The Wikipedia article on the band The Ohio Express notes that their biggest single, “Yummy Yummy Yummy”, was backed with a deliberately unlistenable B-side:
B-side is the instrumental backing of 1910 Fruitgum Co.'s “(Poor Old) Mr. Jensen” recorded backwards, a common practice of producers Kasenetz & Katz to discourage double-sided hits
I’ve got two questions about this practice:
Why would a music producer care whether or not the B-side of a single inadvertently became a hit? I mean, obviously, two separate best-selling singles would net more royalties than one double A-side single. But if the artist has several more songs available, some of which the producers think might be hits in their own right, why not just go ahead and release those as A-sides and use the rest of the songs for B-sides? If you’re not going to release a given song as an A-side, then it costs you nothing to release it as a B-side, and it might even net you a few extra sales if people happen to like it. The only situation I can see where not releasing a proper B-side makes sense is if the artist really has no other non-A-side material available.
If you’re not going to release a proper B-side, then why issue some horrible noise like a backwards recording and deceptively label it as a genuine song? Why not just leave the B-side blank, or make it a copy of the A-side, and don’t list any false information on the label/cover? Didn’t the record-buying public get pissed off when they bought a single and discovered that the B-side was effectively noise? Would said public then avoid buying future singles from that artist or producer?
Does “A side” vs. “B side” refer to the sides of a 45 RPM record? If so, I can sorta see why a record company would only want one hit per record, and not two. If there are two hits, then you want people to buy two 45s, each with one hit on it.
Another factor might be timing. Neither artist nor record company want two potential #1 songs to compete with each other. It’s better to release Song1 and when that starts its descent, you release Song2 thus keeping the artist current and relevant.
Two things come to mind re: this
All the One Hit Wonders who didn’t have a second song and faded into obscurity.
The insane productivity circa 1964 - 1978 of many bands. Beatles is obvious, but look at the releases of e.g CCR, Bowie, Elton John, LZ. I remember that the audience was quite upset that it took Eagles three years to follow up Hotel California. Unheard of. An album a year was expected and many times there were more than one.
Using a song recoded backwards is a way to put out the single when nothing suitable is recorded for the B side. “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha Ha” did this , for instance, as did “Yellow Balloon” by the Yellow Balloon. The record company wanted a single immediately.
I’m not sure how this might answer the OP’s question but royalties were paid equally for every “side” (two sides for a single and a dozen or so “sides” per album.) There were record producers who sought out one hit wonders and then had the band record a song they (the producer) composed themselves to piggyback on the B-Side and would receive the same royalties as the composer of the A-side. Even a well established band could be exploited this way. George Martin received as much in composer royalties for the Yellow Submarine album than everyone in the Beatles combined.
Elvis would occasionally end up getting hits on his B sides as well as A sides. Perhaps producers figured out during the 1950’s that they’d get more money selling twice as many records as opposed to a ‘two hits for the price of one’ record deal. One way to ensure this is to hold the other potential hit in reserve as a future release and put garbage on both B sides.
Another thing, I might suspect, is that in addition to the greater royalties to be collected by two separate hit singles, the band/singer would probably get more visibility in the charts. Maybe a double-A-side is in the top 40 for six weeks. But those two songs, released one after the other as separate A sides, might chart for four weeks each, for a total of eight weeks. That, in turn, could lead to greater interest in the act’s next release.
Disclaimer: That’s just something I pulled out of my butt this very minute. I think it makes sense at first glance, but I don’t really know.
I remember as a kid being surprised by the Beatles putting two great songs on the same 45. They’d even be listed in the charts together: “We Can Work It Out / Daytripper", “Penny Lane / Strawberry Fields”. We young fans just took it as further proof that the Beatles were changing the music scene.
Okaaayyy… so in this timeline, the single that spent the longest time at #1 (23 weeks) was NOT “Backwards Poor Old Mr. Jensen”???
And it’s an example of an A and B side by different artists.
Putting a non-album song on a single encourages people who already have the album to also buy the single. If the performer has already put all their material in the album, you run off a quick novelty song like a backwards recording for the b-side of the single.
The Surfaris went into the studio to record a song called “Surfer Joe”. When they had finished, the studio was like ok, let’s record the B side now, and the Surfaris were basically like “what B side?” They hadn’t prepared anything at all. They needed something, and basically came up with a song on the spot.
The song they came up with was “Wipe Out”, which ended up becoming their greatest hit. Almost everyone recognizes “Wipe Out” today. Very few people recognize “Surfer Joe”.
I don’t think it’s exactly that they care if the B side inadvertently becomes a hit - I think it’s more that they don’t want to inadvertently waste a potential hit as a B side , and sometimes, it’s hard to tell which song might be a hit. “Silver Springs” was the B side of Fleetwood Mac’s " Go Your Own Way" in 1977 but a live version was released in 1997 as a single and while it didn’t reach number 1, it did make it onto multiple charts. Who knows what would have happened if it had been released as a single in 1977?
Back in the day, sometimes a B side would catch on “accidentally” and be a bigger hit. But how did they determine which side was being bought? I always pictured record store clerks querying their customers, “Now, are you buying this record for side A or side B?” and writing it down in a ledger, which was then sent to the record company. And then i was like, “that wouldn’t work”. So how did they tell? Make up the answer?