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A-side and B-side

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A-side and B-side

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In recorded music, the terms A-side and B-side refer to the two sides of 7 inch vinyl records on which singles were released beginning in the 1950s. The terms have come to refer to the types of song conventionally placed on each side of the record, with the A-side being the featured song (the one that the record producer hopes will receive radio airplay and become a "hit"), while the B-side, or "flipside," is secondary.



In the era of the 78 rpm shellac records A-sides and B-sides existed, but for the most part radio stations would play either side of the record, and records often had more than one track per side. The "side" did not convey anything about the content of the record.

The terms came into popular use with the advent of 45 rpm vinyl records in the early 1950s. It became conventional to release "singles" containing two songs, one on each side of the record. At first, most record labels would randomly assign which song would be an A-side and which would be a B-side. Because of this, many artists had so-called "double-sided hits", where both songs on a record made one of the national sales charts (in Billboard, Cashbox or other magazines), or would be featured on jukeboxes in public places.

As time wore on, however, the convention for assigning songs to sides of the record changed. Generally, the song on the A-side was the song that the record company wanted radio stations to play. By the early 1990s double-sided hits had become rare. Album sales had increased, and B-sides had become the side of the record where non-album, non-radio-friendly, or simply inferior recordings were placed.

With the advent of cassette and compact disc singles in the late 1980s, the A side/B side differentiation became much less meaningful. At first cassette singles would often have one song on each side of the cassette, matching the arrangement of vinyl records, but eventually cassette maxi-singles, containing more than two songs, became more popular. With the decline of cassette singles in the 1990s, the A-side/B-side dichotomy became virtually extinct, as the remaining dominant medium, the compact disc, lacks an equivalent physical distinction. However, the term B-side is still frequently used to refer to the "bonus" tracks or "coupling" tracks on a CD single, and a very few vinyl singles are still released.

With the advent of legal methods of downloading music via the Internet, even the CD single has become virtually non-existent, and thus the B-side as well. Songs that were not part of an artist's collection of albums are made available through the same downloadable catalogs as tracks from their albums, and are usually referred to as "unreleased", "non-album", or "exclusive" tracks, the latter in the case of a song being available solely from a certain provider of music.


B-side songs are released on the same record as a single to provide extra "value for money". There are several types of material commonly released in this way:

  • a different (e.g., instrumental, a capella, live, acoustic, or remixed) version of the A-side
  • another song from the same album, which the record company does not want to release on its own
  • a song not considered good enough for the album
  • a song that was stylistically unsuitable for the album
  • a song that had not yet been completed at the time of the album's release

Since both sides of a single received equal royalties some composers deliberately arranged for their songs to be used as the B-sides of singles by popular artists, thereby making a fortune literally off the back of the A-side. This became known as the "flipside racket".

On a few occasions, the B-side became the more popular song. This was usually because a DJ preferred the B-side to its A-side and played it instead. Then the B-side would in a sense become the A-side, by virtue of being the preferred side. Examples:

Gene Vincent - Woman Love/Be-Bop-A-Lula
Righteous Brothers - Stuck on You/Unchained Melody (that the cover of 'Unchained Melody', an already widely recorded 1950's hit, enjoyed more airplay and popularity than the A-side when it had only originally been intended as something of a throwaway B-side greatly angered producer Phil Spector)
Madonna - Angel/Into the Groove
Rod Stewart - Reason To Believe/Maggie May

Sometimes the B-side is so popular that the single is 'flipped' and the b-side officially becomes the main track in its own right. Such as:

The Stone Roses - Fools Gold
Gloria Gaynor - I Will Survive
New Order - True Faith

Even more rarely, both sides of the single would become hits. This feat was done repeatedly by some artists. Examples:

Elvis Presley - Don't Be Cruel/Hound Dog
Fats Domino - I Wanna Walk You Home/Walking To New Orleans
Queen - We Are The Champions/We Will Rock You
The Beatles - Hey Jude/Revolution

The song How Soon Is Now? by The Smiths started out as the extra track on the 12" of William It Was Really Nothing but later gained a separate release as an A-side in its own right.

The flip side of a single does not necessarily contain B-side material. A single containing two songs of normal quality is referred to as a "double A-side". In rare occasions there are even triple A-side singles, such as "What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted"/"You'll Never Walk Alone"/"Saturday Night At The Movies", the 1996 triple A-side #1 UK single by Robson and Jerome.

In reference to this convention, it has occasionally seemed a good joke to issue a "double B-side" single. Examples include Styrafoam/Texas Chainsaw Massacre Boogie by The Tyla Gang (1976) and a single by Marvin the Paranoid Android in 1981. Don't Cry Wolf/One Way Love by The Damned was dubbed a "double D-side".

On some reissued singles the A- and B-sides are by completely different artists, or two songs from different albums that would not normally have been released together. These were sometimes made for jukeboxes, as one record with two popular songs on it would make more money.

Other types of non-primary sound recording

B-sides are different from unreleased material, outtakes and demos. Unreleased material, for obvious reasons, usually doesn't see the light of day. On rare occasions, particularly for reissues, these songs are in fact placed on albums, often with that description after it. In an extreme case, singer Moby's DVD titled "18 B-Sides and DVD" featured 21 of them.

