6 Essential B-Side Compilations (and the Guitar Tones Behind Them)
B-Side and singles compilations are a fickle thing. On the one hand, they can be seen as shameless cash-grabs of recycled material; and on the other, they can sometimes prove to be an indispensable collection of material that would otherwise have to be obtained through diligently collecting rare and expensive import singles, and combing dirty record bins hoping against hope that you’ll find that prized gem. When listening to such a collection, it becomes evident why some material remains relegated to the cutting room floor. However, you will occasionally come across collections that not only impress with the quality of material, but become classic albums in their own right. Here are six of the latter, and how Martel Music can help you capture the guitar tones behind these brilliant rarity compilations.
The Smiths – Louder Than Bombs (1987)
Perhaps the most classic singles compilation ever, Louder Than Bombs was released mere months before the legendary Smiths would break up for good. Boasting 14 b-sides and 10 rare singles tracks, this compilation proves a tidy summation of the band’s most brilliant non-LP output. Thanks to this collection, fans (notably in the U.S.) could finally hear and own tracks that were previously only available on expensive and rare U.K. 12” singles. Rolling Stone Magazine would later declare the album the 365th greatest of all time, in 2003. Though there are many Smiths compilations on the market – and bone of contention for fans and critics alike – none are better than Louder Than Bombs.
Get the tone: Although Johnny Marr has played many guitars throughout his career and eventually landed a signature model Fender Jaguar, he is most commonly seen with a Gibson ES-355 during the Smiths’ 1986 heyday. In stock currently is a beautiful and lightweight Gibson ES-339 in Antique Red. Pair this with a Chase Bliss Warped Vinyl pedal for the sweet chorus undertones of many of the Smiths’ best tracks and you’ll be playing soccer – ahem, football stadiums in no time.
Belle and Sebastian – Push Barman to Open Old Wounds (2005)
Scottish indie band Belle and Sebastian had clearly been inspired by not only the Smiths’ visual aesthetic, but also their decision to release singles that were meant to be individual statements – not simply supplements to albums that were coming out. Push Barman to Open Old Wounds contains the band’s complete non-LP output from their inception to 2005, which is two full CD’s worth of much fan-favorite material.
Get the tone: Frontman Stuart Murdoch is most commonly seen with a variety of acoustic guitars to deliver the undercurrent strums that most B&S songs require. I recently was caught strumming ‘Judy and the Dream of Horses’ last time I was in the shop on an in-stock Guild OM-140E. This mid-size orchestra-shaped model beckons you to strum and sing of shy boys and bookish girls. Scottish accent sold separately.
Elvis Costello – Taking Liberties (1980)
For the first 10 years of his career, Elvis Costello was on an absolute tear. When he wasn’t releasing some of the most critically-acclaimed albums of all time, he was dishing out non-album singles and b-sides faster than most fans could collect, thus necessitating the Taking Liberties collection from 1980. As with all the best singles compilations, this one includes material deemed thoroughly indispensable, such as ‘Radio Sweetheart,’ ‘Big Tears,’ and even a surprisingly tender rendition of ‘My Funny Valentine.’
Get the tone: Elvis Costello is never seen too far from his trusty Jazzmaster, and the earliest EC records are packed with the creamy tones of this offset favorite. Grab an in-stock BiLT Revelator with Lollar Jazzmaster pickups and get yourself banned from playing Saturday Night Live!
The Killers – Sawdust (2007)
The Killers’ tireless work ethic from 2002 to 2007 meant that there would be a good deal of tracks that would not make it onto their albums. While they were writing and recording rock radio staples such as ‘Mr. Brightside’ and ‘When You Were Young,’ some tracks ended up being left unfinished altogether, and this is where Sawdust shines. Rather than leaving unfinished demos as is, the band overdubbed some finishing touches for a more polished sound, and even included a brand new song, ‘Tranquilize’ as the opening cut. Although this compilation is not exhaustive (it does not include their excellent cover of Morrissey’s ‘Why Don’t You Find Out for Yourself,’ as featured on the Hot Fuss 7” box set), it features a wealth of excellent demos, rare singles tracks, and radio session takes. Perhaps most notable is ‘Glamorous Indie Rock and Roll,’ which is still played live and is considered a fan-favorite.
Get the tone: Dave Keuning plays a variety of guitars, but is commonly seen with a vintage Fender Starcaster, which features wide range humbucking pickups. Jason Lollar’s brilliant interpretation of this design is featured in an in-stock BiLT S.S. Zaftig, which, like the Starcaster, is semi-hollow and offset. Pair this guitar with the Bad Cat Cub III 40R and dial it into overdrive to achieve Dave’s arena rock tone.
Oasis – The Masterplan (1998)
Although many casual observers in the U.S. may only be familiar with ‘Wonderwall,’ Oasis in mid-90s England was probably as close as any band has or will ever come to recreating Beatlemania. To put this into perspective, when the band played the legendary Knebworth Festival in 1996, they played two shows to an astounding total of 250,000 people. If that number doesn’t impress you, bear in mind that 2.5 million people applied for tickets, meaning that the band could have sold out another 18 shows at Knebworth. Despite near-constant inner turmoil, the band’s creative fuel during this period produced a wealth of material that exceeded the limits of their first three albums, necessitating the release of The Masterplan, which culls b-sides spanning 1994 to 1997. An insanely strong compilation, this album features greatest-hits level material such as the album’s title track (the b-side of ‘Wonderwall’), ‘Acquiesce’ (b-side of ‘Some Might Say’), and ‘Rockin’ Chair’ (b-side of ‘Roll with it’).
Get the tone: Similar to one of his icons, Johnny Marr, Noel Gallagher has used a series of guitars throughout his career, but the overwhelming majority feature humbuckers, such as his Epiphone Les Paul used in the earliest days of Oasis. The in-stock Fano SP6 Alt De Facto, featuring Lollar Imperial humbuckers, will help you to absolutely nail Noel’s prized tones. Throw a Diamond CST1 Cornerstone Overdrive pedal in the mix and you’ll be hitting your snotty-nosed brat of a brother / lead singer in the head with a cricket bat in no time at all.
Pink Floyd – Relics (1971)
Though they would become defined as conceptual art-rock standard-bearers with huge albums like Dark Side of the Moon and the Wall, the earliest days of Pink Floyd saw them as a psychedelic pop outfit, producing material that was spacey but still very much in line with the sounds emanating from England in the mid/late ‘60s. Relics compiles some of the band’s most legendary early tracks, which were on singles that were hard-to-find even at the time. Classics such as ‘See Emily Play’ and ‘Arnold Layne’ are present, making Relics a thoroughly essential document of British psychedelia.
Get the tone: Syd Barrett’s Esquire and Telecaster were commonly used during this period of his all-too-brief career. Martel Music’s in-stock tone recipe includes a vintage 1972 Fender Telecaster, going into a Strymon El Capistan dTape Echo, going into a Vox hand-wired AC15. Set controls for the heart of the sun and enjoy the tone.
I hope this article inspires you to listen to these albums if you haven’t heard them, but to also get gear-inspired and start making music that you won’t release on an album, but only on an obscure 7” single!
-David Elliott, writing for Martel Music Store