The b-side can be a wonderful thing. Though some of the results are a little harrowing, often times it’s the flip side is more successful than the single. Something about not having the pressure of making a hit single or pleasing radio stations invites artists to experiment and lets loose, which leaves us with some amazing songs. There was no way I could cover all of the best or notable b-sides in this playlist, so these are just a handful of tracks from some of my favorite artists. So sit back, push play, and get lost in the whimsical world of the b-side.
“Dangerous” – Depeche Mode
This b-side to the already steamy “Personal Jesus” is one of the band’s sexiest songs. It doesn’t have anything to do with the content, rather it’s all about the sound. The hard electro beat and Dave Gahan’s smooth baritone vocals just makes the whole thing sound sexy as hell. Something about it puts a twist in your spine and gives you goosebumps. It even sounds a bit dangerous, especially with the slinking rhythm. In terms of style, the song has the same dark, cold vibe that took over the Violator album. Most would say “Happiest Girl” is the band’s best b-side and while it is good, it’s this gem that’s always been my favorite.
“10:15 Saturday Night” – The Cure
The Cure is one of those bands with a ton of amazing b-sides. I actually made a list of ten of my favorites a while ago. Since that list has all my favorites, here’s another stellar b-side from the band I didn’t talk about. This song features the unmistakable cry of Robert Smith and the “drip, drip, drip” line that pounds into your head. It was this song that convinced Chris Parry to sign the band to his newly formed label Fiction. And though it was the b-side to “Killing an Arab” you could still find it on their debut album. Still, you gotta give credit to the track that started the long and wonderful history of The Cure.
“Pink Ego Box” – Muse
Muse is another band with an insane amount of great b-sides, which is why I also made a list of favorites. While this b-side to “Muscle Museum” didn’t make the cut, it’s still one of their better tracks. It has a pretty simple beat and guitar riff while a young Matt Bellamy wails on about online relationships. The song doesn’t get intense until the end when the rough guitars start screaming along with Bellamy who yells “You turn me on” repeatedly. There’s actually an earlier version of this song under the name “Instant Messenger” that had an AOL clip saying “You’ve got post.” It had to be removed for copyright reasons, so the band renamed the song. The second title is way more intriguing anyway.
“Into the Groove” – Madonna
This song was originally the b-side to the Madonna single “Angel.” Only later when it was featured on the soundtrack to her film Desperately Seeking Susan was it released as a stand alone single. Either way this is still one of Madonna’s best songs. It celebrates and emulates the club scene she was so fond of in her early years. With the high energy and the blazing synth, you can’t help but get up and dance whenever it comes on. It’s become a fan favorite over the years and is a track Madonna rarely leaves out of her setlist. The song has been remixed, reworked, and reimagined since it was first released, but nothing beats the original that helped make Madonna a megastar.
“Get Down Make Love” – Nine Inch Nails
There are more remixes than b-sides in the NIN catalog, but during the Pretty Hate Machine era, Trent Reznor and company did an industrial cover of this Queen song for the b-side of “Sin.” Whereas the original tries to be sensual and sexy, this version is nothing but raw, harsh, and creepy. The song has all the pulsing synth and electronic that makes NIN songs distinctive and it opens with a odd sample of a doctor asking about a patient’s sexual history. Moaning can be heard throughout the track and if you listen close enough you can hear the actual Queen version albeit played backwards. The experience is weird and eerie, but when you look at songs like “Closer” did we really expect Reznor to treat love and sex nicely?
“Tonight We Murder” – Ministry
Some of the most terrifying and heaviest music comes from Ministry and this song fits both those labels. Released as the b-side to “Stigmata” this track sounds like pure hell. Al Jourgensen cackles, wails, and screams like he’s being tortured while the intense music thumps and grinds to the beat. Everything keeps getting more brutal as Jourgensen steadily loses control as he’s singing. The best is the hook where he sounds evil when he repeats “tonight we murder/tonight we murder.” It actually sounds very similar to Thrill Kill Kult‘s early material, which is no surprise since the two previously worked together.
“Again” – HIM
This melancholy track first appeared as the b-side to “In Joy and Sorrow,” but was later released on a limited edition of Deep Shadows and Brilliant Highlights. The track is pretty standard for the band: dirty guitars, Ville Valo’s soaring sweet vocals, and Gothic inspired lyrics. This is yet another song that seems to explore the realm of love and death like most of their material. It easily would’ve fit on their third album. The song was later featured in the film Haggard, which was directed by Bam Margera (remember him?) This doesn’t come as a surprise since Bam was obssesed with the band and eventually became friends with Valo.
