What is a B-Side?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A B-side is literally the other side of a phonograph record, since records can have tracks pressed into both sides. Over time, however, the term “B-side” has come to be associated with specific connotations in the music industry, rather than the physical construction of record albums. B-sides are tracks which are unusual, rare, or secondary, deemed less important than the “A-side” songs, which are intended to be hits. Sometimes, the judgment about what should be marketed as an A-side and what should be marketed as a B-side is off, as evidenced by many B-sides which later became very popular.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

In the early days of recording, not too much importance was attached to the A and B sides of a record. The shift began when record companies started putting the songs they felt would be hits on the A-side, with secondary songs and supplements on the B-side. Eventually, people began to associate “B-side” with the concept of a secondary track. The promotion of A and B sides was primarily for the convenience of radio stations and reviewers, with the goal of the record companies being the capture of the ear with the A side of the album.

B-sides may be variations on songs on the A-side, such as acoustic versions or remixes of a song. A B-side could also be a demo, a song which is not thematically related to an album, or a song which was unpolished at the time of the album's release. Since most recordings are not released on records today, B-sides are typically included on the single associated with a record, or marketed separately as the B-sides for a particular album.

Some artists and bands have collected and released all of their B-sides together, giving fans access to rare tracks along with a cohesive history of the band's style. B-sides may include bonus material like parody songs, covers of songs by other artists, and erratic material which didn't fit in with any of the artist's other releases. Some B-sides are designed to be rare, with a limited number being produced so that fans attach a high value to the bonus tracks.

Some notable B-sides have catapulted to fame. “Rain,” by The Beatles, for example, was a B-side when it was first released, along with “Don't Worry Baby” by the Beach Boys and “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor. Many of the artists were surprised by the success of their B-side songs, which were tacked onto albums as afterthoughts.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


We had a record player growing up, and I never knew there was a B-side! I feel so ignorant! Maybe I didn't really know of this B-side because by the time I was in second grade, the record player stopped getting used for some reason. The sad thing is I don't think my parents have their record player, or most of their music anymore, and I am not about to go invest money into all that, so I may not hear an authentic B-side ever.

I do remember growing up and loving the extra side of a cassette player or the bonus songs on a compact disc. I especially loved when the compact disc's did not inform you of the bonus tracks and I felt like I had "found" some "secret" material. Some of the bands I listened to back then were kind of humorous, ironic, and different, so they sometimes had funny/interesting bonus tracks.


One of my favorite b sides was by Led Zeppelin called "Hey Hey What Can I Do."

I am a musician so that may make me a bit whimsical about all of this but I think b sides were as interesting as the hits that came on the other side.

Something that I thought was interesting about b sides was that when I asked my wife about what she thought about b sides she thought I was talking about the other side of a cassette tape. Ah, to be married to a non-musician.


@lonelygod - While I agree with the collectible aspect of B-sides, I think it might be better value for the money to just have them on the long-player CD in the first place. Today's CDs are usually longer than the LPs of the old days, so a lot of the songs that once would have been on B-sides are now on the CD.

Other B-Side hits include Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog", Rod Stewart's "Maggie Mae", and Kiss' "Beth". Prince has composed many great and collectible B-sides and his first big hits compilation also doubled as something of a B-sides album to make all those great songs available again.


I kind of miss b-sides as a fun way to collect obscure tracks by your favorite artists - often they did not appear on the album so you had to track them down. Nowadays the remastered CD editions of the album include the b-sides as bonus tracks, making it much easier to catch up on songs you might have missed or may not have even been aware existed.

Singles only barely exist at this point, and nowadays the additional tracks that come with the single are just remixes or digital videos. It doesn't seem like much imagination is put into them any more.


I think the term "b side" will fade into obscurity as people start to forget what the original b side definition was. I'm 30 years old and it doesn't really mean anything to me! I had cassette tapes, which as singles I guess had B sides, but I was not into music very early.

And records? I didn't know anyone my age who had records. (My older sister had a few.)

The middle school students I teach have almost no concept of what an "album" even is. They just download individual songs. Few own any CDs or other physical media. They will be so far removed from the idea of the B side, I can't imagine them ever using the term.


@Azuza - Interesting points. I think it's funny they still call it a "b-side" even though most music isn't released on records anymore. In fact, the vast majority of people buy all their music digitally, and there definitely isn't a "side" to that!


One of my favorite albums is a Sarah Mclachlan album called something like "Rarities and B-sides." I should also note that she's one of my all-time favorite artists, so that's probably one reason I like this album so much! The album has, obviously, some of her rarer songs, as well as songs that were released with her CD singles as b-sides, but not featured on an album.

There are a lot of good songs on that album! However, I agree that some of them don't fit in with her other albums. Which I think is part of the charm of the b-side.

One other thing I really like is that b-sides seem to be songs that the artists really wanted to do, even if they wouldn't be commercially successful. Like the article said, it kind of gives the audience a broader picture of the artist!

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