Best B-Sides of the '90s
[Photos by: Nirvana/YouTube, Smashing Pumpkins/Claudia Rahanmetan via Wikimedia Commons, Alanis Morissette/Justin Higuchi via Wikimedia Commons, Oasis/Will Fresch via Wikimedia Commons]

Ever get into a conversation about a great song from the ’90s, only to be told it was never actually a single but a B-side instead? You’re flabbergasted and immediately begin pointing out that the band in question play the song live all the time, which is a clear indicator that if it wasn’t, at the very least, released as a single, then it’s absolutely a fan favorite that was included on one of their top records. 

You then subsequently Google it, only to discover listeners deem said song a “B-side” or a “rarity.” And you listlessly show a pic of a compilation record it was on, as if that backs up your argument. Below are 12 B-sides that are good enough to be A-sides. 

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Pearl Jam – “Yellow Ledbetter”

Hardcore ’90s music enthusiasts, and Pearl Jam purists, will no doubt scoff at the inclusion of this deadly hit from the grunge pioneers’ earlier years. “Yellow Ledbetter” got so much radio airplay—even on Top 40 stations—it’s easy to recall as a tune right up there with “Dissident” and “Daughter.” But this was back when radio still made hits out of songs and responded to frantic fans calling in to request hearing them. The terrific opening riff is trademark Pearl Jam, still begging for the flannel to be tied ’round one’s waist to this day.

The Smashing Pumpkins – “Landslide”

Covers were often relegated to B-side status back in the day when cassingles were all the rage. OK, so they were never all the rage. But back when bands typically had to include something with a new song, they sometimes wanted it to up the ante—and not just be another song off the album. Covering an influential song, thus revealing the artist’s influences, was oftentimes as surprising as it was introductory. Hence, the Smashing Pumpkins’ take on “Landslide,” a crash course in Fleetwood Mac for many. Billy Corgan’s vocals are just as stirring and introspective as Stevie Nicks’. 

Oasis – “Half The World Away” 

The brothers Gallagher saw to it that their brilliant band imploded so swiftly, and so spectacularly, that compilation discs became their huge fanbase’s life’s blood in record time. The British brats’ bombast can often be second to none, and this swirling gem is right up there with “Champagne Supernova.” There is a slew of B-sides by Oasis that could be cited here, but that’s beside the point. 

Veruca Salt – “My Sharona” 

This timeless, huge hit by the Knack elevates any band’s live performance just as much as it can sales of a single by putting a cover of it on the flipside. But Nina Gordon, Louise Post and the gang didn’t just replicate the rocker—they reinvented it for the B-side of “Victrola,” one of their earlier hits, released in 1995. Veruca Salt took the head-bobbing Knack track and got all garage and grunge with it. Slowed a bit, with considerable teeth-gnashing, they somehow made it even more powerful. Veruca Salt transformed one of the catchiest songs ever into something the exact opposite: intangible. In the best of ways.   

Everclear – “Annabella’s Song” 

Everclear fans know this lullaby-ish track, with the band totally getting their Eels on, is a standout moment on Songs From An American Movie Vol. 1: Learning How To Smile. But it’s the die-hard ones who know it was hanging around a while, first popping up as the B-side to “Heroin Girl,” the crowd-pleasing, encore-worthy fan favorite that appeared on Sparkle And Fade, and released before Santa Monica,” their breakthrough hit. “Annabella’s Song” deserves revisiting, though, with its lush orchestration and Art Alexakis aptly demonstrating that he was capable of so much more than snarling. 

Barenaked Ladies – “Powder Blue” 

“Powder Blue” was the B-side to “Pinch Me,” the first single off Barenaked Ladies’ fifth studio record, Maroon. “Pinch Me” proved to be a favorite, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, but it was its flipside that begged for attention of its own. With a Beach Boys vibe (hey, these are the guys who scored a hit with a song actually called “Brian Wilson”), it’s the polar opposite of “One Week,” with its plodding, and then punching, melody. It’s a Barenaked Ladies lament, and there were precious few of those.  

Alanis Morissette – “Pollyanna Flower”

Following up the enormous success of Jagged Little Pill was no doubt a daunting task for alt-rock queen Alanis Morissette. Not only did the first single off the next record have to be strong but so did the B-side. There’d be no acoustic version of “Ironic” or any other mailing in to be had here. Some insist that “Pollyanna Flower” is an even stronger song than the admittedly underappreciated “Thank U” (folks preferred the angry Alanis to the appreciative one), especially as it has Morissette doing what she did best at the time: seethe. “What am I to do with all this fire?” she sings just before the chorus kicks in. Let it burn! 

The Cure – “This Twilight Garden” 

In 1992, the English rock royalty released their ninth studio record, Wish, with “High” leading the charge. A song that would over 10 years later be front and center on the Cure’s B-Sides & Rarities record was nowhere to be found on that album yet became one of their most beloved songs ever recorded. To be sure, the psychedelic, lovelorn romp “This Twilight Garden” became a hit in the most curious of places: weddings. The follow-up to “High,” of course, would be the one played while everyone was on the dance floor: “Friday I’m In Love.” 

Radiohead – “Pearly”

Easily, one of the most influential records of the ’90s was Radiohead’s OK Computer. So epic was this genre-bending release that even the outtakes took on lives of their own. Case in point: this brooding, rock ’n’ roll middle finger to someone. We know not who, just that there’s a “sweet tooth for white boys” and “vanilla milkshakes from Hard Rock Cafes.” Someone somewhere had to throw a fit the first time they heard this pearl. 

Nirvana – “Aneurysm”

We’re already on the subject of the decade’s most influential records. So let’s look at what might be history’s most played B-side. How could the song on the other side of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” not get the shit played out of it? With an intro just as splashy as “Smells,” the Seattle trio’s very own “Beat It” became a legit hit at 1992’s Reading Festival, but “Aneurysm” couldn’t miss if it were just Kurt Cobain doing a stripped-down “Rainbow Connection.” Which is something he was totally capable of. 

Depeche Mode – “Dangerous”

The flipside of arguably Depeche Mode’s biggest hit “Personal Jesus” was this equally hypnotic rocker. “Dangerous” finds Dave Gahan singing of deity here, too, but in this case, it’s one that isn’t necessarily looking to save or heal. Basically, the synth-pop masters gave salivating fans good and evil all at the same time, in the same place. Pick your mood, flip the side. 

Rage Against The Machine – “Ghost Of Tom Joad” 

Look, of all the artists Rage Against The Machine were ever going to cover, no one would have ever predicted Bruce Springsteen. Tom Morello’s well of rock ’n’ roll knowledge is a deep one, though, so him being into The Boss makes said leap doable. But wouldn’t you have expected “Born In The U.S.A.” or even “Hungry Heart”? Instead, they opted for this moody, somber track off one of Springsteen’s acoustic records. And what did they do with it? Well, they made it rage, of course.