A-side and B-side
A-side and B-side refer to the two sides of 78, 45, and 33
1/3 rpm phonograph records, whether singles, extended plays (EPs), or
long-playing (LP) records. The A-side usually featured the recording
that the artist, record producer, or the record company intended to
receive the initial promotional effort and then receive radio airplay,
hopefully, to become a "hit" record. The B-side (or "flip-side") is a
secondary recording that has a history of its own: some artists
released B-sides that were considered as strong as the A-side and
became hits in their own right. Others took the opposite approach:
Phil Spector was in the habit of filling B-sides with
on-the-spot instrumentals that no one would confuse with the A-side.
With this practice, Spector was assured that airplay was focused on
the side he wanted to be the hit side.
Music recordings have moved away from records onto other formats such
as CDs and digital downloads, which do not have "sides", but the terms
are still used to describe the type of content, with B-side sometimes
standing for "bonus" track.
3 Double A-side
4 Double B-side
5 Humorous implementations
7 B-side compilations
The first sound recordings at the end of the 19th century were made on
cylinder records, which had a single round surface capable of holding
approximately two minutes of sound. Early shellac disc records records
only had recordings on one side of the disc, with a similar capacity
(both media could hold between three and four minutes by 1910).
Double-sided recordings, with one song on each side, were introduced
in Europe by
Columbia Records in 1908 and by the late 1910s they had
become the norm in both Europe and the United States; the ability to
effectively double the amount of sound on the disc was one major
factor in it rising to dominance over the obsolete cylinder in the
1910s. There were no record charts until the 1930s, and radio stations
(by and large) did not play recorded music until the 1950s (when top
40 radio overtook full-service network radio). In this time, A-sides
and B-sides existed, but neither side was considered more important;
the "side" did not convey anything about the content of the record.
Columbia Records introduced the 7, 10 and 12 inch 33 1/3 rpm
long-playing (LP) vinyl record for commercial sales, and its rival
RCA-Victor, in cooperation of the Radio Corporation of America,
responded the next year with the seven-inch 45 rpm vinyl record, which
would come to replace the 78 as the home of the single. The term
"single" came into popular use with the advent of vinyl records in the
early 1950s. At first, most record labels would randomly assign which
song would be an A-side and which would be a B-side. (All records have
specific identifiers for each side in addition to the catalog number
for the record itself; the "A" side would typically be assigned a
sequentially lower number.) Under this random system, 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. By the early sixties, the song on the A-side
was the song that the record company wanted radio stations to play, as
45 records (or '45s') dominated the market in terms of cash sales. It
was not until 1968, for instance, that the total production of albums
on a unit basis finally surpassed that of singles in the United
Kingdom. In the late 1960s stereo versions of pop and rock songs
began to regularly appear on 45s. The majority of the 45s were played
on AM radio stations, which were not equipped for stereo broadcast at
the time, so stereo was not a priority. However, the FM rock stations
did not like to play monaural content, so the record companies adopted
a protocol for DJ versions with the mono version of the song on one
side, and stereo version of the same song on the other.
By the early 1970s, 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, instrumental versions or simply
inferior recordings were placed. In order to further ensure that radio
stations played the side that the record companies had chosen, it was
common for the promotional copies (DJ version) of a single to have the
"plug side" on both sides of the disc.
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, lacked an equivalent
physical distinction. However, the term "B-side" is still used to
refer to the "bonus" tracks or "coupling" tracks on a CD single.
With the advent of downloading music via the Internet, sales of CD
singles and other physical media have declined, and the term "B-side"
is now less commonly used. 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", "bonus", "non-album", "rare", "outtakes" or "exclusive"
tracks, the latter in the case of a song being available solely from a
certain provider of music.
B-side songs may be 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, including a different version (e.g.,
instrumental, a cappella, live, acoustic, remixed version or in
another language), or, in a concept record, a song that does not fit
into the story line.
Additionally, it was common in the 1960s and 1970s for longer songs,
especially by soul, funk, and R&B acts, to be broken into two
parts for single release. Examples of this include Ray Charles's
"What'd I Say", the Isley Brothers' "Shout", and a number of records
by James Brown, including "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" and "Say It
Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud". Typically, "part one" would be the
chart hit, while "part two" would be a continuation of the same
performance. A notable example of a non-R&B hit with two parts was
the single release of Don McLean's "American Pie". With the advent of
the 12in single in the late 1970s, the part one/part two method of
recording was largely abandoned.
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. This became known as the "flipside
racket". Similarly, it has also been alleged that
owners of pirate radio stations operating off the British coast in the
1960s would buy the publishing rights to the B-sides of records they
expected to be hits, and then plug the A-sides in the hope of driving
up sales and increasing their share of the royalties.
