Death of the ‘B’ Side
I was discussing it with my wife over the weekend and she made an interesting observation: there is no longer a “B” side.
Her specific point was that musicians often used the “B” side for introducing new, experimental ideas to their audience. Without it, the only thing that gets sold is the formulaic songs that they know people will buy.
I seem to recall, and certainly Bithead can clarify this, that radio stations only play what’s been released on a single, which means that adding experimental tracks to a full album doesn’t accomplish the same thing.
I had a few 45’s when I was a kid, mostly of the country genre (I recall, for example, that “Poems, Prayers, and Promises” was the flip side of John Denver’s “Country Roads”). By the time I started buying music myself, though, the cassette tape and subsequently the compact disc had largely obviated the single. Nowadays, of course, digital singles have largely obviated the album.
Anyhow, the “B” side thesis strikes me as quite plausible. It provided a means of introducing songs that weren’t manufactured as radio hits into the repertoire. If the flip side of the record was also a hit, it was largely accidental. For example, the Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday” was the B side of “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and became a hit because radio stations deemed the latter too risque.
Photo by Flickr user Ann Althouse under Creative Commons license.