Outtakes are songs recorded for an album but, either for technical or artistic purposes, not included in the released album. They occasionally appear on reissues of albums, billed as "bonus tracks". Georgia group R.E.M.'s album titled "Dead Letter Office", for example, is largely a collection of outtakes from their previous albums.

Demos are early versions of songs which, like "unreleased material", seldom see the light of day. Demos of songs often have additional or alternative verses. Often more demos than full songs are recorded, as an artist goes back and retools what is already present. Singers Moby, Prince, and Billy Corgan of now-defunct group Smashing Pumpkins are rumored to have large personal collections of demos.

On occasion, artists release albums of compiled B-sides and rare tracks, making it easier for fans to listen to new and unheard material from discontinued singles. Nirvana's Incesticide, The Smashing Pumpkins' Pisces Iscariot, and Green Day's Shenanigans are examples, as are the "Switched-On" series of compilations by Stereolab. In 2004, Feeder released Picture Of Perfect Youth, a limited edition album which contained 36 b-sides across two CDs.

B-side collections

Anthrax - Attack of the Killer B's (1991)
Bouncing Souls - The Bad the Worse and the Out of Print (2002)
Broken Social Scene - Bee Hives (2003)
The Cure - Join the Dots: B-Sides and Rarities, 1978-2001 [Boxset] (2004)
Def Leppard - Retro Active (1993)
Deftones - B-sides & Rarities (2005)
Do As Infinity - Do The B-Side (2004)
Dropkick Murphys - Singles Collection Volume 1 (2000)
Dropkick Murphys - Singles Collection Volume 2 (2005)
Eels - B-Sides & Rarities 1996-2003 (2005) (an iTunes Music Store Collection)
Feeder - Picture Of Perfect Youth (2004)
Five Iron Frenzy - Cheeses...(of Nazareth) (2003)
Fountains of Wayne - Out of State Plates (2005)
Godsmack - The Other Side (2003)
Gorillaz - G-Sides (2001)
Green Day - Shenanigans (2002)
hitomi - HTM ~TIARTROP FLES~ (2003)
Iron Maiden - Best of the B'Sides (2002)
James - Ultra (2001)
Jars of Clay - The White Elephant Sessions (1999)
Elton John - Rare Masters (1992)
Kent - B-Sidor 95-00 (2000)
Less Than Jake - B is for B-Sides (2004)
Mae - Destination: B-Sides (2004)
Manic Street Preachers - Lipstick Traces (2003)
Matthew Good Band - Lo-Fi B-Sides (1997)
Moby - Play: The B Sides (2001)
Moby - 18 B-Sides (2004) (most of the b-sides from album 18)
Morphine - B-Sides and Otherwise (1997)
Muse - Hullabaloo (2001)
Nirvana - Incesticide (1992)
NOFX - 45 or 46 Songs That Weren't Good Enough to Go on Our Other Records (2002)
No Doubt - Everything in Time (2004)
Oasis - The Masterplan (1998)
Ocean Colour Scene - B-sides, Seasides and Freerides (1997)
OMD - Navigation - The B-Sides (2001)
Pearl Jam - Lost Dogs (2003)
Pet Shop Boys - Alternative (1995)
Pixies - Complete B-Sides (2001)
Scaterd Few - Out of the Attic (1994)
Shihad - B-Sides (1996)
Skid Row - B-Side Ourselves (1992)
Skinny Puppy - B-Sides Collect (1999)
Smashing Pumpkins - Pisces Iscariot (1994)
Smashing Pumpkins - Judas O (2001) (limited edition bonus CD to Rotten Apples; a collection of B-sides meant to "sequel" Pisces Iscariot)
Something for Kate - Phantom Limbs - Selected B Sides (2004)
Suede - Sci-Fi Lullabies (1997)
Tears for Fears - Saturnine Martial & Lunatic (1996)
They Might Be Giants - Miscellaneous T (1991)
XTC - Beeswax: Some B-Sides 1977-1982 (1982)
Weezer - B-Sides And Rarities (1994) (which is actually a widespread bootleg, not an official album)

Albums featuring extensive b-sides

New Order - Substance (1987)
The Smiths - The World Won't Listen (1987)
The Smiths - Louder Than Bombs (1987)
The Beatles - Past Masters, Volume One (1988)
The Beatles - Past Masters, Volume Two (1988)
Prince - The Hits/The B-Sides (1993)
Sarah McLachlan - Rarities, B-Sides and Other Stuff (1996)
U2 - The Best of 1980-1990: Limited Edition (1998)
Cowboy Junkies - Rarities, B-Sides and Slow, Sad Waltzes (1999)
U2 - The Best of 1990-2000: Limited Edition (2002)
Ash - Intergalactic Sonic 7s (incl Bonus CD Cosmic Debris) (2002)
Blur - Bustin' + Dronin'" (1998)
Mansun - Kleptomania (2004)
Morrissey - Bona Drag (1990)
Morrissey - World of Morrissey (1995)
Morrissey - My Early Burglary Years (1998)
Morrissey - You Are the Quarry: Deluxe Edition (2004)
Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral: Deluxe Edition (2004)
Weezer - Weezer Deluxe Edition
Korn - "See You on the Other Side (Deluxe Edition)" (2005)
Slipknot - "Slipknot (Digipak)" (2000)
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Playback (1995)
Steps - The Last Dance (2002)
Billy Joel - My Lives (2005)
Avril Lavigne - B-Sides (200?)

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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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