Monday, November 20, 2006

Major Label B-sides...the Secret Jams

The 7” single (and it’s red-headed stepchild the CD-single) is fairly obsolete when released by a huge corporation. I mean, they’re really only for a singles chart, right? You take one of the so-deigned “hits” toss some garbage on the flip for the completists and hope to God the thing sells the couple thousand copies in a single week to put it on the charts and then…you can say it charted or something. And I’m speaking just for Britain, as I cannot discern whether Billboard’s “singles” chart has anything to do with actual sales and the mere fact that NO ONE in this country makes vinyl singles, let alone buy them.

But amidst all the mess, they sometimes manage to almost get it right. The awesome b-side…we’ve all found them and wondered “What the hell? THIS is the jam? Why is it hidden on the b-side of an import-only seven-inch? Who makes these decisions anyway?”

So here I am letting y’all in on a few of my favorite secret-hit b-sides, restricted only to major label releases, because picking on indie 7”s is like shooting water in a barrel.

  1. Foo Fighters “The Colour and The Shape”

(B-Side to “Monkey Wrench)

I literally sat wide-eyed when I first heard “TCATS”. It was utterly baffling why such a bombastic juggernaut of rock nougat that shared the title of the album could be ultimately left-off it. As my introduction to this track was a tacked-on extra at the end of a live Foo’s tape I’d traded through an online messageboard around the age of 14, one of my first eBay purchases (after the first Dwarves Sub Pop single and the Nirvana/Melvins split) was a proper 7” jukebox copy of this single. As I put it on now, I am still blown away. The beginning with static-heightened feedback bowling on to one of the gnarliest guitar riffs my brain has ever had the privilege of melting at. And the title “The Colour and the Shape” just sounds so badass and rockstar pretentious that I adored it then and still do now. And the strange wah-wah breakdown at the middle…classic. This is the closest to Nirvana that the Foo Fighters ever got, all the while not sounding intentional. I can’t say for certain that it’s Grohl on the drums (original drummer William Goldsmith left during the recording of the album with Grohl playing the traps on a majority of the songs) but I’d wager it was. And if I won that wager, I’d tell you it’s a solid number two behind “Radio Friendly Unit-Shifter” and ahead of “No One Knows” on a list of his best drumming coups.

“The Colour and the Shape” as an album ultimately gets unfairly panned. With the inclusion of “The Colour and the Shape” as a song, it would become a certifiable gem.

  1. Queens of the Stone Age “Ode to Clarissa”

(B-side to “The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret”)

I’m still not sure if this song is based on the Nickelodeon pre-skankhood Melissa Joan Hart vehicle “Clarissa Explains it All.” I’d like to think so, as I enjoyed that program many a times and one show even found her trying to go to a Nirvana concert (oh so hip!) From the introductory drumming to the so-dumb-it’s-perfect guitar slick, the entire song just oozes this captivating bounce. “I’m the one your momma told you ‘bout” is such a prime chorus to be followed by a group vocal of “Yeah, yeah, yeah” that you can’t help but just know that these are definitely the dudes your momma warned you about. I believe “Ode…” was a bonus track on the UK version of the “R” album, but that still leaves us American fiends scrapping and searching.

  1. Yeah Yeah Yeahs “Countdown”

(B-side to “Maps”)

I believe I’d heard this song live at least once before being befuddled as it came over the sound system at the 9:30 Club in DC. When the album omits a jam with which you’re already familiar, you’re almost certain to forget it. And that’s what had happened to me. I ran over to the DJ booth to try and find out what song this was that sounded uncannily like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs but yet I had never heard on record. A perfect trick to play on mixtapes and the like, as people will immediately feel somewhat familiar to Karen O’s inimitable howl and Nick Zinner’s processed geetar heaves, yet question the unfamiliarity of it all. “I’m the son of a crowded bed” could be KO delving into a bevy of Freudian proclivities or just a lyric that sounds cool. I side with the latter.

  1. The Hives “Uptight”

(bonus single included with LP copies of “Tyrannosaurus Hives”)

First some history on the song: Credited to “C. Olsson” the track was originally performed by the Swedish band Paper. It was never released and quite possibly never recorded. C. Olsson is a friend to the Hives dudes and they banged this out just goofin’ in the studio. I think Pelle actually plays the guitar and Arson is on bass or some other instrument switching confusion. The drums motor on the same cadence the entire song…really admirable in their unrelentingness. The hook, oh it is so glorious…you wanna bop around the room and do the pogo to this one. Two measures towards the end where overpowering guitar overdrive and pulverizing pummeling on the drums really elevate this above and beyond the call of bonus single.

