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When released for the first time, a single usually suppose to have a hit on the A-side, and a secondary song not supposed to be a hit, on the B-side. That song was basically used to fill the B-side, and producers didn't give hight hopes on it.

The scope of my question doesn't include singles that knowingly featured two hits (sometimes called double A-side) like The Beatles' We Can Work It Out / Day Tripper or where the letter A or B doesn't appear on the label.

I'm focussing in singles where the B-side became a massive hit, and A-side almost forgotten.

Has a B-side unexpectedly overtake a A-side, in terms of success, popularity?

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    "We Will Rock You" was the B side of "We are the Champions", but that's really more of a double-A type situation. I'm certain I've head of other cases that are a better fit for your query, but I'm having trouble bringing them to mind. – Chris Sunami Feb 16 '17 at 14:32
  • Do you want answers to be where the record company actually changed the A/B designation & started promoting the other side... or records that were bought because of the B-side, or received airplay on the B-side, without ever being officially 'turned over'. – Tetsujin Feb 16 '17 at 14:37
  • @Tetsujin, either could be good. My scope is when the B-side was neglected, by the disc company and/or the artists, in front of the A-side. Then the A-side is a failer compared to the success of the B-side. – Bebs Feb 16 '17 at 14:45
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After a little research (A sides in parentheses):

  • “Rock Around the Clock” (“Thirteen Women (And Only One Man in Town)”)– Bill Haley and His Comets in 1954.

  • “Tequila” (“Train to Nowhere") – The Champs

  • "Unchained Melody” ( “Hung on You.”) – The Righteous Brothers 1965.

  • "Ruby Tuesday”* (“Let’s Spend the Night Together”) – The Rolling Stones

  • “I Will Survive” (“Substitute”) - Gloria Gaynor

  • “Push It” (“Tramp”) - Salt-N-Pepa

  • "Dear God" ("Grass") - XTC

This only includes songs where the B side was substantially more popular than the A. I'm sure there are others, but these are some big ones.

* = became a hit after being re-released

  • If EPs are allowed (not clear), I would mention "Tous les garçons et les filles" by Francoise Hardy (1962), with the much less successful "Oh oh chéri" on the A-side. – njuffa Feb 17 '17 at 3:56
  • I'm not sure you can say that The sweetest thing is more of a hit than Where the streets have no name, which is still played at every U2 concert – Guillaume Fache Feb 17 '17 at 8:39
  • Colloquially, The Sweetest Thing hit #6 in Australia on its rerelease in 1998, and I've heard it a million times on the radio for that reason, but barely know of Where the Streets Have No Name. – Coxy Feb 17 '17 at 13:17
  • @GuillaumeFache I just looked it up, and "Streets" was a substantially bigger hit (except in Canada), "Sweetest Thing" was just more recent. So, off the list it goes... – Chris Sunami Feb 18 '17 at 2:19
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I've turned up a few more .. with notes as to which were officially turned over or re-released

  • I Am the Walrus (Hello Goodbye) - Beatles 1967
    Never turned over

  • Green Onions (Behave Yourself) - Booker T & The MGs 1962
    Re-released 1962.

  • Half The World Away (Whatever) - Oasis 1994
    [afaik] Never turned over

  • Suffragette City (Starman) - David Bowie 1972
    Released to promote ChangesOneBowie in 1976, was never a hit in its own right]

  • How Soon Is Now (William, It Was Really Nothing) - Smiths 1984
    Re-released 1985

  • God Only Knows (Wouln't It Be Nice) - Beach Boys 1966
    Released as the A-side in some countries, but as a B-side only, in the US.

  • Maggie May (Reason To Believe) - Rod Stewart 1971
    Never turned over

  • Into the Groove (Angel) - Madonna 1985
    Released as an A-side worldwide, but not in the US

  • Always on my Mind (Separate Ways) - Elvis Presley
    US possibly later changed to double-A [wikipedia unclear], UK A-side

  • The Model (Computer Love) - Kraftwerk 1978
    Re-issued 1981 with A&B reversed.

  • Rock'n'Roll Part 2 (Rock'n'Roll Part 1) - Gary Glitter 1972
    Unclear as to whether it was ever turned over - probably not.

  • You Can't Always Get What You Want (Honky Tonk Women) - Rolling Stones 1969
    Re-released 1973

Records purportedly bought for the B-Side, yet could not be played on the radio

  • There Ain't Half Been Some Clever Bastards (Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick) Ian Dury & the Blockheads 1978

  • Magic Roundabout (Funky Moped) Jasper Carrott 1975

Near misses...

