In a new series for One Quart Magazine, B-Side Botany looks at the art of the 7” single flip-side. Nick Triani starts the series with a detailed look at the extra curricular music found within the Prefab Sprout discography.
The B-side exists in my memory as a long standing alternative, a different view, another side. As the ubiquitousness of the Seven Inch single decreases and struggles for survival, one could surmise the art of the B-side is closing in on extinction. Of course, this is mere conjecture because in 2017, vinyl is popular once again (or so we keep reading). I could perhaps argue that the heyday of the B-Side, the peak exposure of the form, was reached sometime around the end of the 1990s. That awful idea, the double cd-single release, an unwanted format that in the best light still managed to prolong the idea of the B-side. Many a buried treasure was to be found strung out across those dual discs. Since then the prominence of the b-side has lessened, as outtakes and unreleased track now form part of the expanded/deluxe edition of many an album and the single steadily resembles a one track experience.
Prefab Sprout have never received the recognition their relative popularity or craft deserved. Across nine official albums Prefab Sprout and mainman Paddy McAloon arguably created some of the subtlest, yet most refined pop music of the 1980’s – and still continue to release great albums (admittedly, intermittently). That McAloon is not held in the same esteem as other songwriters who gained prominence in that era – Paul Weller, Elvis Costello, George Michael, Kate Bush (for example) – is one of life’s mysteries. Sure, Paddy has a serious following and a real appreciation of his unique song craft and lyrical dexterity, but it still feels the accolades are missing in these post-pop music times. The flip side to this (ahem) is everybody remembers that song about “hot dogs, jumping frogs and Albuquerque” (still one of the most eccentric Top Five singles ever). The albums Swoon, Steve McQueen, Protest Songs and Jordan The Comeback are indispensable. The rest are merely excellent.
Prefab Sprout were keen purveyors in the art of the B-Side. The second side to their singles and 12 inch’s offered us a rougher, yet no less potent window into the prolificness of Paddy McAloon. McAloon is famous for unrealized album projects and concepts. Total Snow (a Christmas album), Zorro the Fox (yes, an album about Zorro), Behind the Veil (a whole album about Michael Jackson) are just some of the ideas that at some point McAloon was working on. Rumours concerning these ‘almost’ albums have since passed into legend amongst the band’s followers.
Occasionally the fruit of Paddy’s labours would wind up on a B-Side and offer us an insight into some of these unreleased projects. Prefab Sprout B-sides gave us a more angular and experimental side to the band than could be found on any of their more ‘produced’ albums. Their B-side adventures signpost an end to the art of the non-album track in general, as singles became more of a one sided affair. No Prefab Sprout B-side exists post 1997 – as if to cement that point.
But let’s cut to the chase. Many of these fine songs have been lost to the ether (or at the least the digital vacuum). If you pay special attention, a quirkier Prefab Sprout (as if possible) appears. One hopes that at some point, someone turns these mostly amazing tracks into an official collection.
NB: I’ve decided to include tracks that appeared on official singles and 12″ releases, cd singles and cd double single releases. I’ve discarded officially released album tracks added to singles to make up the numbers – only stand-alone exclusives to each release are included on the playlist. I’ve also excluded remixes and extended versions. Not everything is here, but You Tube offered the largest selection of Prefab Sprout B-sides outside of actually owning the physical releases. All B-sides are listed in chronological order, as per their release date. Enjoy.
1. Radio Love (Kitchenware 1982)
The flip side to the debut Prefab Sprout single ‘Lion’s in My own Garden’, ‘Radio Love’ begins with the dial moving and static (and makes a fine connection with McAloon’s only solo album, I Trawl The Megahertz from 2003). The track is unmistakable Prefab Sprout, sweet yet melancholy. There’s a yearning vocal from Paddy, which ends with a foreign voice talking over the track (not sure what language that is?) A paean to the radio waves and repetition, McAloon’s lyrical verbosity is evident even at this early stage.
“Could you sustain fate like Bathsheba
Some would say it’s futile to try”
2. Walk On (Kitchenware 1983)
The first appearance of Wendy Smith on a Prefab Sprout song. Along with A-side ‘The Devil Has All the Brightest Tunes’, ‘Walk On’ brings us one of the best Prefab sevens. Legend has it Smith used to collect the money on the door at early Prefab shows and this was her favourite cut from those times. Could easily have been an A-side.
