Often, seeking out new music can feel like a treasure hunt (or sweeping a minefield, depending on how you look at it). And every now and then you will come across those completely unexpected diamonds-in-the-rough that appear in the form of B-sides, outtakes or bootlegged live cuts. Those happy moments where you stumble across something that stops you in your tracks and think ‘Why is this only a B-side?’. This feature is about digging out those deeper cuts that deserve more attention than mere relegation.
‘Blank Slate’ – The National
Appearing on 2008’s The Virginia EP, a collection of extra material and live cuts from the Boxer recording period, this song actually began life some three years earlier as a B-side to Abel called ‘Keep It Upstairs‘. While ‘Keep It Upstairs’ owed it’s slightly anaemic and meandering sound to the heightened introspection of its parent album Alligator, ‘Blank Slate’ rumbles headlong with the wiry tautness of Boxer‘s ‘Apartment Story’ or ‘Mistaken For Strangers’. Soaring and fuzz-laden, this could be one of The National’s few unabashed anthems.
‘White Summer / Black Mountainside’ – Led Zeppelin
Fuelled by their own creativity and momentum in pioneering hard-hitting blues-rock, the band were on a prolific high in their early period and their live shows quickly gained a reputation for their intensity. Recorded at a 1969 show in London between the release of Led Zeppelin I and Led Zeppelin II, this arresting guitar instrumental signposts Jimmy Page’s emergence as a striding guitar hero. Flying solo with occasional help from John Bonham to up the drama, over eight searing minutes Page fuses Arabic scale influences with a rather untraditional, vamped up take on the traditional Irish folk song ‘Down by Black Waterside’ (although Page’s version actually owe’s a lot to Bert Jansch’s arrangement).
‘I Need You By My Side’ – Michael Kiwanuka
A perfect song to greet Sunday morning, this track from the I’m Getting Ready EP sees Michael Kiwanuka donning his musing-folky cap. When this EP and the Tell Me A Tale/Isle Of Wight Sessions EP landed in 2011 they garnered Kiwanuka a lot of attention, and from this song it’s easy to see why. Centred on his economical guitar and moving vocals, with tasteful horn and vocal accompaniments, ‘I Need You By My Side’ evidenced newcomer Kiwanuka’s skill as a soulful and mature songwriter. Above all though, it hits the heart first and the head second.
What are your favourite B-sides and rarities? Let me know in the comments below.