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. Examples include "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor
(originally the B-side of "Substitute"), "I'll Be Around" by the
Spinners (originally the B-side of "How Could I Let You Get Away") and
"Maggie May" by
Rod Stewart (originally the B-side of "Reason to
The song "How Soon Is Now?" by the Smiths started out as the extra
track on the 12-inch of
William, It Was Really Nothing
William, It Was Really Nothing but later
gained a separate release as an A-side in its own right, as did
Oasis's "Acquiesce", which originally appeared as a B-side to "Some
Might Say" in 1995, but gained subsequent release in 2006 as part of
an EP to promote their forthcoming compilation album, Stop the Clocks.
Feeder in 2001 and 2005 had the B-sides "Just a Day" from "Seven Days
in the Sun", and "Shatter" from "Tumble and Fall" released as A-sides
after fan petitions and official website and fansite message board
hype, and both charted at No. 12 and No. 11 in the UK. In 1986, the
first single from XTC's record Skylarking, "Grass", was eclipsed in
the United States by its B-side, "Dear God" – so much so that the
record was almost immediately re-released with one song ("Mermaid
Smiled") removed and "Dear God" put in its place, becoming one of the
band's better-known hits.
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
the jukebox, as one record with two popular songs on it would make
more money, or to promote an artist to the fans of another. For
example, in 1981
Kraftwerk released their new single "Computer Love"
coupled with the B-side "The Model", from their 1978 LP The
Man-Machine. With synthpop increasingly dominating the UK charts, the
single was re-released with the sides reversed. In early 1982 "The
Model" reached number one.
A "double A-side" is a single where both sides are designated the
A-side; there is no B-side on such a single. The double A-sided single
was invented in December 1965 by the Beatles for their single of "Day
Tripper" and "We Can Work It Out", where both were designated
A-sides. They used the format again for the release of the singles
"Eleanor Rigby" and "Yellow Submarine” in 1966 followed by "Penny
Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" in 1967. Other groups followed
suit, notably the Rolling Stones in early 1967 with "Let's Spend the
Night Together" and "Ruby Tuesday" as a double-A single.[citation
A double A-sided single is often confused with a single where both
sides, the A and the B, became hits. Although many artists in the late
1950s and early 1960s like Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers, Fats
Domino, Ricky Nelson, the Beach Boys, Brenda Lee, and Pat Boone,
routinely had hit singles where both sides of the 45 received airplay,
these were not double A-sides. The charts below tally the instances
for artist's singles where both sides were hits, not where both sides
were designated an A-side upon manufacture and release. For instance
"Hound Dog," the B-side of "Don't Be Cruel" by Elvis Presley, became
as big a hit as its A-side even though "Hound Dog" was indeed not an
A-side when released in 1956. Reissues later in the 1960s (and after
the Beatles' "Day Tripper"/"We Can Work It Out") listed the single
with both songs as the A-side. Also, for Cliff Richard's 1962 "The
Next Time"/"Bachelor Boy", both sides were marketed as songs with
chart potential, albeit with "Bachelor Boy" pressed as the B-side.
In the UK, before the advent of digital downloads, both A-sides were
accredited with the same chart position, as the singles' chart was
compiled entirely from physical sales. In the UK, the biggest-selling
non-charity single of all time was a double A-side, Wings' 1977
release "Mull of Kintyre"/"Girls' School", which sold over two million
copies. It was also the UK Christmas No. 1 that year, one of only two
occasions on which a double A-side has topped that chart, the other
being Queen's 1991 re-release of "Bohemian Rhapsody" with "These Are
the Days of Our Lives". Nirvana released "All Apologies" and "Rape
Me" as a double A-side in 1993, and both songs are accredited as a hit
on both the UK Singles Chart, and the Irish Singles Chart.
Queen released their first double-A single, "Killer Queen"/"Flick of
the Wrist", in 1974. "Killer Queen" became a hit, while "Flick of the
Wrist" was all but ignored for lack of promotion. Three years later,
they released "We Are the Champions" with "We Will Rock You" as a
B-side. Both sides of the single received much radio airplay (often
one after the other), which led to them sometimes being referred to as
double A-side. In 1978 they released "Fat Bottomed Girls"/"Bicycle
Race" as a double A-side; that time both sides of the single became
Occasionally double-A-sided singles were released with each side
targeting a different market. During the late 1970s, for example,
Dolly Parton released a number of double-A-sided singles, in which one
side was released to pop radio, and the other side to country,
including "Two Doors Down"/"It's All Wrong, But It's All Right" and
"Baby I'm Burning"/"I Really Got the Feeling". In 1978, the Bee Gees
also used this method when they released "Too Much Heaven" for the pop
market and the flip side, "Rest Your Love on Me", which was aimed
toward country stations.
