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B-Side: A Flipsided History of Pop by Andy Cowan

The B-Side has been an integral part of pop music, shaping its evolution in ways that cannot be overlooked. Throughout music history, numerous songs initially considered throwaways have defied expectations and emerged as powerful forces that demanded recognition. These tracks have proven that underestimating the potential of a B-side can be a grave mistake.

Andy Cowan presents an extensive compilation of over 500 flips in an A-Z format, showcasing the covert impact of B-Side shows in transforming the pop music scene. The book features cover and spot illustrations by Kid Acne.

The B-side music is often overlooked in the music industry, seen as hastily put-together filler tracks or experimental compositions that wouldn’t typically make it onto an album. However, there have been instances where B-side songs have become game-changers and taken center stage.

Take, for example, the rock’n’roll anthem “Rock Around The Clock.” Originally relegated to the B-side status, it rose above its humble beginnings to become a cultural phenomenon and a defining song of its era. It’s infectious energy and rebellious spirit resonated with audiences, propelling it to the forefront of the music scene.

In the realm of disco, the enduring game-changer “I Feel Love” initially found itself confined to the B-side. However, its innovative use of electronic instrumentation and pulsating beats revolutionized the genre, establishing Donna Summer as the undisputed queen of disco. The song’s influence on subsequent generations of musicians cannot be overstated, as it laid the foundation for the electronic dance music revolution that followed.

Similarly, in the realm of hip-hop, the B-side played a pivotal role in the genre’s growth. “Hit ‘Em Up,” one of hip-hop’s most notorious diss tracks, began its journey as the supposed lesser track on a release. However, its venomous lyrics and aggressive delivery propelled it to notoriety, solidifying 2Pac’s reputation as a formidable force in the rap world. The impact of “Hit ‘Em Up” reverberated throughout hip-hop history, setting the stage for the genre’s intense rivalries and lyrical battles.

The significance of the B-side extends far beyond the success stories of Bill Haley, Donna Summer, and 2Pac. It has served as a platform for experimentation and artistic exploration, allowing musicians to push boundaries and defy conventions. Countless artists have utilized the B-side to showcase their versatility, experimenting with different genres, styles, and themes that may not have fit within the constraints of a mainstream release.

The B-side has played a crucial role in connecting musicians with their devoted fan base. It has provided a space for artists to release alternative versions, remixes, or previously unreleased tracks, giving their fans exclusive content and deepening their connection with the artist’s creative process.

In essence, the B-side has been a catalyst for unexpected successes, a breeding ground for innovation, and a means of fostering artist-fan relationships. It has proven time and again that songs deemed lesser or disposable have the potential to surpass all expectations and leave an indelible mark on music history. Without the B-side, pop music would be deprived of its capacity for surprise and reinvention, forever altering the landscape of the industry.

Andy Cowan graduated from cut-and-pasting photocopied fanzines Only A Rumour and White Lie in his teens to working on Hip-Hop Connection – the world’s first rap monthly – in the late 80s, where his interviews included Public Enemy, Ice Cube and 50 Cent. Its editor in the 90s and publisher in the 00s, he has also contributed to podcasts, documentaries, and museum exhibits and worked extensively as a music metadata specialist. A researcher at the University of Cambridge since the 10s, Andy has freelanced for The Independent, Flame Tree, Music Week, and Q, among others, and is MOJO magazine’s jazz columnist. He has been a B-side obsessive since he first started buying singles in 1978.