13 massive hit singles that were originally B-sides

25 April 2024, 13:14

Playing 7" records. Flip for the B-side
Playing 7" records. Flip for the B-side. Picture: Getty Images/Alamy

By Mayer Nissim

Flip, reverse it.

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The digital era has more or less killed off the B-side. Even when we stopped physically turning over our 7" or cassette records, CDs were packed with bonus tracks we still happily called B-sides.

Now any odds and sods, album off-cuts and throwaways are bundled out as bonus tracks on albums, which never feels quite the same.

One glorious aspect of the B-side era was that when radio DJs or fans flipped their singles, they could make the other side a hit.

In some cases, the other side was so well-loved that either immediately or in time it became clear that the band or label had made a mistake, and the sides were either switched or the B-side was re-released with top billing.

Below, we've rounded up some of the greatest A-sides that were once B-sides.

The Beach Boys - God Only Knows (Official Music Video)

We're not counting the squillions of songs that were apparently written as a B-side but were promoted before release (Cliff Richard's 'Move It', Steam's Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye') as that list would be endless.

We're also skipping songs that were actually or effectively double-A-sides, be it The Beatles 'Hello Goodbye'/'I Am The Walrus' or The Beach Boys 'Wouldn't It Be Nice'/'God Only Knows'.

That means no songs listed as double-As on the single, or if the "B-side" appeared on the same album as the A-side very close to the time of the single's release (with a few exceptions that we'll just about allow for good reasons).

That still leaves some very, very big surprises. Did you know these ace As were once killer Bs?

  1. Buddy Holly - Not Fade Away

    Not Fade Away

    In its earliest days, rock 'n' roll was very much a singles medium rather than an albums one, with sequential hits being bundled into what were little more than compilations.

    That meant it was pretty easy for a bigger and/or better song to originally pop out on a B-side.

    That was the case with Buddy Holly's 'Not Fade Away', released on the other side of the equally-wonderful 'Oh, Boy!', credited to The Crickets.

    And while it got some radio play, was added to The "Chirping" Crickets album and became an enduring hit – especially after it was covered as an A-side by The Rolling Stones in 1964 – unlike most of the other songs on this list, Buddy Holly's 'Not Fade Away' never actually got A-side status.

  2. Bill Withers - Ain't No Sunshine

    Bill Withers - Ain't No Sunshine (Official Audio)

    I know, I know, I know, I know, I know that 'Ain't No Sunshine' did appear on Bill Withers' debut album Just As I Am, but when it came to releasing the first single from that album, the admittedly excellent 'Harlem' was chosen, with 'Ain't No Sunshine' officially on the flip.

    DJs turning the record rightly picked out the bigger song, and before too long it became the A.

  3. Eddie Cochran - C’mon Everbody

    NEW * C'mon Everybody - Eddie Cochran {Stereo}

    Like Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran was essentially a singles artist who had top-tier songs on both sides of his many classic singles.

    'C'mon Everybody' was first released as a B-side to 'Don't Ever Let Me Go' but the Cochran/Jerry Capeheart number was clearly the superior track.

    Eddie's version became a hit, and the song enjoyed a second life when covered by a Sid Vicious-fronted Sex Pistols (along with Eddie's 'Somethin' Else') for The Great Rock n Roll Swindle.

    'Summertime Blues' – another Cochran/Capeheart composition that directly preceded 'C'mon Everybody' – was apparently meant to be the B-side to 'Love Again', though we've not seen any evidence it was ever released as such.

  4. The Smiths - How Soon Is Now?

    The Smiths - How Soon is Now? (Live on Top of The Pops '85)

    In a throwback to the 1960s, a number of independent British bands of the 1980s like The Smiths and New Order made a point of not putting (many of) their very best singles on their albums.

    One of those songs was 'How Soon Is Now?' a shimmering masterpiece powered by Johnny Marr's FX-laden guitars and Morrissey's soaring, heartbreaking vocals.

    But did you know that the song was initially only considered good enough for a B-side on the 12" of another non-album single, 'William, It Was Really Nothing'?

    Producer John Porter was a fan, but label boss Geoff Travis basically didn't think it was Smithsy enough.

    Three months later it came out as an A-side, and charted but failed to be as big a hit as it should... probably because all the Smiths fans had it already.

  5. Donna Summer - I Feel Love

    Donna Summer - I Feel Love

    Not just one of Donna Summer's best songs or one of the best Disco songs, but one of the greatest, most innovative, influential songs in the history of popular music, 'I Feel Love' was first released as the B-side to 'Can't We Just Sit Down (And Talk It Over)'.

