You can tell a lot about a band, judge their character possibly, by the quality of their B sides. Perhaps that’s going a little far – I have a limited experience when it comes to b-side collections and only own a few, being mainly a completist for the bands whose flippers I have collected. Blur’s b-sides I’ve found virtually impregnable, despite being a big fan of their singles. But I do believe that the status of these often lesser-known songs deserve as much attention as album tracks for a given band, if not as much attention as the singles themselves. For the most part from their heyday through to their demise sometime in the last ten years they have been released alongside a band’s crop of their best or most accessible work. Perhaps the marriage isn’t always a happy one, and perhaps management or record company machinations make some pairings of single and b-side something of a shotgun affair, but for as long as the two have been paired we’ve been stuck with them. Artists, choose your b-sides as wisely as your singles, I say.
A prolific band needn’t fear the prospect of a b-side. If lesser songs can’t be added, out-takes included or demos trialled on the spare vinyl of a 45 single, then other options offer themselves: a live track, perhaps, an interview for the fans, maybe? How about a cover of another band’s song? Iron Maiden did all of these from 1980 through to 2000 and the resulting double CD release collects the majority of this output. For the most part there are covers, which shouldn’t diminish the appeal of the title, as they are pretty well chosen and not immediately familiar – in fact, I would venture to say that it’s the more familiar tracks (Who and Zeppelin I’m looking at you) which suffer the most from sloppy execution or poor comparison. For myself I wasn’t aware of a lot of the bands from whose crops Maiden have harvested these songs: Tull I do know of course, plus UFO and Free, but the rest are a new discovery and so the collection offers something of an introduction to those bands who have inspired maiden along the way. I think that’s what the intention was, and it’s a cool gesture. There are some notables here: Reach Out has Adrian Smith singing – a slightly throaty vocal reminiscent of Joe Elliot (in a good way) with Bruce Dickinson providing backing. It’ a good match, and a shame Smith didn’t get any other opportunity to flex his vocal chords. Doctor Doctor is the last cover and the last Blaze Bayley song featured here, but distinguishes itself for being a popular song for the band to play before live shows. It’s actually one of Bayley’s best vocal performances with maiden, and is a standout for that. The other standout I’d nominate is actually absent, and one of my favourite Maiden covers – Thin Lizzy’s Massacre from Seventh Son, in which Maiden speed things up to a tempo that suits them, and Dickinson demonstrates just how much of an influence the voice of Phil Lynott was on his style. Fortunately this is available as a track on the iTunes version of Seventh Son, so it was an easy purchase for me.
I have less to say about the live versions – Maiden is in its element lie and so the quality here is reliable, despite a cheat here and there. Remember Tomorrow is a Di’Anno era recording with Dickinson’s voice overdubbed and it feels less honest for that, but the rest of the selection is very sound – it’s good to hear DiAnno letting loose on Drifter early on and Blaze sounding in good form also. Like the covers the selection ere is not exhaustive, but it’s enough, and Dickinson’s version of Futureal from Rock in Rio (I think) rounds things off well.
Which brings me to the originals. An even more mixed bag, particularly for being something of a pick and mix. Invasion is called a proto-version of NotB’s Invaders, and brings out the early punky side attributed to the band in its infancy, while Burning Ambition wears a few influences – Boston, Cheap Trick, on its sleeve. At the other end of the collection are two of the three X-Factor cast-offs covered earlier. Good for those interested in Blaze’s potential, but almost all of them not absolutely cheated as potential album fillers. Between these poles are the four novelty originals – Black Bart and Nodding Donkey Blues, The Sheriff of Huddersfield and Roll Over Vic Vella. Half of them dedicated to the subject of bedding groupies, the other half about support crew or management. Sheriff (directed at band manager Rod Smallwood) is the funniest and least offensive, and Vic Vella (which as you’d expect takes its musical cue from Chuck Berry) the least intelligible. The other two are indicative of the changing nature of the band and its output – very self-indulgent, throwaway, and not as cap-doffing to musical roots. I’d be as happy to not have these, and perhaps Dickinson’s fourth-form interjections over the closing lines of Juanita and Space Station No. 5 as I would have the omissions listed below, but you can’t have them all, literally.
We’re beyond serious Eddie here, and the technique is rougher for it, as well. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury – in deference to the compilation title Edward the Head presents his very own and decidedly ‘b’ side out of a (tour bus?) windscreen. The CD-label design sketches for Somewhere in Time and Stranger in a Strange Land inside the package may be more to your taste.
These are out of order in the following list
The Sheriff of Huddersfield
Black Bart Blues
Nodding Donkey Blues
Roll Over Vic Vella
Justice of the Peace
Not featured: I Live My Way
Charlotte the Harlot ‘88
Blood on the World’s Hands
I’ve Got the Fire (Montrose)
Cross-Eyed Mary (Jethro Tull)
Rainbow’s Gold (Beckett)
King of Twilight (Nektar)
Reach Out (ASAP/The Entire Population of Hackney)
That Girl (As above)
Juanita (Marshall Fury)
All in Your Mind (Stray)
Kill Me Ce Soir (Golden Earring)
I’m a Mover (Free)
Communication Breakdown (Led Zeppelin)
Space Station No. 5 (Montrose)
I Can’t See My Feelings (Budgie)
My Generation (The Who)
Doctor Doctor (UFO)
Not featured: The Massacre (Thin Lizzy)