  • Mustang Sally (Good Lovin) - The Young Rascals
    Never a hit for them, the Wilson Pickett cover beat them to it.
  • "Hello Goodbye" reached #1 on the charts; "I Am the Walrus" did not. I also feel like I've heard "Starman" a lot more than "Suffragette City," but that's anecdotal. Certainly neither of those A-sides are "almost forgotten" per the original question! How are you judging popularity here? – Kyle Strand Feb 16 '17 at 22:57
  • I am the Walrus could never chart, as I said; they never turned it over. It's the one that's still played to this day, though - plus it has a video, so it is used on TV too. Suffragette City hasn't been off the playlists since last year. Interesting you missed the most striking one - Maggie May was also never turned over.. however it was performed on Top of the Pops, which almost never played anything that wasn't an actual of the moment hit. – Tetsujin Feb 17 '17 at 7:16
  • When you say "turned over", do you mean re-released as an A-side? Since the charts are largely (even primarily?) based on airplay, why would it be necessary for a song to be released as an A-side to chart? – Kyle Strand Feb 17 '17 at 14:59
  • Whose charts are based on airplay? Though that might have been charged in recent years [since the demise of the 45 rpm single as the mainstay of the charts] in the UK it was always based entirely on sales, airplay was no factor. ...and yes 'turned over' == specifically re-released as a A, with the original A as the B-side. – Tetsujin Feb 17 '17 at 15:51
  • I just wiki'd charts and read a little bit about them. It sounds like the Billboard charts (an Americanism, admittedly) are primarily based on airplay, though I could be misunderstanding the article. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Record_chart – Kyle Strand Feb 17 '17 at 17:44
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Ritchie Valens' "La Bamba" was the B-side of "Donna". While Donna reached #2 and "La Bamba" only #22 on Billboard Hot 100, I think "La Bamba" could be considered "more popular" in the long term. Valens was credited with a #1 hit when the Los Lobos version reached #1. Also "La Bamba" ranked No. 98 in VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of Rock and Roll in 1999.

However, I don't think "Donna" was "almost forgotten".

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Ice Ice Baby was initially released as the B-side to Vanilla Ice's cover of Play That Funky Music.
Source from Wikipedia.

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Green Day's Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life) initially appeared as a B-side on their Brain Stew / Jaded single from their album Insomniac.

It eventually was re-released as the second single on Nimrod and became a massive hit.

  • Thanks for taking the time to answer. I've been checking for Brain Stew / Jaded single on Discogs, but I can't find any issue that features Time of your Life. Do you have a link to confirm it has been a B-Side? – Bebs Feb 16 '17 at 12:38
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    The song is actually called "Good Riddance". – Jan Johannsen Feb 16 '17 at 13:18
  • Could you confirm @JanJohannsen is right and edit your question? – Bebs Feb 17 '17 at 11:06
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Its actually kind of tough to tell for sure, at least from sales figures, since a B side was (obviously) sold as an inseparable package with its A side. Probably the best way to tell would be from the imperfect measure of radio airplay time.

My personal favorite instance of a B side getting more airplay is Led Zepplin's Hey, Hey, What Can I Do?. It was a B-side for the released single of The Immigrant Song. That song got no little airplay itself, but there was definitely a period in the early 80's when I was hearing Hey, Hey on the radio way more. Also, since Immigrant Song was originally on Led Zeppelin II, its a fair bet that rather a lot of the sales of the single to your typical hardcore Zeppelin fan were to acquire the B side, not the A side.

But even more interestingly, Public Enemy wrote a (freaking great) song about B-sides doing better than A-sides: B Side Wins Again.

You roll in your ride, the DJ decides to play it on the radio; the A side. He gives it a try, but never gives it a try and the people request the best on the B side.

That song itself sampled several B-sides.

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Already mentioned in another answer, but I wanted to add a little more detail: Dear God by XTC was originally a B-side-only release on the single Grass, and became so popular so quickly that it supplanted an original album track, Mermaid Smiled, on the US release of the album Skylarking:

Then Dear God was released as A-side.

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Some additional ones to supplement @Briller and @ChrisSunami's answers:

  • "Wipe Out" by the Surfaris, original A-Side was "Surfer Joe"
  • "Maggie May" by Rod Stewart, original A-Side was "Reason To Believe"
  • "Rock and Roll Part 2" by Gary Glitter, original A-Side was "Rock and Roll Part 1"
  • "Fingertips - Part 2" by Little Stevie Wonder, original A-Side was "Fingertips - Part 1"

More surprise hit B-Sides can be found in these links.

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Pearl Jam's "Yellow Ledbetter" was the B-side to Jeremy, and it went on to be one of the band's biggest songs

  • Thanks for your answer. My question was about B-sides that became popular, and you're right, Yellow Ledbetter was popular, but it was also about A-sides that were not as popular as expected. Jeremy is a very popular song. – Bebs Feb 17 '17 at 11:05
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    That's true, but I'd still say Yellow Ledbetter is a lot more well known tham Jeremy to non-PJ fans – Tom_Anks Feb 18 '17 at 12:17
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    Not so sure of that. I'm not a Pearl Jam fan, but I sure do know Jeremy, I could probably sing it by heart. It was all over the radio for ages. I just checked out the video to Yellow Ledbetter, I don't think I've ever heard it before. According to wikipedia, it didn't crack the Billboard Hot 100, and only reached a max of 21st spot on the rock charts. Jeremy reached #5 on both Mainstream and Modern rock charts, and #79 in the Hot 100. (Why do I suddenly feel like I'm in "High Fidelity"?) – John Smith Feb 23 '17 at 20:06

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