Guest Blog: Flip it to the B-Side

Recently, Rhonda and Amanda offered the topic of regret as one to guest blog about.  As I pondered that, I actually thought of two regrets that I think are intertwined.  It all begins with a simple question:  How often do you listen to music?  I mean really listen–put on headphones, close your eyes, and take it all in?What has struck me recently is the fact that, as an adult, I never just listen to music.  It’s always in conjunction with other activity.  Music is on in the car, or on the iPod while doing yard work, or at work.  In fact, the only time in the last ten or so years that I can recall just listening to music would be when I’ve been on an airplane.  I can’t count that, though, since when I fly I also try to ward off thoughts of crashing into mountains, engines bursting into flames, etc.  (Yes, I hate flying.)

Thirty years ago the opposite was true:  I was listening to music, and doing nothing else, all the time.  I didn’t get my walkman until 1986 and the first cassette I popped in was Seven and the Ragged Tiger.  I will never forgot how blown away I was by the experience.  And even without the walkman, I had spent hour listening to all of the early Duran cassettes, as well as So Red the Rose, on my boom box.  And then I would make mix tapes and listen to those.  Listening to music was its own activity back then.

I’ve tried to tell myself that there is not that much of a difference between sitting in a dark room with headphones on versus going for a walk while listening to your iPod, but it still isn’t truly the same.  I remember imagining videos for every song on So Red the Rose back in 1985; today, I can easily go for a walk or mow the lawn and completely lose track of the playlist and wonder how I missed certain songs that had played.

And thus does my first regret spawn a second one:  Not only do I miss the days of listening to music for listening’s sake, I miss the distinctive sides that you’d find on a record or cassette.  One of the elements of those childhood and teenage listening sessions was appreciating and analyzing how different each side of the cassette was.  It was a different experience listening to the B side of those early Duran albums.  You could generally expect to find more of the radio friendly songs on side A, while side B tended toward the slower and darker material (R.E.M. took this to another level when they used to actually name their sides, e.g. “Memory Side” and “Time Side”).

I realize that it’s the songs, and not the format, that make side A differ from side B.  And certainly, in the Duran catalogue, the difference is more pronounced on some albums than others (more on that in a second).  But there’s nothing like that unmistakable hiss you would hear just as the cassette was about to run out.  And that longer delay because you either had to flip it or hit the “reverse” button if you were lucky enough to have a walkman that could do that.  It felt like an intermission…like the band had just rocked out to Hold Back the Rain and were taking a break, and after a moment, were returning as the first haunting notes of New Religion began to play.

The first song on the B side was always a big deal to me.  It set the tone for the second half of the album; it also served as an interesting comparison to the album’s opening track.  NIght Boat might be the greatest opening track for a B side in the entire catalogue–until New Religion!  Of course, even though it’s not officially Duran Duran, Arcadia’s The Promise is another heavyweight track that would seem out of place in any other position on the album.  An exception to this would be Seven and the Ragged Tiger–I think the way side B ends, with Tiger Tiger and The Seventh Stranger, is more distinctive and memorable than how it begins, with Union of the Snake.

The last Duran album I bought on cassette was Big Thing, which is the poster child for albums with disparate sides (even down to the producers–one for each side!).  Astronaut, while not completely mirroring the slower tempo and darkness of Big Thing’s B side, probably comes closest of all subsequent Duran albums to offering such a stark contrast between sides.  And yet therein lies the problem, for Astronaut is a CD and there are no “sides.”  I would assume that Astronaut’s “A” side ends with Nice (track 6)…but that would place “Taste the Summer” as the B side opener.  I think Finest Hour is much more appropriate as a “B” side opening track..but without the cassette, who can say for sure?  I can’t speak to any aspect of sides or themes when considering The Wedding Album, Thank You or RCM, which seem to all go on and on for one continuous side.  Pop Trash Movie serves as a natural breaking point on Pop Trash, and the sequence of slow song/fast song/slow song that pervades most of the running order is distinctive.  Notorious’s two sides represent perfect symmetry:  both sides’ lead tracks echo Hitchcock movies; both penultimate tracks are slow; and both final tracks rock the house.  Medazzaland actually does have a natural break in the middle with Silva Halo, and the B side gets darker and more experimental (and more awesome…if that’s possible–from the first side.  Sorry–I will try to contain my love for that album…!)  Likewise, Liberty breaks evenly with its only slow song, My Antarctica, and gets more of an edge on its second side (with a very underrated and solid “Downtown” closing out the proceedings).

Which bring us to All You Need Is Now.  I tend to think of it as Duran’s first three sided album.  Side one ends with Girl Panic; side two ends with Runway Runaway, and side three consists of Before the Rain, Networker Nation, Early Summer Nerves, and Too Close to the Sun.  I’m sure a lot of this is due to the nature of the album’s release (first on iTunes, then the full physical release, then the subsequent “special editions” with more tracks” etc.)  It also has to do with how I listened to it–although Before the Rain was part of the iTunes 9 release, I tended to keep replaying Runway Runaway and not really getting BTR until I had the physical version of the CD with other material.

I’m curious what you think–do you find the time to just listen to music?  Or is it next to impossible to do so when you’re juggling jobs, families, and other obligations?  And when you think about the different sides of Duran Duran albums, what stands out for you?

C.K. Shortell is a lifelong Duran Duran fan who lives in the northeast with his wife and two sons, both of whom love watching concert footage of the band.  When he’s not struggling to explain to a three year old why the guitarist always looks different or just what exactly Nick is doing, C.K. is constantly reminding co-workers and friends that the band never broke up.  

3 thoughts on “Guest Blog: Flip it to the B-Side”

  1. Amazing blog, first off!
    Do I find the time to listen to music? No during the working week, yes, I do find time during the weekends.
    The A and B sides of the DD albums? The last time I heard of a B Side concept was in 1988 for the Big Thing record and I do agree with saying it featured two opposite groups of tunes.
    I don't like all of the B Sides of the band and my fave are within the 1981 – 1985 ones.
    As of the different sides (you mean “aspects, faces”?) of their albums, their will of trying out new sounds is basically what stands out for me first, secondly the evolution of the lyrics.

  2. Really interesting blog. I'm pretty sure I had the cassette of the Wedding Album and UMF is the first track on the b-side. I learned Arcadia the wrong way round as the person who taped it for me did the b-side first and I never found this out for many years. Works for me that way!

  3. I am proud to say that one of the #1 activities I still partake in is listening to music. And I mean REALLY listening. It was the #1 thing I did as a child/teen/tween to melt away all my stress and appreciate my collection of music (especially my Duran stuff!) As a kid and teen, I'd sit in my room with headphones on in the dark, put various discs in my stereo, close my eyes, and let the music take me on a journey. I'd even have “theme” listening sessions: all ballads, my 3 fave tracks of a bunch of albums, lead singers, etc. I can safely say that at age 32 with 9 years of marriage under my belt, a cat and dog, a full-time job and a house, shutting the lights off and doing nothing but listening to music is still the #1 way I distress and shut the world out. Why spend money on expensive spa treatments when I can zone out and play music? The only difference now compared to when I did it as a kid is that my listening sessions are done accompanied by a glass (or bottle! lol) of wine and candles lit everywhere.

We (Amanda and Rhonda) appreciate discussion and differences of opinion. We respectfully ask that you fully read the blog before bitching us out. If you're only here to take us down a notch, note that we moderate replies (meaning we're not printing rude comments). Thanks a bunch!