I hummed this to myself backstage while the Dirtbombs were opening for the Hives in Milwaukee and the drummer Chris came up to me concerned, almost confused and asked “How do you know that song?” It seems he probably didn’t even know it’d been released. If the band can’t even remember that stuff, how are die-hards who know a jam when they hear one supposed to stay on top of these things? I played this every morning on my portable turntable on the D-bombs 2004 Euro tour and surprisingly Pantano never seemed to be annoyed by it. Another song also used as import bait as a UK CD bonus track.

  1. Pavement “Westie Can Drum”

(B-side to “Stereo” CD-single)

So I start to break my own rules here a bit as “Westie Can Drum” does not actually appear on a 7” single. The geniuses at Domino chose “Birds in the Majic Industry” for that illustrious spot while “Westie…” and “Winner of the” were graced with the disgrace of CD single extras. How gauche. (And we can also ignore the Capital/Matador Jukebox Only b-side of “Embassy Row”) The further I go writing this, I realize I’m revealing a lot of my mix tape secrets, not necessarily form per se, but actual songs I’ve been known to rock on a blank Maxell. I guess I can view it as a public service for the betterment of mixes everywhere. You can thank me later.

Anyway, “Westie Can Drum” is quintessential Malkmus off-the-cuff. I think only a character like him could get away with saying “Westie, he cannot drum” (a crystal clear dis on Pave skinsman Steve West) title the song “Westie Can Drum” and ping-pong nonsense malarkey like “Portraits on the coinages and Lincoln’s beard and why’s he got a horses’ body?” while name-dropping Dixiecrats and still have the whole thing be genuine and seemingly focused. Steve West’s roll at 2:27 is the inspiration for some of my finer moments behind Mick Collins. Nothing flashy or fancy, just quick and a little sloppy.

6. Weezer “Jamie”
(B-side to “Buddy Holly”)

I could just as easily have picked “Susanne” as the b-side to “Undone – The Sweater Song” or even “Mykel and Carli”…Weezer’s early oeuvre is pretty cherry in my book. And now I’ve just gone and put a bid on a 7” copy of “Undone” on eBay. Thanks a lot.

It wouldn’t be hard to sway me to believe that “Jamie” is truly no better than any of the songs on “The Blue Album.” I think what gets me is the sincerity of the lyrics. Rivers Cuomo wrote an honest, almost childlike ballad of confidence and security to the band’s lawyer. The line “You’ve got the Beach Boys, your firm’s got the Stones” holds sheer bewilderment in Cuomo’s voice as to why such a legal behemoth would be so helpful and concerned. “Who’s dialing your carphone?” is just so innocent, I can’t help but have my heart aflutter every time I hear it.

And this one was done the right way…recorded live with no overdubs by a friend of the band. Quite possibly the pinnacle of mid-nineties fuzz tone, on par with Veruca Salt’s “#1 Blind” and anything else on DGC. And it’s all pretty much two chords and a little staccato’d little lick. Simplicity is best. The fact that this was relegated to the “DGC Rarities” comp in the US, while a huge seller including Nirvana and Hole, is still a grave oversight in mine eyes.

7. Rage Against the Machine “Hadda Be Playing on the Jukebox”

(B-side to “Bulls on Parade”)

Is this where I come out? Had I kept it a secret? I wholeheartedly love Rage Against the Machine. They were the third band I ever saw live (after Foo Fighters and the Melvins) and the band I would see the most in the arena setting (three times total, each one a near-riot). We all know how groundbreaking Tom Morello’s guitar effects piggybacking has become, so no need to nerd and repeat it. What we have here is based on a poem by Allen Ginsberg.

The track starts with Zack de la Rocha almost confrontationally saying “Looking like a bunch of frat boys at summer camp and shit” to a round of cheers live at the Milan Dragway in Michigan. What slowly erupts afterwards is Rage at the height of their politicism, while I guess Ginsberg is owed some credit as well. We’re walked through a synopsis of CIA and Mafia in cahoots as dope pushers all over a syrupy bass line and cascading guitar screech and laid-back drum groove. It’s a poem chock fulla memorable lines like “Hadda turn up the volume…in university ballrooms” and “comedians stop dead in the middle of a joke in Las Vegas” and the scream of “THEY WANTED ATTICA!” And this thing is LOOOONG, a vinyl mastering feat of endurance fitting 8:03 of vitriol on a 7” at 33rpm. I understand that a cover is almost always relegated to b-side status, but one of my other possible Rage choices, a chilling cover of Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad” later was reprised for the “Renegades of Funk” covers album, so the fact this was ignored for the same album is kind frustrating. The fact that the song ends with uproarious cheer from the assembled fratitude makes you think the band actually pulled one over on these sheep and won them over or that they’re just drunk enough to cheer anything.

