THE SATURDAY MORNING SONG CHRONICLES

-- Paul B Allen III: March 21, 2020

SONGS THAT WERE NEVER SUPPOSED TO BE HITS 

Things change. 

As a matter of fact, one of my favorites saying is, “The only thing that will never change is that things are going to change.” 

And though the powers that be try to convince us that things are always changing for the better, sometimes, that’s just not the case. 

When I was  a little boy, the caramel in Milk Duds  was softer, and they were covered in real milk chocolate. Talk about delicious? Still, they were messy, for sure. On a warm day your fingers would be covered with chocolate. But what fun it was as a kid to suck the chocolate off of your fingertips after you had eaten the last Milk Dud.   

Today, the caramel in Milk Duds is “covered with a confectionery coating made from cocoa and vegetable oil,” according to Wikipedia. Yikes! Sucking vegetable oil off your fingers is a far cry from sucking chocolate off of them. 

So, you can argue till the cows come home that Milk Duds are great now, but that’s only because you don’t know how great they really used to be. 

Today, when it comes to music, you may think you are getting a good deal, being able to download a “single” from iTunes for 99 cents. But this is another area where the change has not been for the better, because when I was growing up you could buy a “single” for a buck as well, but you didn’t get only one song. You got two songs for that one buck. Check that. You got one song and one mystery for one buck. 

When vinyl records were all the rage initially (because they are all the rage again now), the “singles” would have what was called the “A-Side” and the “B-Side.” The A-Side was the main song, the one that the record companies wanted for the radio DJs to play on air. The B-Side was usually a “throw-away” song, something to fill that other side of the single, and by design placed there so as to not be competitive with the A-Side. And, in most cases, the plan worked. Many B-Sides were literally terrible. 

But, to be perfectly honest, I have always been intrigued by the mystery of what was happening on the B-Side of records, because many times there were hidden gems, and who doesn’t like discovering buried treasure? 

Sometimes, record companies made mistakes. The A-Side was not the hit they thought it would be, and at that point, 99% of the singles would be considered failures, just dropped from radio airplay altogether. But sometimes, just sometimes, a DJ would let his curiosity get the better of him and he would take a listen to the B-Side of the single and sometimes there was magic. 

Today, we will look at vinyl single records and first examine the A-Sides, which we were supposed to hear on the radio, but probably never did, and then we will listen to the B-Sides, which we were never supposed to hear on the air, but, which by some fluke, became classics known by millions. 

Check out 

Ben E. King singing the A-Side Single – “First Taste of Love” and then its B-Side hit, “Spanish Harlem.” 

Listen to Smokey Robinson sing the A-Side Single – “Happy Landing,” then its B-Side hit, “You Really Got a Hold On Me.” 

The Spinners had an A-Side that you may recognize called, “How Could I Let You Get Away,” but, I’m pretty sure you will agree that the B-Side, “I’ll Be Around” was a much bigger hit. Still, you will most certainly enjoy the performance of the great Philippé Wynne on the A-Side. What a talent he was.

And, perhaps the greatest example of what we are talking about today is that of powerhouse vocalist Gloria Gaynor. Listen to her A-Side single called “Substitute," but then marvel at one of the most performed songs of all time, the B-Side mega-hit, “I Will Survive.” 

I miss licking the chocolate off of my fingers after eating a box of Milk Duds, and I do miss the sense of discovery that I used to enjoy when  single records had two sides. 

Enjoy these rare videos, and I hope to see you next week for another Saturday Morning Song Chronicles.