOX ‘Paths And Angles’ (‘The Voice’ October 1981)

As much as I loved John Foxx’s cool, seventies version of Ultravox! I conveniently forget that I loved the decidedly uncool Midge Ure, eighties version just as much. The years have certainly messed with my memory because I’d also forgotten just how successful they were, and how singles like ‘The Voice’ and terrific B Sides like the Teutonic ‘Paths And Angles’ were guaranteed a place in the Top Twenty.    


11. BLANCMANGE ‘Running Thin’ (‘Living On The Ceiling’ October 1982)

The most underrated electronic outfit of them all, Blancmange were an enigma from the start, releasing their slightly off kilter electro pop into the world to little artistic acclaim. Originally recorded for a John Peel session, ‘Running Thin’ was starker and far more claustrophobic than their regular ‘pop’ material. At the time I believed it to be the sound of the future and by the year 2000 electronic songs just like it would be filling the singles charts. How wrong I was!


12. YAZOO ‘Winter Kills’ (‘Only You’ November 1982)

Yazoo’s popular debut, Vince Clarke’s bittersweet ‘Only You’, paled in comparison to its B Side, Alison Moyet’s classically flavoured piano ballad ‘Winter Kills’, to this day it remains my favourite Yazoo song if only because it sounds nothing like Yazoo.


13. SOFT CELL ‘It’s A Mug’s Game’ (‘Where The Heart Is’ November 1982)

Soft Cell were once described as music for teenagers who hated their parents, a description that was perfectly encapsulated within ‘It’s A Mug’s Game’. Moving from crisis to crisis, the song featured Marc Almond getting increasingly angsty before a comical attempt to annoy his father by playing albums by Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. Comfortable, suburban, youth rebellion, the closing I can't wait ‘til I'm twenty-one and can tell them all to sod off’ says it all!


14. COLOURBOX ‘Tarantula’ [Second Version] (‘Breakdown’ May 1983)

When I started putting this playlist together ‘Tarantula’ was the one song guaranteed a place. Known for their part in M/A/R/R/S and ‘Pump Up The Volume’, Martyn and Steven Young’s Colourbox releases were influenced more by reggae, soul and the beatbox rhythms of hip hop than the strictly white, European aesthetic of Kraftwerk. Ahead of their time for sure, ‘Tarantula’ was famously reimagined by This Mortal Coil in 1986 and in more recent years by Beck.          


15. SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES ‘Tattoo’ (‘Dear Prudence’ September 1983)

The Banshee’s always relished the chance to try something new on their B Sides which was just as well given how their choice of ‘Dear Prudence’ smelt so badly of artistic desperation. Luckily, the atypical ‘Tattoo’ more than compensated, the droning bass, tom tom rhythm and creeping dread of Siouxsie’s hushed vocal said to be a major influence on nineties trip hop.    


16. NEW ORDER ‘Lonesome Tonight’ (‘Thieves Like Us’ April 1984)

In the eighties New Order had an uncanny knack of releasing B Sides of such high quality most groups would have reserved them for an A Side. ‘Lonesome Tonight’ was the perfect example, a sublime, melancholic yet soaring soundscape so brilliant and dripping with emotion it still makes me shiver every time I hear it.


17. ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK ‘The Avenue’ (‘Locomotion’ 12” April 1984)

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark have never been considered pioneers, their top twenty singles heard as mere pop fodder for the masses. And yet they were, indeed still are, so much more than the boring admin clerks their grey non-image portrayed, the atmospheric, ‘The Avenue’, with a clanking train sample lifted from the 1979 sci-fi film Stalker, the polar opposite of the A Sides pop by numbers breeziness.


18. TONES ON TAIL ‘Go!’ (‘Lions’ May 1984)

Tones On Tail were best known for being the side project of Bauhaus guitarist Daniel Ash and group engineer Glenn Campling. Like a lot of folk, ‘Lions’ and its fabulous B Side ‘Go!’ are still the only songs of theirs I know, their distinct, ‘weird pop’ sounding far more futuristic today than I remembered.      