“Carry Me In” – Cage the Elephant
Cage the Elephant is a current band I know of that actively releases b-sides. All of them are pretty solid, but one of the best is this b-side to their 2011 single “Shake Me Down.” Singer Matt Shultz sounds weary and weakened as he sings “Love/carry me in/held down by my words/and weight of my sins.” The music starts out kind of frantic especially the beginning, which kind of has this spaghetti Western vibe. Right when you think the song is over, everything slows down to a lull and Shultz continues to mumble his way through the rest of the song. What started out as kind of bright ends on a melancholy note.
“You’re so Vague” – Queens of the Stone Age
I originally wanted to go with “Born To Hula,” but it’s a re-recording of a Kyuss song, the band Josh Homme used to be in. So, I went with this Rated R b-side instead. Using a play on the Carly Simon single “You’re So Vain,” Homme uses his sweet, soothing vocals to sing cringing lyrics like “Green eyed boys/lick the razor blades/girl I think I love you/and the mess you made” and he sounds hypnotic while doing so. There’s even a cool twist on the hook where he sings “Baby you’re so vague/that you probably think this song ain’t about you.” As usual with QOTSA songs, the music is fucking awesome with guitars that move at a dragging pace, but still manage to sound sexy as hell. Then again don’t most of their songs sound sultry?
“We Will Rock You” – Queen
Did you know that this massive Queen hit started out as a b-side? What’s now considered an anthem for every sporting event across the world was originally the flip side to the equally popular “We Are the Champions.” Its simple stomp clapping beat, Freddie Mercury’s passionate vocal delivery, and Brain May’s searing guitar solo at the end are what makes the song unforgettable. It’s a timeless track and definitely among the band’s best. Both songs were actually written after one show during their 1977 tour when the band walked off stage and the crowd clapped and sand “You’ll Never Walk Alone” to them. Let’s just try to forget the horrible cover versions.
“Sick of Me” – Green Day
This b-side to “Hitchin’ a Ride” finds the classic snotty Green Day attitude as Billie Joe laments a dying a relationship. Though it’s a good song, it’s pretty similar to their other tracks from this time: simple three chord rock with a catchy hook. Still, there are some great bratty and funny lyrics like “Like a dog/that just pissed in your barbecue/sick of me.” This couple tries to make it work, but by the end Billie admits “I’m sick of you too.” Since it follows the winning Green Day formula, it should appeal to most fans. The track was later released on b-side compilation album Shenanigans.
“Fingers and Toes” – Biffy Clyro
If there’s one current band dedicated to the art of the b-side it’s Biffy Clyro. For just about all of their albums, they’ve released a companion b-side LP. They have so many it was hard to pick just one, so I went with on my favorites from their last release Similarities. What instantly catches your attention is the opening line “ladies ask why I’ve got/no fingers and toes.” From there the music kicks up and gets pretty intense, but what’s great about this is they do it without a mass amount of distortion. And even though the music has amped up singer Simon Neil’s voice remain calm throughout. Biffy is definitely one of those bands where their b-sides are just as good, sometimes even better, than the a-sides.
“Throw Them to the Lions” – Siouxsie and the Banshees
Released on the flip side to “Dazzle,” this b-side is the exact opposite of the single. Whereas the a-side is very upbeat and almost whimsical, this one greets the listener with a minute of noise and distortion before Siouxsie Sioux’s soothing voice comes on. Everything about the track is pretty chaotic and all over the place. The music is really dirty, harsh, and intense making it a stand out track. The song also manages to be catchy with Sioux’s warrior cry of “hey/hey/hey” midway through. Sioux and crew have quite a few good b-sides, but this one has always been my favorite.
“Aneurysm” – Nirvana
Though the song did eventually see a wider release both on Incesticide and From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, this Nirvana track was originally released as the b-side to “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” From Kurt Cobain growling “Come on over/and do the twist” to the whirring guitar riff that opens the song, it has become one of the best tracks in the band’s entire catalog. The song has several references to Cobain’s ex-girlfriend Tobi Vail of Bikini Kill along with poking fun at pop music conventions and even his own drug use, which was nothing but a rumor at the time. The best part comes when Cobain lets loose a ragged and weary howl right before the end. It shows how Cobain knew how to transfer a lot his pain into kick ass songs.
There are a ton of b-sides I missed, so let me know which one is your favorite in the comments!