Gray Flannel Mixtape – 10 Classic B-sides
Looking back, mixtapes sure were a pain in the ass to put together. But man, were they fun. So for just a minute, let’s imagine iPods don’t exist (I know, scary) and we are putting together a new one. The ground rules for the songs on this mixtape are:
- Each song was released as the B-side of a commercially available single.
- The songs did not appear on a regular album (at least not at first).
- No more than one song per band.
- I must like the song (the critical part).
- “Total Eclipse” (Iron Maiden) – Over the years Iron Maiden has compiled what is probably the strongest collection of B-sides in heavy metal history. This one nearly made it onto the group’s seminal 1982 album, The Number of the Beast, but was left off and instead included on the “Run to the Hills” single. The band has since rectified that oversight by including it on a subsequent reissue of the album.
- “Unchained Melody” (The Righteous Brothers) – I can’t hold it against the Righteous Brothers that this song is forever linked with the image of Patrick Swayze coming back from the dead to make some sex-ay pottery with Demi Moore. The fact is that this song is one of the prime example of how potent Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound treatment was. It’s also de rigeur at wedding receptions, and one of the great ballads of the 1960s to boot.
- “Crossing Over” (Van Halen) – This dark, brooding piece was originally recorded in 1983 and features Eddie Van Halen playing all the instruments. It was updated a decade later with new lyrics by Sammy Hagar, written as a tribute to recently deceased manager and friend Ed Leffler. It nearly made the final cut for 1995’s Balance, but was relegated to the B-side of the rather bland “Can’t Stop Loving You.” It was included as a bonus track on the Japanese album release. This is an atypical VH song, in that Eddie’s guitar provides more atmosphere than the usual lead fireworks.
- “Hiro’s Song” (Ben Folds) – I was totally bummed when Ben Folds Five broke up, but when I heard Ben’s first solo album, Rockin’ the Suburbs, I felt a whole lot better. One of the best songs from those recording sessions concerns Hiro, a rather unhappy guy going through a mid-life crisis. Instead of buying a convertible, he leaves his family and starts dating his secretary. Sadly, this new relationship isn’t very fulfilling. Sounds a little depressing, right? I’d think so too if I hadn’t actually heard the song. One of Folds’ best.
- “In the Still of the Nite” (The Five Satins) – Thanks in some part to its inclusion on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, this classic ballad is one of the most instantly recognizable Doo-Wop songs ever. But for its initial release – as “I’ll Remember (In the Still of the Night)” – it was the B-side to the now-forgotten “The Jones Girl.” Listen to any oldies station (any that are still left) and before long you’ll hear the famous “sho doe, sho be doe” vocal harmony.
- “Revolution” (The Beatles) – Despite Nike’s best efforts to destroy this song with crass commercialization, it remains one of the many gems in the Fab Four’s catalog. It features some of John Lennon’s more politically charged lyrics, and a scorching arrangement that wastes no time by opening with a distorted guitar riff and primal wail from Lennon. The Beatles recorded a slew of classic B-sides during their career, but this is my favorite of the bunch.
- “Murder By Numbers” (The Police) – This song, left off the mega-seller Synchronicity but added on subsequent re-issues, perfectly blends Sting’s pop sensibilities with Andy Summers’ angular guitar work. The lyrics (written either from the point-of-view of a professional killer or by an aspiring one) are some of the most macabre to be heard in a pop song. And of course, the musicianship of the trio is top-notch.
- “Dear God” (XTC) – This track was not included with the group’s classic Skylarking album, but was quickly added when it proved to be more popular than the album tracks. Although Andy Partridge can be rather flowery with his lyrics, on this song he’s about as subtle as a punch in the face. The angry, anti-theistic tone of the song is enhanced by having the first few verses (and the last) sung by a child.
- “Evidence of Autumn” (Genesis) – My love for this song has already been documented. It was recorded during the sessions for Duke – is the equal of anything on the album – and was the B-side of the “Misunderstanding” single. Tony Banks was at the peak of his powers here, and crafted a bittersweet song that never fails to get to me.
- “Hey Hey What Can I Do” (Led Zeppelin) – My first exposure to this laid-back classic was as part of Zep’s 1990 box set. This song is a rarity in the Led Zeppelin catalog – a non-album track appearing as a B-side (in this case, with “Immigrant Song”). The production style clearly marks it as coming from the Led Zeppelin III sessions, but it could just as easily been included on the first album.
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