Many artists continue to release double A-sided singles outside of the
US where it is seen as more popular. Examples of this include Oasis's
"Little by Little"/"She Is Love" (2002), Bloc Party's "So Here We
Are"/"Positive Tension" (2005) and Gorillaz's "El Mañana"/"Kids with
Artists having the most US double-sided singles on which each side
charted in the US Hot 100, according to Billboard:
Nat King Cole
The Everly Brothers
The Beach Boys
Creedence Clearwater Revival
Bill Haley & His Comets
The Rolling Stones
Perry Como (12) and
Nat King Cole
Nat King Cole (19) both had additional
double-sided singles on Billboard's pre-1955 charts.
Artists having the most US double-sided singles on which each side
reached the Billboard Top 40, according to Billboard:
Creedence Clearwater Revival
Nat King Cole
The Beach Boys
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On vinyl, double A-sided singles had one song on either side of the
record, while double B-sides contained two songs on the same side (on
the B-side, making three songs in all). When such singles were
introduced in the 1970s, the popular term for them was "maxi single",
though this term is now used more ambiguously for a variety of
formats. These would not quite qualify as EPs – as that is generally
four songs on a 45.
Genesis's 1978 7-inch single "Many Too Many" featured two B-sides,
"The Day the Light Went Out" and "Vancouver", both of them being
outtakes from the
...And Then There Were Three...
...And Then There Were Three... album. There was no
12-inch equivalent. The band released two 7in singles with three
tracks apiece, Spot the Pigeon and 3X3 (aka "Paperlate"), which were
explicitly marked as EPs. "Spot the Pigeon" was also available in a
12-inch version, and also subverted this format a bit, by having two
tracks on the A-side and one track on the B-side. The B-side, "Inside
and Out", was also considered the selling point of the EP, being Steve
Hackett's last contribution to the band, and remains a favorite of
Paul McCartney's 1980 single "Coming Up" had a studio version of the
song on the A-side, while the B-side contained two songs, a live
version of "Coming Up" and a studio instrumental called "Lunchbox/Odd
Iron Maiden's 1980 7-inch single "Sanctuary" was a rerecording of a
song that had been given to the Metal For Muthas compilation the
previous year. The recording was made during the
Iron Maiden sessions
but was left off the UK album and then put out as a single. To make up
for this for fans who had specifically bought Metal for Muthas for the
track, the "Sanctuary" single had two live B-sides which were
deliberately selected to be non-album tracks. "Drifter" and "I've Got
The Fire" (Montrose cover). A studio recording of "Drifter" (with
Adrian Smith instead of Dennis Stratton) would appear on their next
album Killers, and a studio version of "I've Got The Fire" with Bruce
Dickinson appeared on the B-side of "Flight of Icarus" a few years
later. At the time this single was released they were the first live
Iron Maiden tracks released (though more would follow), and it remains
the only officially released recording of "I've Got The Fire" with
Paul Di'Anno on vocals.
The singles from U2's album
The Joshua Tree
The Joshua Tree were released with two
B-side songs each, which were pressed at 331⁄3 rpm. Versions for
jukeboxes included only one of those songs, which played at 45.
The B-52's UK 7-inch single of "Love Shack" was released with live
versions of "Planet Claire" and "Rock Lobster" on the B-side, the
B-side playing at 33 1/3rpm. The follow-up "Roam" followed suit,
including live versions of "Whammy Kiss" and "Dance This Mess Around"
on the B-side playing at 33 1/3rpm.
The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones released "Brown Sugar" from their album Sticky
Fingers in May 1971. While the American single featured only "Bitch"
as the B-side, the British single added a third track, a live
rendition of "Let It Rock", the
Chuck Berry classic, recorded at the
University of Leeds during the 1971 tour of the UK.
The concept of the B-side has become so well known that many
performers have released parody versions, including:
The 1988 "Stutter Rap (No Sleep 'Til Bedtime)" by parody band Morris
Minor and the Majors featured a B-side titled "Another Boring
Parody band Bad News recorded a video B-side to the VHS version of
their single "Bohemian Rhapsody" titled "Every Mistake Imaginable" in
which the band discusses that they have to record an extra three
minutes of footage for the single to be chart eligible.
Tracey Ullman's hit "They Don't Know" was backed in the UK by a song
entitled "The B Side" and featured Ullman in a variety of comic
monologues, many of which bemoaned the uselessness of B-sides. (The US
release used the album's title track, "You Broke My Heart in 17
Places", as the B-side.)