19. TEARS FOR FEARS ‘Pharaohs’ (‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ March 1985)

Tears For Fears are not known for their B Sides, more often than not filling them with album tracks or meaningless remixes. ‘Pharaohs’ was slightly different. Using a number of musical motif’s from ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ to back a BBC Radio Four reading of the shipping forecast, the idea was so essentially British that Blur would revisit it a decade later for ‘This Is A Low’.


20. ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN ‘Over Your Shoulder’ (‘Bring On The Dancing Horses’ October 1985)

I love the sheer visceral rush and anxious energy Echo & The Bunnymen offered during the early to mid-eighties. The rousing ‘Over Your Shoulder’ is no exception, an immaculate, propulsive roar built on the back of Les Pattinson and Pete De Freitas skill, power and imagination, a rhythm section whose importance is often overlooked alongside Ian McCulloch's grand sonic vision.


21. THE JESUS AND MARY CHAIN ‘Kill Surf City’ (‘April Skies’ April 1987)

As quiet, arty students of rock’n’roll’s myths and legends, The Jesus And Mary Chain loved to feed the standard sixties influences of The Beach Boy’s, Phil Spector, The Shangri-La’s and The Velvets through the punk grinder before emerging on the other side as riotous heathens peddling a glorious, feedback drenched, noise pop din. Of course, they weren’t the first to fuck with Brian Wilson’s sunshine formula, but their twisted, side splittingly funny mangling of ‘Surf City’ was certainly the best.


22. SISTERS OF MERCY ‘Colours’ (‘This Corrosion’ September 1987)

1987 was Andrew Eldrich’s big year. Having resurrected the Sisters as a solo project, the heavenly choirs and bombast of Jim Steinman’s ‘This Corrosion’ may have built him a future, but hidden away on side two, track two of the 12 inch was a song reconstructed from his troubled past. More like a brooding battle hymn from the Holy Church Of Armageddon than an epic rock colossus with bells on, ‘Colours’ was far closer to the classic Sisters of old, therefore infinitely preferable.


23. YELLO ‘La Habanera’ (‘The Race’ 12” April 1988)

The undervalued and unheralded Yello were never less than eccentric and exotic and I adored them for it. Not that I needed too much of an excuse to squeeze the extraordinary ‘La Habanera’ on here, it’s bright, burning Latin rhythm and sophistication conjuring up images sufficiently different to make it a more than worthy addition.


24. DEPECHE MODE ‘Dangerous’ (‘Personal Jesus’ August 1989)

Violator era Depeche Mode was both darker and more sensual than anything they’d done before, helped immeasurably by sidekick Alan Wilder’s skill in arranging the disparate parts into something that foretold the electronica of the future. ‘Personal Jesus’ was the first peek at what was to come backed by ‘Dangerous’, a fan favourite cut from the same cloth.


25. THE CURE ‘Harold And Joe’ (‘Never Enough’ September 1990)

An unusually groovy, pop-goth, Cure tune with a bumbling Happy Mondays rhythm, a meandering organ and some hopelessly out of tune whistling, ‘Harold And Joe’ shouldn’t have worked but one listen was all you needed to know that it did.


26. PET SHOP BOYS ‘Miserablism’ (‘Was It Worth It?’ December 1991)

The Pet Shop Boys were everything the post punk, new pop dream ever wanted to be and a lot cleverer with it. The A Side ‘Was It Worth It?’ really wasn’t but ‘Miserablism’, Neil Tennant’s satirical, humourful dissection of Morrissey’s persona and the seriousness of the shoegazing scene, definitely was.


27. U2 ‘Lady With The Spinning Head (UV1)’ (‘One’ February 1992)

U2 completely reinvented themselves for ‘One’s parent album Achtung Baby but there’s still something about it that makes me feel queasy. ‘Lady With The Spinning Head’ is only of interest because originally it was scrapped and the various spare parts used for ‘Zoo Station’, ‘The Fly’ and ‘Ultraviolet’. Hearing it now is like listening to some bizarre mash up of all three.


28. SUEDE ‘My Insatiable One’ (‘The Drowners’ May 1992)

There are plenty of groups here who could claim to be masters of the B Side but few can match early Suede for sheer quality. From ‘Killing Of A Flashboy’ to ‘The Sounds Of The Streets’ to ‘My Insatiable One’, one of the most thrillingly songs Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler ever wrote, Suede B Sides were precious secrets that mattered just as much as the hits and the albums.


