What's Nostalgia Got To Do With It? —
Mementoes From The Trash Bin Of History
Vol. I, Issue I - April 2010

The first record I bought was a 45. By that time they were already on the way out and were being sold by the checkout counters of record bars. The LP’s had the privilege of being able to show off their covers but the 45’s were laid out in horizontal stacks and put in messy alphabetical order. The Clash sometimes came ahead of The Cars and you encountered The Motels before Men at Work.

You really couldn’t flip through them looking for some thing you already had in mind. You flipped till you found something you might like. In my case, that first time, it was—sadly—Duran Duran’s “Union of the Snake.” I got my seven pesos worth out of that song, playing it again and again until my ears got tired of all the vagueness and the shrillness. Months later, in a fit of boredom and curiosity I turned the record over and finally gave some thought to playing a track called “Sekret Oktober.”

The only other kind of Side-B I had encountered was the flipside of my parents’ 33’s and the continuing side of cassettes. Early on I had observed how recording artists sometimes liked to put their hit songs last, encouraging you to listen to the whole album first before you got to the reason why you bought the damn thing in the first place. In the case of The Beatles or The Smiths or Tears For Fears it worked, because by the time you were done you wanted to flip the album over again and the whole thing became sort of one whole thing.

But while the flipsides of LPs and cassettes were concessions to the mechanical limitations of the data storage medium, the real “side B” (indeed, the only rightful owner to the term “B Side”) was a concession to mechanical largesse. With 45’s it was clear that you were really buying just one song. The other side was pure filler.

45’s were designed you didn’t have to slog through anything to get your money’s worth—and nothing more. You didn’t need other songs (like that time I bought Matthew Wilder’s whole shit LP just for “Break My Stride”), no lofty concept (Mr. Roboto, anyone?), and no distracting album art (Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band).

Sure it was a bit of a chore to hunt down that little plastic adaptor you had to put on your turntable, but to me, and to millions of other New Wavers and New Romantics that were on living on school allowance, that was the key component that made it virtually impossible to play Side B. We all somehow knew it wasn’t worth that extra effort. And on the off-chance that we played it, or more likely, knew someone who said they’d given it a listen, the B-side sounded like the band didn’t feel like making much of an effort either.

To wit: “You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)” is a Beatles song that only hardened (and jobless) Beatles fans know. It is a pointless, melody-less recording featuring, as far as I can remember, a prepared piano, a rhythm section and lots of atmospheric noise (coughing, belching, etc.). But the real proof of its B-sideness is the fact that Ringo Starr is on vocals.

Side B was like the dark side of the moon. You knew about it and you knew some of your nutty friends kind of raved about it, but you really didn’t give a shit.

But listening to “Sekret Oktober” one night made me suddenly want to head for the record store and flip through those stacks, this time from the other end. I wouldn’t know what I’d be looking for—but what became tantalizingly clear was that I wouldn’t know what I’d be expecting to hear.

If the dorsal side of the 45 was reserved for the surefire single that would ensure chart trajectory, radio play and a large fan base, the underbelly sometimes held the rare and tender outings and explorations, the unself-conscious prototypes and the speculative versions that rounded out and humanized the image I held of the bands I followed.

By following the B-sides I quickly became a bigger fan of Depeche Mode (for its live version of “Tora, Tora, Tora”), The Cure (“Do The Hansa”) and yes, The Beatles—for the B-side of “Paperback Writer” (“Rain”) that predates the back-recording techniques found in the Revolver album and is revolutions ahead of all the A-sides of its time.

But it was of the B-side itself that I became the biggest fan, long after its physical dimension disappeared. As vinyl gave way to CDs I remained a most wistful supporter, snapping up CD “singles” and making sure I had all those boxed and reissued “Rarities” collections. I dutifully listened for hidden tracks on albums and held out for extended versions that promised interviews, outtakes, alternates and instrumental versions, all on a single-sided CD.

Today even my CD collection promises to render itself obsolete, and the only B-sides I am familiar with are those that have survived all those fateful crossings to my hard drive. I find that they are no longer B-sides to me, either, just as there are hardly any albums, or album concepts, or album covers. Now they sit front and center, alphabetically presented, shoulder to shoulder with all the other songs I’ve chosen to take with me: “Pharaohs” now takes equal billing with “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and “Yes, It Is” with “If I Fell.”

They’re all just songs now. Songs that I never thought these bands could make. Songs that today’s musical acts will hardly ever produce. They’ll only make the perfect tunes I’ve chosen to listen to, or the music I’ll never ever hear.

prev next
website by zzGassman