B Sides – The Undertones ~ All Wrapped Up
If there is one thing we have truly lost in this digital age, it’s a dam good B side. Artists can make great hit songs and produce great albums, but the very finest are notable for the quality of the 7 inch flip side. Sometimes referred to as B/W (backed with) & C/W (combined with) the song on the opposite side of a single was sometimes viewed as a throwaway or even as an opportunity for the producer to make some extra cash, Shel Talmy happily took a writers credit for the B side (Bald Headed Woman) of The Who’s debut, “I Can’t Explain”. It was often seen as a safe way to take a chance with something, The Beatles would never have released “She’s A Woman” (the b side to I Feel Fine) as a single, it’s backbeat guitar and overdriven bass would be too earthy for the pop charts of 64 and someone may have noticed the mild drug references in the spotlight of it being a hit. However, many people at the time including the BBC’s starchy Brian Matthew spoke of how they preferred it to “I Feel Fine”.
In the seventies Boney M returned to the number one spot with the other side of the chart topping Rivers Of Babylon (Brown Girl In The Ring), The Streetband had a hit with the b side “Toast” thanks to heavy airplay from Kenny Everett and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” was originally a b side. As an antidote to the double A side first used by Elvis in 1956 (Hound Dog / Don’t Be Cruel) Stiff records released a Double B side by Tyla Gang in 1976.
While many bands have released compilations of singles with B sides, often mixed chronologically, one of my favourites is “All Wrapped Up” by The Undertones; a double LP that neatly puts the A sides on the first disc and the B’s on the second. Between 1978 and 1983 The Undertones released 13 singles, each one a great slice of pop in their own right. The B side to “Jimmy Jimmy” is a song called “Mars Bars” which gained the rare honour of having its lyrics printed in Smash Hits, a celebration of the caramel chocolate bar that would be a worthy addition to The Who’s Sell Out album. For a band who worshipped the most astute song writing brevity; “Here Comes The Summer” weighs in at just over a minute and a half, the b side “She Can Only Say No” lasts just fifty seconds including the final remarks “C90 stuff there”, a sarcastic reference to cassette tapes than had 45 minute playing times each side. Their biggest hit “My Perfect Cousin” is backed with an even briefer “I Don’t Wanna See You Again” which lasts just 43 seconds. Many including myself lament about how hard it is to believe that the standard of songs aren’t reflected in their chart positions and certainly the number 18 position reached by one of my favourite singles “It’s Going To Happen” is as good an example of any on the baffling behaviour of the record buying public. During the eighties an annoying practice seemed to become more common, album tracks on the B side. The flip of “Beautiful Friend” however contains a vastly superior version of “Life’s Too Easy” to the one on The Undertones third long player “Positive Touch”. The final single “Chain Of Love” failed to chart, it’s B side is a brilliantly whimsy song which refrains “You’re Better Off Being Dead”. Whilst Undertones were indeed dead shortly after this single was released, they reformed without Feargal Sharkey in 1999 and are still currently touring with Paul McLoone on vocals.
Like Elvis Costello’s “Ten Bloody Mary’s & Ten How’s Your Fathers” this second disc of “All Wrapped Up” always sounded to me like a great album rather than a collection of b sides, and like The Beatles, The Jam & Oasis (to name just 3 off the top of my head) when the B sides are this good you know the band is great.
The Galileo 7 will be supporting The Undertones at The Britannia Theatre in Chatham, Kent on Friday 30th October
For more details visit - http://www.thebritanniakent.com/event/the-undertones/