My favorite oft under examined trends in society are as follows:
- A: Facebook being a bastion of technical superiority in the social world but opting not to include a Spell Check apparatus, thus rendering the millions of users whose inability to delineate the myriad, yet seemingly instinctual (possibly ingrained?) uses of contractions exposed to the judgement and ridicule of the masses. (MORE ON THIS LATER)
- B: The amazing possibilities inherent in transforming a noun into a verb to enhance description, usually not in polite conversation e.g. Sperm. Turd. “I totally spermed all over her!” or “You called but I was busy playing Angry Birds while turding in the handicapped stall.” (PROBABLY NOT THIS)
- C: The innate ability of everything that is ever considered great occasionally shitting the bed.
Everything that is great occasionally shits the bed. Coke made New Coke. Bowie and Mick did “Dancing In The Streets”. Halle Berry did Catwoman, Spielberg did Crystal Skull- its all out there for the public to see. However, for the sake of this column, I will focus on those that INTENTIONALLY expel their mediocre, their downright morbid, albeit well intended, drivel upon us. I’m talking about B-Sides.
Lets face it. For the average music lover, B-Sides, as compared to the much labored over Album Tracks, aren’t really a gamble worth taking. Even if you LOVE the band. They are the equivalent of watching Jack Nicholson play RP McMurphy, The Joker, Melvin Udall, Frank Costello, and then following him into his bathroom and patiently watching him squeeze out his morning dump. People that usually find pleasure in B-Sides are basically people that, due to their love of Jack Nicholson, would go out of their way to watch him poop. Whereas this says more about the addicting nature of fame and celebrity than actually illustrating how scatological B-sides can be, you can see the connection. B-Sides are usually the product of the band experimenting with drugs for the first time while in the studio, or perhaps just running out of said drugs. They are songs that they, or perhaps their all-knowing producers, kept from the album for a multitude of reasons. Sometimes it’s because they just don’t fit with the concept. Sometimes it’s because they covered the Spice Girls, backwards, with Mandolins.
Now who actually loves B-sides? They have to be such ardent fans of the band or musician that they would actually enjoy a catalogue of their scribble and disjointed, miscarried ideas. “Hey that Sashimi Platter (album) was amazing! But I’m still hungry (mistake)! Is there anything left in the kitchen that you didn’t think was fit for consumption (B-sides)?” This train of thought is ripe with the scent of mediocrity and sometimes pungent with downright musical atrocity.
“Oh thank you so much! Remind me to never invite you again…”
Box-sets are a perfect example of such atrocity. Assuredly most purchased as Christmas gifts, for that one in-law you wish would be nibbled to death by a herd o’ baby ducks. Its the kind of gift that panders to the recipient and says ”Hey! I mildly recall you like Neil Diamond! Well here is everything he ever didn’t release!”
It calls to mind the fact that only an extreme, downright pathological Neil Diamond fan would appreciate this. They look at Neil Diamond as their child. Imagine a spatula wielding, apron clad matriarch exclaiming, “Look Dwight! Look what little Portnoy has made for us! He has glued some macaroni noodles to a sheet of paper! Isn’t it extraordinary! I shall put it on the fridge!”
That is the kind of love B-Side people have for B-sides. But only from their own child. By that same logic, if the neighbor’s kid brought the same matriarch a noodle picture she would look upon it like a zip-lock bag of bunny turds. Just as the Neil Diamond fan might look upon the Neil YOUNG box-set you just handed them for their birthday. HOW DARE YOU??? YOU DON’T KNOW ME AT ALL!
I listened to The Beatles Anthology as a kid. For most everyone, it was a critically acclaimed and overpriced trippy look at all of the great moments in Beatledom that didn’t make it to the albums. Some songs were wild and zany, like acapella takes on well known classics, extended guitar riffs, improvised lyrics, but others were a good Beatles song with just like one or two mistakes. For those of us who loved The Beatles, it was a rare and exciting glimpse of a side never seen before, and therefore was priceless. But for those of us who just wanted to listen to a fucking Beatles collection- like myself when I was 12- it was horrendous. Every song was not nearly as good as I had remembered it or enjoyed it. The ones that were sounded like they were recorded by drunks. It was like an Amy Winehouse concert as compared to an Amy Winehouse album. Was I just too addled and mainstream to realize how priceless and genuine this was? Or was I truly unimpressed? The mystery haunts me still. I knew early on that there is a reason some songs make it to the album and some don’t.
So I looked at the B-sides I had gambled on in years past. I am a product of a corrupt generation that knows B-sides better than the previous two generations, even though I have never ever purchased a single . Simply because I downloaded the shit out of them without even knowing it. Entire discographies of artists I barely knew, but I knew at least one or two songs of. ”Oh that one popular song has a nice beat to it, perhaps I shall steal their entire discography?” Guilty as charged! As time passed I became more and more lethargic (and scared, now anyways) to swipe files off the web.
There was a time when if I liked a band enough I would scour the web for any and all extra tracks I could get my hands on, as if forcing my way through the structureless drivel that didn’t make their albums would bring me closer to their infectious strain of ingenuity, and make me one of those all endearing “true fans” , so perhaps if/when I ever saw them in concert I could be one of those annoying twerps who knew every word to EVERY song, even the B-sides. “Ha! You think you know Conor Oberst! Think again emo-robot! I know the B-sides!”
Nowadays I no longer scour the web for B-sides. If I do, its because there aren’t enough new LOLcats to “ooooh” at. The days of downloading massive megabytes worth of music and then picking through them piece by piece to identify the greats and the sort through the chaff are over. I let the rest of Synconation do that for me. (Work smarter not harder.) So my opinion of B-sides is sort of limited to the 2002-2008 era. And so these examples may be dated a bit. You’ll all get your chance to bitch me out for this at some point, so take a number.
