The Jesus and Mary Chain – Something I Can’t Have
Once upon a time, when physical media still roamed the earth, there were A-sides and B-sides.
For the yoots: the A-side of a vinyl or cassette single would contain the song the band or their label was trying to promote. It was, or they hoped it would be, the “hit”. The flip B-side was free space to be filled.
CD singles didn’t have the same space limitations nor “sides”, but largely continued to observe these traditional conventions.
Sometimes for the B-sides, they’d just repeat the A-side again; maybe it’d be a live or remixed or alternate take. Or they would use that real estate as a clearinghouse for odds & ends – experiments that didn’t quite pan out, new directions the artist wanted to try, covers and piss-takes, songs that just didn’t fit anywhere else.
And occasionally, that B-side was a hidden treasure; as good or even better than the A-side. This was like getting to the bottom of the cereal box expecting a set of crappy plastic fake X-ray glasses, and instead finding an exquisite antique loupe.
“Something I Can’t Have” is a great bit of late-period JAMC noise-pop, an excellent example of their Beach-Boys-wired-on-cheap-biker-speed shtick. It’s a frosty milkshake of hilariously-adolescent bad attitude and melodic carefree doot-doot-doo’s.
“Why’d You Want Me” is those same hooligans in gentler, mostly acoustic, reflective-prodigal-son mode, expressing wonder that their poor willfully-debauched delinquent selves could ever be worthy of love. The 2-chord cycling repetitive drone is naggingly catchy and appropriately blues/gospel-evoking, with its classic theme of a sinner’s unlikely redemption:
The Jesus and Mary Chain – Why’d You Want Me
Both tracks can be found on the compilation The Sound of Speed.
Here’s one of my favorite B-sides ever.
“Lovesong” was The Cure’s biggest US hit. Whether through overplay and endless covers, or just personal taste, I find it a little bit simplistic and treacly. It’s not a bad song, exactly, but if I never hear it again it’ll be OK.
But its B-side “2 Late” is a different story; that the band was capable of basically throwing away songs like this as B-sides, so late into their career, is astonishing to me.
I love everything about it: the brief stuttering machine gun snare fill that starts the song and periodically repeats throughout, acting as its own riff or hook (drummer Boris Williams pulled a similar “fills as hooks” trick on earlier tracks like “Inbetween Days” and “Just Like Heaven”); the melodic bass and warm smeary production, with characteristically tasteful keyboards bleeding into the wistful guitars; Robert Smith’s stream-of-consciousness “lost love” lyric, which tosses out impressionistic imagery and surrealistic wordplay in a slurry tumble.
And that’s all before you get to 2:05 – where many singers would shift upwards in key to emphasize the emotional climax, Smith instead drops his vocal down to a lower register and simply repeats the first verse, almost like he’s mumbling it; while the chiming dual guitar lines climb from the murk, twining beautifully around each other high overhead until everything crashes too soon to its end on a suspended chord.
It’s an embarrassment of riches in miniature, and a phenomenal pop song:
The Cure – 2 Late
What’s your favorite B-side?
And in the digital age, are there any hidden treasures any more?