Keeping Track: 10 Overqualified B-Sides, Part One
by Chad Jewett
Welcome to our new column, Keeping Track, a space for us to indulge our inner music nerds with the kinds of pop culture lists we all love to make and the pop culture debates we all love to have. Today’s list: 10 Overqualified B-Sides, Part One.
If you’re ever at a dull party, surrounded by over-eager music nerds (this will happen), I have an instant conversation starter: “overqualified B-Sides.” Now, this prompt can be taken a number of ways, but the basic parameters dictate a song that was left off a “proper,” official album release, but, in hindsight, absolutely deserves to be on an actual record. EP’s are debatable depending on if the song would make more sense on a corresponding full-length. Stand-alone singles are their own thing (otherwise this list would be overrun with Beatles songs). The possibilities are endless, and tomorrow we’ll be back with a “Part Two,” but for now, here (in no particular order) are the opening five of our 10 Overqualified B-Sides.
1.) Saves The Day “Ups and Downs”
Whenever the subject of “songs that should have made the album” comes up, “Ups and Downs” is, without fail, my first choice. A leftover from the Stay What You Are sessions, “Ups and Downs” is so absurdly bright and hook-oriented that you wonder if Saves The Day axed it for fear of becoming too famous. Exemplifying the radiant, major-key pensiveness of the album from which it was orphaned, “Ups and Downs” is essentially a more athletic version of “At Your Funeral,” trading on that track’s poignant quiet/LOUD shifts and feelings of resignation and acceptance. The lock-step low end of Eben D’Amico and Bryan Newman, the subtle highlight of Stay What You Are, is at its absolute best here, especially in a late drum-and-bass fill that essentially serves as a “Mt. Rushmore” punk rhythm-section moment. The fact that Saves The Day could afford to leave off a song like “Ups and Downs” tells you everything you need to know about the band’s early-2000s high-water mark.
2.) Braid “You’re Lucky To Be Alive”
While this song was technically recorded for an abortive follow-up to Frame & Canvas, it’s still way too good to get buried on a comp, even one as excellent as Movie Music, Vol. 1. Based around the juggernaut back-and-forth of co-leaders Bob Nanna and Chris Broach, and anticipating the tunefulness of Nanna’s next project, Hey Mercedes, “You’re Lucky To Be Alive” offered an alternate history version of Braid, one where the band stuck around and found more room for indie-rock expansiveness in its heavy, algebraic emo. “You’re Lucky To Be Alive” essentially found a way to turn Braid’s jagged post-hardcore into pop music. Closer to Closed, the band’s 2011 come-back EP featured four songs that all felt like evolutionary cousins to “You’re Lucky To Be Alive,” offering reason to hope for more of the same on the band’s upcoming full-length, their first since Frame & Canvas.
3.) Rilo Kiley “Emotional”
While Rilo Kiley offered up enough B-Sides, rarities, and compilation tracks to fill the excellent RKives retrospective, “Emotional” stands out as its all-time greatest “what-if.” Left off of The Execution Of All Things and relegated to backing up a single-release for the album’s title track, “Emotional” is like a lab-created crystallization of Rilo Kiley. Heavy on both heart-tugging toy synths and brash, Superchunk octave chords, the song is essentially a bramble of thorny pop, ideal for Jenny Lewis’s wry plaintiveness (“You’re so emooooootional, in the light of your mom’s front rooooooooom”). It makes you pine for the days when Jenny was writing punk songs. Like the best of Rilo Kiley, the tune feels like a subtle back-and-forth between Lewis and guitarist Blake Sennett, whose leads were never so plucky, never quite this willing to answer back. Despite being left off of Execution, it somehow feels like that record in a nutshell.
4.) Bright Eyes “Well Whiskey”
Like Rilo Kiley, Bright Eyes has offered up enough left-over songs to fill up more than one rarities collection (1998’s A Collection of Songs Written and Recorded 1995–1997 and 2006’s Noise Floor). But though there are several contenders amongst those compilations (“I Will Be Grateful For This Day,” “Trees Get Wheeled Away”), no song offers up as much tantalizing “alternate history” possibility as “Well Whiskey.” Released as a B-Side to “Lua,” “Well Whiskey” epitomized the rambling, midnight country aesthetic of 2005’s I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. More to the point, it vastly out-shined its closest relative, “Another Travelin’ Song” a rote, by-the-numbers honky-tonk that did make the album. That Wide Awake could have been perfect with that one swap, a trade that would have given the album a truckin’ country number that also carried the specificity and narrative strengths of Oberst’s best work, rather than the clichés of “Another Travelin’ Song,” constitutes one of indie rock’s less recognized “what if’s.”
5.) Kanye West “Good Friday”
As part of the run-up to 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy Kanye West released a slew of early listens, some of which would end up on the record, others surviving only as posts on Stereogum. Of those left off the record, none was as absurdly overqualified as “Good Friday.” Borrowing the major-key piano bounce of “Just A Friend” and pairing it with the sample-madness of “Runaway,” “Good Friday” was an absurdly listenable dispatch of pop-rap genius. Featuring good-to-great work from Common, Pusha T, Big Sean (one of the greatest feature rappers alive), Kid Cudi, and Kanye’s go to hook man, Charlie Wilson, “Good Friday” would have taken over the world as a proper single, and would have been the second or third best track on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (think about that). There’s almost too much greateness to break down – Wilson’s “ah, la la” chorus, the old-school scratching, Common’s brief-but-great mini-verse, the organ under the hook. Incredible. As it stands, “Good Friday” will live on as an all-time great sing along for your rap-blog nerd friends (“Party people in the place to be / You are now in the midst of a real MC / Throw your hands in the air if you real as me / Ooooooooooooo”).
Be sure to check back tomorrow for Part Two.