    That release was a modest hit, and when the sides were flipped a couple of months later the song went to number one all over the world, and a number six hit in the US.

  6. Aretha Franklin - I Say A Little Prayer

    Aretha Franklin - I Say A Little Prayer (Official Lyric Video)

    Written by the peerless team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David for Dionne Warwick, 'I Say A Little Prayer' was a massive hit as an A-side single, going all the way to number four in the charts in 1967, even though Bacharach never loved the arrangement.

    But it's Aretha Franklin's reworked version from a year later that's really stood the test of time, even though it was initially released as the B-side to 'The House That Jack Built'.

    By now you know the story. DJs liked the B more than the A, and it emerged as a much bigger song.

  7. Dionne Warwick- Wishin’ and Hopin’

    Wishin' and Hopin'

    Speaking of Dionne Warwick, Hal David and Burt Bacharach, covers, and As and Bs...

    While Dee had released 'I Say A Little Prayer' as an A-side, she released the David/Bacharach 'Wishin' and Hopin' as a B-side to 'This Empty Place' in 1962.

    The song did admittedly feature on her Presenting Dionne Warwick album, and it was resurrected as an A-side for her third studio album and commercial breakthrough Make Way for Dionne Warwick in 1964.

    That was the same year Dusty Springfield very much made the song her own as an A-side single and standout from her debut album A Girl Called Dusty.

  8. The Righteous Brothers - Unchained Melody

    Righteous Brothers -- Unchained Melody (Live, 1965) (Picture and Sound Restored)

    'Unchained Melody' had charted as an A-side single for a number of artists by the time The Righteous Brothers put their spin on it in 1965.

    Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield recorded the track as the B-side to 'Hung On You', but not for the first time the DJs knew best and much preferred the flip, so played that instead.

    The story goes that producer and all-round wrong 'um Phil Spector was so miffed by this that he took to phoning radio stations to ask them to stop them playing it. They didn't listen, and it became a giant hit twice over, on its original release and revival on the Ghost soundtrack in the 1990s.

  9. Gloria Gaynor - I Will Survive

    Gloria Gaynor - I Will Survive

    Gloria Gaynor knew the first time she saw the lyrics to 'I Will Survive' that Freddie Perren and Dino Fekaris had written a hit.

    Even though they squeezed the recording into a rushed 35 minutes at the end of a session, she knew it sounded like one, too.

    Her label though, insisted on sticking to the original plan and 'I Will Survive' was first released as the B-side to 'Substitute'.

    The DJs at Studio 54 and other hip clubs knew better, and word quickly spread. The label eventually relented and released the song as the A-side it always was destined to be.

  10. Booker T. & the M.G.’s - Green Onions

    Booker T. & The M.G's - Green Onions (Official Vinyl Video)

    There are hits and there are hits, and then there are songs that feel woven into the very fabric of popular music.

    Born from a jam session, Booker T & The M.G.'s 'Green Onions' feels like part of pop's DNA.

    And it was first released as a B-side, on the Volt 102 release of 'Behave Yourself'. Four months later Stax flipped the sides, boosting the reach of the influential and much-covered classic.

  11. Ritchie Valens - La Bamba

    La Bamba

    Before and after his tragic passing on The Day the Music Died, 'La Bamba' was Ritchie Valens's signature tune.

    Adapted from a Mexican folk song, the rock 'n' roll pioneer actually released the track as the B-side to his self-penned 'Donna'.

    It was the cover that he became best known though, for, with the track giving its name to the 1987 biopic about Valens, which featured Los Lobos's chart-topping tribute cover.

  12. The Champs - Tequila


    This 1958 (mainly) instrumental classic has stood the test of time, frequently popping up on TV, in adverts, at the movies and even on the terraces.

    Based on a Cuban mambo song and recorded as a jam by what was then known as the Flores Trio in three takes at the end of a session, it was first released as the B-side for 'Train to Nowhere' in January 1958.

    That song was all but ignored for a few months until... yep, a curious DJ in Cleveland played the B-side, helping propel the track to number one by the end of March.

  13. The Surfaris - Wipe Out

    NEW * Wipe Out - The Surfaris {DES Stereo} 1963

    Another (almost) instrumental that has been utterly ubiquitous in popular culture since its release, and another that was intended as a throwaway B-side.

    The Surfaris rush-wrote and recorded the song as the flip for 'Surfer Joe'. But while that song quickly crashed on the waves, it's 'Wipe Out' that has surf-ived to be an eternal classic.