“Amber lights imprint themselves
In your soul and in your brain.
That smokey blue transfusion
Will keep you warm beneath the rain”
3. He’ll Have To go ( Kitchenware/Epic 1984)
Prefab Sprout moved to a major label (CBS) after their first two singles, yet remained under the Kitchenware umbrella. The first single to precede their debut album Swoon was ‘Don’t Sing’ – and the gentle country tones of ‘He’ll Have to Go’ (which is a cover of the Allison/Allison song). This can be found on the 12″ version of the single. A quality rendition, seemingly recorded at the same sessions as Swoon.
4. Spinning Belinda ( Kitchenware/Epic 1984)
The second side to ‘Couldn’t Bear To Be Special’, ‘Spinning Belinda’ is a busy yet beautifully arranged song (notice extra curricular sounds), which could easily have fitted on Swoon itself. A theory has it that all these early B-sides were slated for a pre-’Lions In My Own Garden’ album, when the band were still a three piece.
“I found a note in a pothole
It said ‘you’ve just lost a fortune’
It said ‘look on the bright side,
you could be in jail.'”
5. Donna Summer (Kitchenware/Epic 1984)
This is one of the great Prefab Sprout B-sides. Rumour has it ‘Donna Summer ‘was conceived to be part of an album called Famous Fakes, which consisted of songs using famous names. Steve McQueen‘s ‘Faron Young’ would have been another for that release. The perennial B-side (find it on many other future singles) – the gorgeous ‘Donna Summer’ originally appeared on the 12″ of ‘Couldn’t Bear To Be Special’.
“The aging count, he waits on you
Beneath the ivy-walled tower
The chimes ring out the summer light
Also marks the hours”
6. Diana (Kitchenware /Epic 1984)
‘Diana’ would later appear in a much barer and slowed down condition via the demos released as the Protest Songs album (1989). As well as being very different to its later incarnation, Paddy’s Princess Diana song appears on the B-side of the first release of the much re-released ‘When Love Breaks Down’ 7”. Another key factor with the single was the the first appearance of the quintessential Prefab Sprout drummer Neil Conti. One of the band’s most energetic cuts, the lyrics here are seriously good.
“Her eyes china blue saucers, she’s born that way
She tastes of apple strudel, you can tell she does
With arms that hold sweet William to her breast”
7. The Yearning Loins (Kitchenware/Epic 1984).
An angular track (much like the uptempo ‘Diana’), ‘The Yearning Loins’ is another great sidelined to the bonus cut category (it first appeared on the ‘When love Breaks Down’ 12″). It also turned up on Four Wheels Good, the US version of the Steve McQueen album.
“You college boy, you’ve read it all
All your questions loaded
Describe for me, the point at which
The yearning loins exploded.”
8. Silhouettes (Kitchenware/ Epic 1985)
Featuring a very rare Wendy Smith lead vocal, ‘Silhouettes’ has the same rhythmic leanness that would characterise much of the Steve McQueen album. But here Prefab Sprout go even sparser (especially on this longer version to be found on the 12″ of the ‘Faron Young’ single). This would start a period of Sprout B-sides that would err on the experimental, ‘Silhouettes’ still manages to engage and keep the B-side quality high.
“Here we are, clutching straws
Hope’s a thing that leaves you sore”
9.Oh, the Swiss! (Kitchenware/Epic 1985)
As if to emphasise the fact that Prefab Sprout were using the B-side to experiment, this ‘Appetite’ single flip side is a slight instrumental, but beautiful (and discordant) nonetheless.
10. Wigs (Kitchenware/Epic 1985)
The 12 inch to ‘Johnny Johnny’ (the renamed Steve McQueen cut ‘Goodbye Lucille #1’) features three tracks of experimental fare. ‘Wigs’ is beguiling and can be put down to typical B-side filler, but listen a bit more closely and something is going on towards the songs’ denouement that begins to move through a collision of loudly mixed keyboards and Wendy’s repetitive vocals.
“He’s the man
Who let the hat box
Rule his head”
11. The Guest Who Stayed Forever (Kitchenware/Epic 1985)
One of my favourite Prefab Sprout B-sides. Another cut from the ‘Johnny Johhny’ 12″, TGWSF is unhinged (check Paddy’s moronic soloing), yet somehow beautiful (as always). The sole verse here sees Paddy channelling his inner John Lennon (it’s the slap delay doing it). A demo for sure, but an interesting one.