29. PULP ‘Sheffield: Sex City’ (‘Babies’ 12” October 1992)

The argument that B Sides were three minute throwaways goes to shit when you consider ‘Sheffield: Sex City’, a magnum opus if ever there was one and eight and a half minutes long to boot. Viewing Sheffield and its constituent parts (Manor Park, The Wicker, Norton, Freshville etc etc) nostalgically from afar, in Jarvis Cocker’s poetic hands the city became a physical lost love, the song an improvised, highly sexual love letter to the past.   


30. ELASTICA ‘Vaseline’ (‘Line Up’ January 1994)

Justine Frischmann didn’t mix her words. She had no time for Britpop, believing quite rightly that Elastica had nothing in common with the likes of Oasis whose music sounded scarily like the classic rock ballads of old. Elastica didn’t sound like that or any other Britpoppers, much preferring the jagged guitars of Wire, Buzzcocks and The Stranglers on short, sketchy tunes like ‘Vaseline’, which was really nothing more than an advert for what to use in those moments ‘when you’re stuck like glue’.  


31. BLUR ‘Theme From An Imaginary Film’ (‘Parklife’ August 1994)

With a lavish arrangement for strings, piano and harpsichord in waltz time, ‘Theme From An Imaginary Film’ was unlike anything Blur had attempted before. Incredibly cinematic, it was originally intended for Steven Berkoff’s film version of his West End play Decadence but ultimately was rejected, not that Berkoff’s decision should detract from what is surely Blurs greatest B Side.  


32. PORTISHEAD ‘It’s A Fire’ (‘Sour Times’ August 1994)

Appearing from nowhere, Portishead took the cool trip hop of Bristol and made it even cooler by pushing into the previously uncharted waters of film soundtracks and Berlin cabaret to create something that was wholly their own. ‘It’s A Fire’, an obscure yet great B Side proves the point rather well. 


33. PJ HARVEY ‘Maniac’ (‘C’mon Billy’ July 1995)

PJ Harvey’s B Sides act as a parallel history of her long career, charting her changing artistry through songs that as far as she was concerned weren’t quite up to scratch. Failing to make the list for To Bring You My Love, nonetheless ‘Maniac’s distorted organ, drum loop and lusty groove were instantly identifiable because, let’s face it, who else but PJ Harvey would dare to howl ‘I neeeeeed a man to make me moan’ with such gusto.


34. BJORK ‘Charlene’ (‘Isobel’ August 1995)

Recorded for Post, in the end Bjork opted to use the rather wonderful ‘Charlene’ for ‘Isobel’. Popular amongst the diehards, possibly because of its striking, earworm nature, apparently the songs suggestive and ambiguous lyrics were inspired by British model and actress Kadamba Simmons who would be murdered by her ex-lover three years later at just 24 years old. 


35. NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS ‘The Ballad Of Robert Moore & Betty Coltrane’ (‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’ October 1995)

‘The Ballad Of Robert Moore & Betty Coltrane’ arrived months before Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds celebrated Murder Ballads album as the B Side of his most commercially successful single. Acting as more of a light hearted sketch for the longer, darker and grimly serious ‘Stagger Lee’ and ‘O’Malley’s Bar’, yet packed with a similar lyrical chutzpah and instrumental ruckus, I found it impossible not to love.  


36. EELS ‘Fucker’ (‘Novocaine For The Soul’ February 1997)

A personal favourite, for all of Mark Everett’s involvement with Shrek and the universal recognition he received off the back of such delights as ‘My Beloved Monster’, it would have been nice and truly subversive if the comically depressing ‘Fucker’ could have been slipped into the soundtrack somewhere.


37. BECK ‘Electric Music And The Summer People’ (‘The New Pollution’ February 1997)

I have no idea what Beck’s on about most of the time but it matters not. As a piss taking, folk hop, cult legend he’s my man, particularly on a bash it down, modern age rock’n’roll retread like ‘Electric Music And The Summer People’ with its surrealistic lyrics, great harmonies and minute of arcade game blips and bleeps thrown in at the end just for good measure.