All this being said, here are 5 prime examples of B-sides that are pure exceptions to the “B-Sides Be Shite” rule. Some are even better than the songs that made it to the album. A really great article would be “Five B-Sides that are better than the album tracks”. One could argue that until the Lemurs came home. I even considered arguing that point about these songs myself, but then I refined my mind using the ole Stella Artois method, and decided that these simply could be the best B-sides I ever bought/stole in my more youthful years. There were many that sucked ass. Radiohead, my sweet sweet Radiohead, has made some simply godawful attempts at B-Sidery. Some will attack me for this, but yea I say unto thee, here are some B-sides that were worth the gamble and simply made the whole experience better.
Kasabian – Ovary Stripe (Full band version)
Sweet Jesus this song is amazing. The album version of this is damp electronic ambiance. This song should have been on the album, and the album version should have been tucked away in a file called “If Kraftwerk covered our songs.” It is by far the best song by Kasabian, or the one I listen to most, especially when driving very fast and fantasizing about an as-of-now untitled zombie apocalypse epic that one day I could write and direct and goddammit, this song would make the soundtrack. The “Ovary Stripe” scene would probably involve a station wagon converted into a chain-gunning and zombie impaling ATV, driving full speed into a slew of the undead, with Harvey Kietel manning the M60 and Betty White at the wheel. What kind of fantastic thoughts will it bring you? Whatever the answer, this song needs more attention.
Coldplay - I Ran Away
Whilst not exactly a full departure from their style, this song exists in a space away from the Coldplay that we all know and love/know and despise/know and are ambivalent toward. Right at the peak of A Rush Of Blood To The Head’s amazing ascent into britrock/ britpop glory, this one just didn’t make the cut. And its amazing. “I Ran Away” perfectly encapsulates the perils of romanticism that boils inside adolescent males, growing up in a culture that could easily be defined as a homophobic police state. (You know how I know you’re gay? You listen to Coldplay B-sides.) The truth is, we all listened to Coldplay. It improved our odds of getting laid- no brainer! But I listened to them enough to know their B-sides. No regrets.
Franz Ferdinand – Linsey Wells, Drinking Wine In The Afternoon
These frenetic Scotsmen even went so far as to give their B-sides music videos! Great Scot! The songs were catchy and delicious with great hooks, but the styles of both songs seem more toward period pieces, departures from the glammed-out mod mentality inherent in their albums. They were released in Australia, mostly on vinyl. And the songs have a web cult behind them, an underground for the undergrounders. People who prefer the one style of Franz Ferdinand to the more popular rocking one known everywhere else. Whenever I’ve ever met anyone who knows these songs, they usually are smarter and better dressed than I.
Keane – Emily
Whine, whine, whine, whine, ouch-ouch-ouch, broke heart, broken heart all that. Just as Adele should write a royalty check to whomever pissed on her heart long ago, so should Keane (Coldplay too? I dunno. It seems hard to write amazingly sad broken hearted songs when you’re nailing Gwenyth Paltrow and sitting on a sand dune of money). Someone named Emily haunts the shit out of Keane, and if it had been properly slipped into the album, Emily could have probably made them a fair amount of money. Keane, you are going to get me in even more trouble than Coldplay is. When my friends with Slayer-themed tattoos and The Clash records hanging on their walls read this I might as well move to another state. But shit, the song was great. It was moving, it was melodious and ephemeral, like a dream you just woke up from and don’t want to forget about.
Bright Eyes- Stray Dog Freedom
I have to admit this. I have a respect/hate relationship with Conor Oberst. And no, not just because one day he snuck into my house and snorted up all of my baking soda. I admire his music, and even have been known to slide low enough down the emo-pole to assess some of his lyrics as pure genius. But that being said, I once had a girlfriend with more issues than Time magazine who lived and breathed Bright Eyes. Which means whenever she had control of the radio, Bright Eyes it was. All week, all day, Bright Eyes. She knew every word. She knew his B-sides. She made me know every word, even to his B-sides. She wrote down in notebooks which songs of his made her cry, and what parts, in felt tip pens. Which begs the question, “Is Happiness really best shared?” Don’t you HATE when people recite their dreams to you? Well, people you aren’t trying to have sex with anyway. Or describe how exquisite a meal was? You can’t hand me a bite of your steak over the phone, so shut up about it, Jesus.
(I bought her tickets to a Bright Eyes show once, and thanks to beer and bravery, I tried to start a mosh pit in the sea of crying wrist slashers. I saw several people in epic flannel turn to look upon me with bright, albeit angry eyes. I could see Conor Oberst on stage, just wishing they would let the kid in the back mosh if he wanted to.)
All that being said, “Stray Dog Freedom” was a wonderful song. It should have been on the album. Cassadega, for those that know, was a grand foray into psychedelic alt-country. There were some dark lyrics to boot, but cmon. You can’t slit your wrists to Cassadega. Not anymore than you could to Band On The Run. And Stray Dog Freedom is a beautiful song.
Fuck you Conor Oberst. There. I feel better now for having made my peace by publicly condemning you for being the glorious soundtrack to a shitty relationship. Maybe one day we can have coffee together and talk about the old times.
As for the Sixth one here, the Sixth Star as it were, I welcome all to present the best B-side they know of. It could be death metal or math rock or yodeling, but it must be the best one they know of. Just know that I will be judging you. I was brave enough to run with the early Coldplay bit. By now you will have gathered that sometimes my greatest strength comes in my near constant ability to humiliate myself with no fear of regret. Nobody said it was easy…