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The CD Single Is Dead – Long Live The B-Side

You’d think we’d be numb to depressing revelations about the music industry by now. Even so, news of the pitiful state of the physical singles market comes as a shock.

Florence And The Machine’s ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’ entered the singles chart this week at Number 16. That sounds respectable – and download sales were fairly solid – but physical sales? CD and 7″ combined? Er, 64.

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According to Planet Sound, the only act who sold more than 500 physical singles last week were the ‘X Factor’ boy band JLS. It’s not clear why record labels even bother pressing the things up anymore. Sales haven’t so much fallen off a cliff as plummeted off the face of the planet.

It’s enough to make Bob Lefsetz – the music biz commentator famous for ranting about weekly sales data in the manner of a right-wing shock-jock in the throes of a cataclysmic nervous breakdown – hack his wrists to mulch in ultimate despair.

Then again, you might say: who cares? Speaking as someone who enjoys the sleek, satisfying thrill of an iTunes download – no plastic, no HMV sticker to peel off – I don’t mourn the death of the CD as a physical format. What I am troubled by is the loss of the B-side.

The B-side has been unfairly maligned. Far from being an unwanted studio offcut, at its best it’s a neutral space between single and album that enables bands to experiment, free from the pressure to deliver a hit.

To know and cherish a band’s B-sides is to signal the depth of your devotion. When I was 15, there were the Manic Street Preachers fans who knew ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’.

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Then there were the ones – desperate nerds, like me – who could recite the lyrics to ‘Patrick Bateman’, ‘Democracy Coma’ and ‘Bored Out Of My Mind’ (warning: in retrospect this one sounds a bit like Extreme):

Moreover, to excel at penning B-sides requires a certain profligacy of talent: think of Noel Gallagher ‘squandering’ tunes as immense as ‘The Masterplan’, ‘Acquiesce’ and Rockin’ Chair’ as ‘…Morning Glory’-era flip-sides.

And historically, many classic songs have started life as B-sides. Madonna’s ‘Into The Groove’ and Elvis Presley’s ‘Hound Dog’ both only became A-sides after DJs and radio programmers realised their potential.

Likewise, The Smiths’ ‘How Soon Is Now?’ was originally only to be found on the flipside of 1984 single ‘William, It Was Really Nothing’.

But which are your most treasured B-sides? To get your brain ticking over, I’ve listed a few of my own favourites…

The Clash, ‘Pressure Drop’
The Libertines, ‘Delaney’
The Beatles, ‘Rain’
Suede, ‘My Insatiable One’
Joy Division, ‘These Days’
Primal Scream, ‘Velocity Girl’
Radiohead, ‘Fog’

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