  1. Brendan Benson “Left and Right”

(B-side to “Spit it Out”)

Brendan seems to go through a phase during recording his albums where he doesn’t know what he wants. He recorded his debut “One Mississippi” three separate times, and one of those versions is completely MIA. The idea behind “Left and Right” comes from a standard system calibration CD blasted at sound checks, with “This is coming from the left” and “this is coming from the right” as a vocal guide to let you know just what should be where and to keep everything in phase. Brendan takes an otherwise forgettable phrase and crafts it into a poppy wallop that recalls that dog’s finer times on “Retreat From the Sun.” The female voice starts repeating the title in foreign languages and it feels oh-so chic. There’s quirky whammy bar/keyboard modulation (one or the other? both? alternating? me don’t know) that rolls across so juicy. BB’s added dialogue about “When your bed is made, toast and marmalade” is cheeky enough where I can see him casting it off as a b-side, but “Alternative to Love” could have been a tad awesomer with the inclusion of “Left and Right.”

  1. Nirvana “Moist Vagina”

(B-side to “All Apologies”)

Stoner croak madness. When the glottal roar of “MARAJUANA” shakes the speakers, you know you’re truly beholden to a moment. Another two chord wonder. Imagine my fear as a 12-year-old at Musicland in the Pointe Plaza shopping center using a gift certificate to buy this Nirvana CD-single and trying to explain non-album b-sides to my mother. Once that point is vaguely made, she grabs to see the song title and gives me a “pfft.” That was as close as I got to parental music backlash, thank God. The entire lyrics run

“She had a moist vagina

I particularly enjoyed her circumfrence

The perceptive walls of her anus


I agree with Thurston Moore in his liners to the Nirvana “With The Lights Out…” boxset that said track should’ve been included on “In Utero.” I however am not so deluded as he to think the track should open the record. That’s just redonculous. Nut-rageous even. I saw teen rock geniuses Mad Cow riff this during soundcheck at the Wired Frog in ’97 or so and it felt like I was actually in on a secret, the dudes who not only knew Nirvana b-sides (me and them), but the dudes who could actually play them (sadly just them). More rocktacular jive from Grohl on the boom-booms, Noveselic does himself well and stays lean on the two-note bass line and Kurt just does his thing. While “In Utero” is in constant battle with “Funhouse” as my favorite album of all-time, I cannot pick a song for “Moist Vagina” (or as it’s abbreviated in some formats, “MV”) to replace. Rather, its mere addition to the album (as well as any other leftovers from the sessions a la “I Hate Myself and Want to Die” or “Verse Chorus Verse”) could very easily trump Osterberg and the boys effort.

  1. The White Stripes “Though I Hear You Calling, I Will Not Answer”

(B-side to “Blue Orchid” CD-single)

Far be it for me to critique “Get Behind Me, Satan.” I wholly believe it’s the best White Stripes album. I also understand that there were a lot of songs kicking around during the tumultuous sessions. The “album” as it were really seemed to just be whatever songs were finished first. And that’s brilliant. But when I first bought the CD single of “Blue Orchid” somewhere in Germany, I was captivated by the surprise of “TIHYC”. What a treat on a trying European jaunt, a new White Stripes song!

Beginning with tape fragments of the Stripes singing “Silent Night” and a barely noticeable blip of Detroit newscaster Mort Crim, “Though I Hear You Calling…” is Jack all by his lonesome, experimenting with tape speeds, hammering on the marimba like it done him wrong and torturing sheer agony out of his acoustic. The combination of those two sole instruments (and a bit of tambourine) is terrifyingly wonderful. This is the pinnacle of modern Delta blues. Son and Charley and all them would be all over this. If you don’t believe this, you’re a liar to yourself. And yet, I can only imagine that it was recorded specifically as a b-side, a hurry-up not far behind on the heels of “Blue Orchid” which was released mere weeks after its writing. Is Jack on about phones again, like he was all over “De Stijl”? Or is this the follow-up story to “My Doorbell”? The title can easily be interpreted a myriad of ways. Maybe that’s why I love it? While I understand the significance of “Little Ghost” keeping the tradition of every Stripes’ album having a song with “little” in the title, I would have much preferred “Though I Hear You…” in it’s place and disseminated as wide as “…Satan” was. Again, this failed to appear on vinyl, but who cares? Ending with a radio commercial tape fragment, we’re left with an appropriate unidentified quote concerning singles and b-sides:
”That’s an extra! Because it’s extra convenient! For just three dollars!”

Amen sister.


Distracted said...

Hmm i have to aplaud your inclusion of the stripes but scorn your choice of Bside. Red Bowling Ball Ruth is undeniably the best and least available B-side- screeching guitar tears across the studio pan with the ultimate 'send it rolling and then it breaks your tooth' a mteaphor for such a fantastic song surely?

cassdetroit said...

as i said in the intro, i was only considering major label released singles. "red bowling ball ruth" was not released on a major label. and the studio version always seemed to be lacking a certain something i can't put my finger on. always preferred it live.

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