“Every day he packs the bag
Every day he settles up
Every day he waves goodbye
Everyday he bottles out”
12. Old Spoonface Is Back (Kitchenware/Epic 1985)
The last track on the ‘Johnny Johhny’ 12″ continues along the same vibe as ‘Wigs’, though perhaps is slightly less vague in execution. Drum machine and repetitive synth chords are the basic ingredients, ‘Old Spoonface Is Back’ ably demonstrates that even when in experimental mode, Prefab Sprout can still deliver mood and technique. It’s worth noting that with these more experimental cuts, McAloon dispenses with any notion of a lyrical narrative or to even attempt to try and tell a story.
“Who’s that whistling outside?
He disturbed the dark
Who’s been gone since who knows when?
Move over buddy, make space”
13. Vendetta (Kitchenware/CBS 1988)
The B-side tracks that appeared surrounding the From Langley Park To Memphis singles tended to find the band back on more conventional song structure (though some of the tracks sound like the demo variety). ‘Vendetta’ is a surprisingly straight ahead rock song with some traces of rockabilly even (so a closer cousin to ‘Faron Young’). It’s steeped in a kind of Americana, which is ok and nothing more. McAloon finds his lyrical acumen once more. Found on the flip side to the exquisite ‘Cars And Girls’ 7″.
“Behind the mirror
Of his wardrobe door
Stands Captain Barclay
And his regiment”
14. Nero The Zero (Kitchenware/CBS 1988)
Nero the Zero veers very close to a Bryan Adams (not even Bruce Springsteen)/AOR level of songwriting, surprisingly free of that Sprout-like-quirk that distinguishes many of these B-sides. The drum sound alone reveals the demo quality. What brings the interest is a strange yet revealing Paddy lyric. This can be found on the 12″ for ‘Cars and Girls’.
“It always rains in Durham County
Your ears are raw and your hair is wet
But don’t you worry in Durham County
What you’re really feeling you soon forget”
15. Real Life (Just Around The Corner) (Kitchenware/CBS 1988)
An extra cut to be found on the cd single of ‘Cars and Girls’ ( a four tracker no less) ‘Real Life’ is one of the great Prefab Sprout B-sides. Yes, it has that very long experimental proto-funk beginning, but stick with it as a lovely synth laden anthem unfurls, this part of the track is good enough to be a hit single for anyone. ‘Real Life ‘ is relegated rather bizarrely to cd single bonus track status.
“Never say your days are numbered
Every one’s a bright surprise
Some take refuge in their numbers
Some big day will tan their hide”
16. Dandy Of The Danube (Kitchenware/CBS 1988)
The high quality continues with ‘Dandy Of the Danube’, another gem found on the flip side of the 12″ for the band’s biggest hit, ‘The King Of Rock N Roll’. This isn’t afforded the best production (the drum sound has a demo-like feel), but otherwise one wonders how a fully produced DOTD would have sounded like, had it appeared on the Langley Park… album itself. ‘DOTD’ was a very early Prefab’s number apparently written as part of the songs for that pre-’Lions..’ album.
“Old Bermuda floats out there
Heiress of a thousand tunes
Trees are wound in purple vine
Somehow seem to reach the moon”
17. Tin Can Pot (Kitchenware/CBS 1988)
Coupled with ‘Dandy of the Danube’ on the flip side to ‘King of Rock N Roll’,’ Tin Can Pot’ is as rough and edgy as the Sprout have ever sounded on record. A rawkus rockabilly splurge of noise, ‘Tin Can Pot’ lacks sophistication, but is a lot of fun.
“Your cut reflections are jealous as you leave a lot to train,
Left to die at the station, thoughts of me again.
Aah the only things worth keeping are scattered in the rain.”
18. Bearpark (Kitchenware/CBS 1988)
Gorgeous 4-track demo found on the 12″ for the ‘Nightingales’ single. According to Sproutology, this track is “A wistful ode to the place where the hard as nails Geordies live”. Paddy gives some extensive notes on his demo process on the back sleeve of the 12″ too. As stripped back and vulnerable as Paddy has ever sounded. A wonderful track.