Paul and Linda McCartney's B-side to Linda McCartney's "Seaside Woman"
(released under the alias Suzy and the Red Stripes) was a song called
"B-Side to Seaside".
The single "O.K.?" based on the TV series Rock Follies of '77
contained a song called "B-Side?" which featured Charlotte Cornwell
tunelessly singing about the fact that she is not considered good
enough to sing an A-side.
The B-side of the single "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!" by
Napoleon XIV was called "!aaaH-aH, yawA eM ekaT oT gnimoC er'yehT" and
the singer billed as "Noelopan VIX". It was the A-side played in
reverse; in fact, most of the label affixed to that B-side was a
mirror image of the front label (as opposed to being spelled
backwards), including the letters in the "WB" shield logo.
Blotto's 1981 single "When the Second Feature Starts" features "The
B-Side", a song about how bad B-sides are compared to A-sides.
Love and Rockets' novelty side project the Bubblemen released only one
single in 1988, "
The Bubblemen Are Coming" coupled with "The B-Side",
which is a field recording of bees.
Wall of Voodoo
Wall of Voodoo 1982 12-inch EP Two Songs by
Wall of Voodoo
Wall of Voodoo has the
10-minute joke track "There's Nothing on This Side" on the B-side.
Metric released in 2008 single "Help, I'm Alive" with a B-side "Help,
I'm a B-Side".
Three Dog Night's 1973 single "Shambala" featured "Our 'B' Side",
about the group wishing it could be trusted to write their own songs
for single release. It is the only
Three Dog Night
Three Dog Night single written and
produced by the whole group, and features family members on background
Dickie Goodman's 1974 release "Energy Crisis '74" featured "The
Mistake" as the B-side, which was simply a false start of the A-side,
with Goodman saying, "Hello, we're...", followed by two minutes of
silence. (It was literally a mistake: the intended B-side was an
instrumental called "Ruthie's Theme". However, when Goodman
realized the factory had stamped a number of the botched pressings, he
simply placed the full version of "Energy Crisis '74" on the other
side, and released the records anyway.)
Pearl Harbor and the Explosions song "You Got It" was backed by
"Busy Little B Side", also found on the Warner Bros. two-LP sampler,
The B-side of B.A. Robertson's 1979 single "Goosebumps" is entitled
"The B-Side" and contains lyrics from the song's point of view. The
lyrics describe the song as being "the back of a hit" and "real
popular after the war" which can be said to relate to the dominance of
the 45 RPM single after this time and the change of significance of
the A-side and the B-side after this time. This track also opens side
two of Robertson's album Initial Success.
One of the B-sides from Lenny Kravitz's single "Heaven Help" is called
"B Side Blues" and documents the sheer boredom of him being under a
lot of pressure from his record company to write more successful
Kaiser Chiefs released a 7-inch single of "You Can Have It All" which
featured a blank B-side. Parodying their hit record I Predict A Riot,
the label on this blank side suggested it contained the track "I
Predict Some Quiet".
"b/w" redirects here. For the shortened form of "black and white", see
black-and-white. For other uses, see B&W.
The term "b/w", an abbreviation of "backed with" is often used to
introduce the B-side of a record. The term "c/w", for "coupled with",
is used similarly.
Main article: List of B-side compilation albums
^ Plasketes, Professor George (January 28, 2013). B-Sides,
Undercurrents and Overtones: Peripheries to Popular in Music, 1960 to
the Present. Ashgate Publishing.
^ MacDonald, p. 296
^ Hutchins, Chris. "Music Capitals of the World" Billboard December 4,
Top 40 Official UK Singles Archive Official Charts
^ Nirvana – UK Singles Chart Archive officialcharts.com. Retrieved
October 23, 2013.
^ User needs to do an artist search for "Nirvana" irishcharts.ie.
Retrieved October 23, 2013.
^ a b Whitburn, Joel, Top Pop Singles 1955–2006, Record Research
^ Whitburn, Joel, Pop Memories 1890–1954, Record Research Inc., 1986
^ It was typical of Goodman's records to feature throwaway tunes on
the reverse, often with different names. In fact, "Ruthie's Theme" is
the same tune as "Problems", which appears on the B-side of the
Goodman-produced "Super Fly Meets Shaft" by John and Ernest.
^ "The Straight Dope: In the record business, what do "b/w" and "c/w"
mean?". Retrieved 2009-01-12.
MacDonald, Ian. Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the
Sixties – ISBN 1-84413-828-3
"A History of the 45rpm record" Martland, Peter. EMI: The First 100
Years – ISBN 0-7134-6207-8
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