Album: ‘Paperback Writer’ b-side, 1966; Rarities, 1978 (and many compilations since)
Justification: Well, it had to be something special for #150, right?
There’s something wonderful about b-sides, both for artists and listeners, that I fear we’re going to lose in this digital age. B-sides used to prove that you were a fan – if you bought all the singles you knew all knew all these other songs that the Johnny-come-latelys had no idea about. For the band they were win-win: since no-one particularly cared how great they were, people would love a brilliant b-side disproportionally much as their expectations were that much lower. Suede’s b-sides were arguably their best songs during the first few years (‘Killing of a Flash Boy’, ‘My Insatiable One’, ‘The Living Dead’, ‘To The Birds’ etc), while the Smiths banged out half their greatest material on the flipsides (‘Jeane’, ‘Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want’, ‘London’, ‘Asleep’ – and the masterpiece ‘How Soon Is Now’ was initially not just a b-side, but a bonus b-side for the 12” – for ‘William, It Was Really Nothing’, to be specific). Radiohead’s b-sides are generally the match of anything on their albums (many fans very reasonably cite ‘Talk Show Host’ as their favourite) and a cursory look at my iTunes reveals that I’ve listened to more mclusky b-sides than album tracks, particularly ‘The Salt Water Solution’. That’s because I’m incredibly cool, I assume.
The Beatles’ b-sides are all must-haves too. Sure, some are slight (Harrison’s ‘Old Brown Shoe’ on the flip of ‘Hey Jude’), some are silly (‘You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)’ on ‘Let it Be’), and most are pretty damn awesome. None, however, are more awesome than ‘Rain’.
The languid vocals, sitar-like lead breaks and backwards effects pre-date psych, while the Starr/McCartney rhythm section put in the performance of their career. Listen to that sinuous bassline twisting around Lennon’s chords: the man could fucking play. Starr’s shuffling beat has been copied by generations of drummers since (although the constant drum breaks owe a debt to the Who’s Keith Moon, the first drummer to go “sure, I can solo in the middle of a verse if I want”). And those harmonies – dear god, those harmonies! Why this was the b-side to the (admittedly great but definitely inferior) ‘Paperback Writer’ baffles me to this day.
Incidentally, Lennon first started playing with the idea on the Beatles’ only Australian tour, when the band landed in Melbourne during a torrential storm. As has happened so very many times before and since, Melbourne’s lousy weather has led to great art.