Be it for reasons of timing, vibe, sample clearance or [insert your own causal factor here!], sometimes even the most beloved songs fail to find a home on an album first time around. 2Pac’s incendiary Notorious BIG diss Hit ‘Em Up? Pearl Jam’s legendary live set closer Yellow Ledbetter? Girls Aloud’s indie band lampooning Hoxton Heroes? B-sides, one and all. It used to take years for these and other disembodied gems to be lassoed together for collections/greatest hits, but this process appears to be accelerating of late…
While the all-conquering Future Nostalgia is still lighting up charts, Dua Lipa has already confirmed a remix album and, notably, when a fan asked for a Future Nostalgia ‘Side B’ project on Instagram, she replied: “Hold tight I’ve got enough to hold you all the way through ’til 2022.” Maybe we’ll hear her Nile Rodgers collaboration from the Future Nostalgia sessions yet! Carly Rae Jepsen, meanwhile, has become pop’s studio off-cut queen: with 2016’s Emotion: Side B and 2020’s Dedicated B-Side. As for Biffy Clyro? They have six full B-sides albums for fans to pore over. Collections like this are not new, but they may arguably be more important than ever.
Such is the rate of consumption, many believe that artists must now release two album’s worth of music in the time previously reserved for one album cycle, with Spotify’s Daniel Ek recently claiming that acts “can’t record music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough”. Many aggrieved musicians were quick to point out that great art cannot always be constructed in line with the needs of an algorithm. This is certainly true. But perhaps this is where the B-Sides approach could at least help some artists out. No, we don’t need a flood of half-baked outtakes. But take time to collect, curate and apply quality control and the results can be pure gold. Lest we forget, one of Nas’ best albums is his 2002 Lost Tapes set.
Increasingly, it seems artists/labels are viewing unheard/under-represented material not as something to save for a rainy day or a reissue, but as rocket fuel to keep a campaign going or to maintain visibility among the rapid digital churn. Hell, even one well-timed re-purposed international song can have a huge impact. Earlier this year, Britney Spears added her excellent Japanese bonus track Mood Ring to her 2016 album Glory on DSPs and updated its cover. That, folks, is how you get a four-year-old album trending again.
We’ve already seen the power of live archive footage during lockdown. Perhaps 2020 is a good time to take inventory and see which dormant songs from the past have the potential to erupt.