38. PRIMAL SCREAM ‘How Does It Feel To Belong’ (‘Star’ June 1997)

Released in the summer of 1997, the Star EP was a slower, sadder work than Primal Scream’s regular fare and one on which the group shed their tough exterior to show a more vulnerable side. Buried at the end, the best of the four featured tracks was the gorgeously swaying ballad ‘How Does it Feel To Belong’. Musing on the bizarre friendships that depression can bring, it really was quite wonderful.


39. MASSIVE ATTACK ‘Euro Zero Zero’ (‘Teardrop’ April 1998)

‘Euro Zero Zero’ was an alternative version of a track called ‘Eurochild’ that first appeared on The Beautiful Game album compiled for Euro ’96. By the time it reappeared on the ‘Teardrop’ single, not only had the title changed, but with the addition of some beefed up guitar and Horace Andy’s vocals it had been transformed to reflect Massive Attack’s heavier, moodier live version.


40. MANIC STREET PREACHERS ‘Prologue To History’ (‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’ August 1998)

Mid-period Manic Street Preachers B Sides were occasionally flawed but never less than listenable. However, ‘Prologue To History’ stood head and shoulders above the rest partly because it helped to secure Nicky Wire’s reputation as a brilliant lyricist, not a particularly easy thing to do considering how the ghost of Ritchie Edwards shadowed his every word. Containing references to politicians, musicians, Wire’s unrock’n’roll like love of sport and housework and his supposed lack of skill on the bass, together with Moore and Bradfield’s explosive and sophisticated instrumentation it stands as one of the Manics finest songs.        


41. APHEX TWIN ‘Nannou’ (‘Windowlicker’ March 1999)

Ignoring ‘Windowlicker’s noisy, gravity defying leap into a future of samplers and machines, ‘Nannou’ offered a far sweeter alternative. Dedicated to Richard D James then girlfriend, by manipulating layer upon layer of music box melodies with the sound of a wind up, clockwork mechanism, it revealed the gentler, warmer, dare I say it, human side of his genius.


42. SPIRITUALIZED ‘Rock And Roll’ (‘Stop Your Crying’ August 2001)

‘Stop Your Crying’ was released a week before the last great Spiritualized album Let It Come Down. Tucked away on track three of the enhanced CD single was ‘Rock And Roll’, a gentle, almost insignificant Jason Pearce song with the simplest of lyrics (‘Rock and Roll keep playing for me, It’s easy to see that I love you’). Heavily orchestrated, today it sounds like a eulogy for a lost time and a place when pop music could be both grandiose and brilliant.  


43. RADIOHEAD ‘I Am A Wicked Child’ (‘Go To Sleep’ CD August 2003)

For all of their post OK Computer experimentation, Radiohead failed to shake off the song structures of the ‘Alternative Rock’ they were so keen to escape. With a couple of albums worth of acclaimed B Sides already behind them, that became more than a little obvious on ‘I Am A Wicked Child’. Surprisingly Trad Rock and bluesy with a fantastic sounding harmonica, the song was an obvious sonic misfit from the Hail To The Thief era, indeed any Radiohead era.


44. GORILLAZ ‘Spitting Out The Demons’ (‘Feel Good Inc’ CD May 2005)

Across the decades Damon Albarn has been an extraordinarily clever artist, his Gorillaz project arguably the cleverest of the lot. Not only has he persuaded the likes of Shaun Ryder, De La Soul, Bobby Womack, Dennis Hopper, Roots Manuva and Mark E. Smith to get involved, the man is so talented even his B Sides are different class, the irresistibly funky ‘Spitting Out The Demons’ just one in an enormously varied catalogue.   


45. FRANZ FERDINAND ‘All My Friends’ (LCD SOUNDSYSTEM ‘All My Friends’ CD May 2007)

2007 was the last year I had anything to do with singles or B Sides of any sort. My sleek, black, 160GB, iPod Classic beckoned so I gave up buying and listening to music in its physical CD format. LCD Soundsystem’s ‘All My Friends’ was one of the last I brought. Memorable because of the main titles epochal brilliance, I still found it somewhat ironic that the greatest recording of Franz Ferdinand’s career should feature amongst the supporting songs and that it should be a cover of the A Side. Thankfully though, with Alex Kapranos doing his best James Murphy impression and the rhythm section sticking with the originals motorik beat, their version was more than decent and a fitting place to end this minor history lesson.