“Home sweet home, Geordies
Hard as nails, Geordies
Well out of my pram,
Hard as nails, Geordies
There was a huge break in B-side action for Prefab Sprout at this time. Apart from ‘Tornado’ from 1989 (sadly unavailable online) – none of the singles from the fourth album Jordan The Comeback had new material on the b-sides. An almost ten year gap appeared (yet many a single was released). Then, a flurry of B-sides returned in 1997, along with the Andromeda Heights album, minus drummer Neil Conti.
19. Just Because I Can (Kitchenware/Columbia 1997)
The wait for B-side action was worth it. ‘Just Because I Can’ is solid gold Prefab Sprout. The tracks that appear on the Andromeda Heights related singles are apparently all from an unreleased PS album Knights in Armour, predating the material that would comprise the much later released album Let’s Change The World With Music. Got that? Good. ‘Just Because I Can’ was released on the CD maxi single of ‘Prisoners Of the Past’.
“Ever since the world began
Ever since the dawn of man
It’s just because I can”
20. Where The Heart Is (Kitchenware/Columbia 1997)
For many, ‘Where The Heart Is’ has become the most recognizable Prefab Sprout song, mainly down to its use as the theme song to the ITV soap of the same name. Paddy’s probably still eating out on the royalty checks. Later released as a single in it’s own right in 1999, WTHI originally appeared on the ‘Prisoner Of the Past’ maxi single as track five! Easily mawkish in the hands of any other performer, McAloon invests enough sincerity in the vocal to make this worthwhile.
“Maybe other streets are wider
Than these narrow streets I know
Still you’ll find here, ties that bind here
Where the heart is”
21.Dragons (Kitchenware/Columbia 1997)
Another song from the Knights in Armour project (fairytales, princess’ dominate the themes), ‘Dragons’ finds McAloon alone with an acoustic and you can revel in the sparse beauty afforded us here. Actor Jimmy Nail recorded a version on his Paddy McAloon penned album. The Prefab Sprout version is found on the ‘Electric Guitars’ single.
“The first time I saw you I realised at once
You were an angel in torment how could I desert you?
I vowed in that moment that nothing in this world or any other
Would ever threaten or hurt you”
22. Girl I’m Here (Kitchenware/CBS 1997)
Another track found on the ‘Electric Guitars’ single and another with the now familiar themes of Knights and dragons that the B-sides from this period contain. ‘Girl I’m Here’ is lush and worthy.
“There are pills and potions, Freud’s exotic notions
Quack cures – honey, none of them come cheap”
23. The End Of the Affair (Kitchenware/CBS 1997)
To emphasise the capability of the maxi single, ‘The End Of the Affair’ isn’t even the last B-side track found on the ‘Electric Guitars’ single. The track itself has a slightly poor execution, with a nervous drum pattern – whilst the lyric does verge on cheese. One of my least favourite B-side cuts from the band, this still may appeal to some. And yet the final two chords almost promise magic (so keep listening till the end).
“I could tell the story of my love for you
With a detailed list of every rendez-vous
Discreet hotels we’ve checked into”
24.Never Trust A Spell (Kitchenware/CBS 1997)
Out with a bang, the last known Prefab Sprout B-side released thus far. ‘Never Trust A Spell’ is yet another cut from the ‘Electric Guitars’ single and another unreleased song cut from the mooted Knights in Armour album (princess, kings, frogs and the wands of the lyrics give a big clue). Eccentric and actually featuring a spelling machine segment, this is a fine track to release as your final B-side. The seven minute running time almost feels like Paddy new this was to be the case. ‘Never Trust A Spell’ was originally conceived for Cher – but sadly rejected. After this, all related singles were either one sided or had the obligatory album track as its flip side.
“There was a princess who one day waved a wand
I gained a palace, lost a pond”
25. Rebel Land (John Peel Session 1985)
A lost Prefab Sprout classic you could say. I remember catching Prefab Sprout twice on the live dates surrounding the release of the Steve McQueen album and ‘Rebel Land’ was a highlight from both shows. Subsequently ‘Rebel Land’ only ever surfaced on a Peel session. Essential Prefab Sprout is found here.
“Saw her young face on that picture
She really had the horniest eyes
Now they are blunted
Blunted with living
Living with compromise”
Discogs supplies some valuable access to many of these tracks if you have the money, and most singles are still very affordable.