Phil Mahoney is a composer and sound designer based in Vancouver, BC.
A 45 is a perfect little round vessel of music, but they’re not always the most economical way to get your tunes. The vinyl math gets a little questionable when calculating minutes of music per dollar spent when compared to buying LPs. In the heyday of the 7-inch single, the value was often dictated by what was on the B-side, which fell into one of these categories (ranging from least desirable to most):
1) The same song as the A-side. This was rare, but it did happen. What a ripoff.
2) An instrumental or remixed version of the A-side. This kind of thing could occasionally be okay for certain people, but still, it’s not exactly additional content.
3) Another track from the album. This was the most common type of B-side. Now you’ve got about 20% of the album for a couple of bucks. Not too bad. Unfortunately, the track selected was usually the weakest one from the album.
4) A song that doesn’t appear on the album and is otherwise unavailable. This is obviously the best situation. If you end up getting the album, you’ve got an extra song, an addendum.
Armed with this information, let’s go back to the 70s and 80s…
Being the youngest of four children, my musical tastes were decided pretty early on. We had a basement full of records that my siblings would play, and whether I was conscious of it or not at the time, the music being uploaded through my ears and into my brain at a young age would shape what I would listen to for the rest of my life. When my brother Mike rented a VHS copy of “Stop Making Sense”, the Jonathan Demme-directed Talking Heads concert film, I was on board. Stop Making Sense is considered by many to be the greatest concert film ever made, and rightly so. It’s kind of hard not to watch. If you haven’t seen it, and really, you should see it, David Byrne opens the film by performing “Psycho Killer” alone with his acoustic guitar and a ghetto blaster, which plays a drum machine beat. Then Tina Weymouth comes out with her bass guitar and the two perform “Heaven”.
I’ve always been a sucker for a good slow song, and Byrne’s soaring vocals and gentle strumming really got me. Tina’s bass playing and backup singing– Wait a minute. Tina’s not moving her lips. She’s not singing. Where is that female voice coming from? Is she in the crowd? Backstage? Is she an angel from Heaven? Anyway, the song is near-perfect. It’s about simple pleasures like hearing your favourite song, and how much fun and exciting it is to kiss repeatedly. I loved the song right away. Still do.
One of my siblings (I’m going to say my sister Colleen, but I could be wrong), bought the Stop Making Sense album. I listened to it, waiting for Heaven. Heaven never came. It was not on the album. It made sense that not every song from the film would appear on the record, which was half the length. The songs selected to appear on the album also made sense. Things stopped making sense when it was decided to leave Heaven off. I was bummed.
One day after school, I went to the record store at Billings Bridge Plaza in Ottawa. I was looking through the 45s and found the single for “Girlfriend Is Better” from Stop Making Sense in a picture sleeve. I picked it up, studied it, turned it over… and saw that Heaven was the B-side. It’s hard to imagine that nothing at all could be this exciting, could be this much fun. Needless to say, I threw money at the cashier and was on my way with my new 45. There’s nothing wrong with the A-side. It’s a fine song. But I bought this single for the B-side, and it’s been played far more often than the A-side.
I would eventually purge the bulk of my single collection when I moved from Ottawa to Vancouver, but “Girlfriend Is Better / Heaven” by Talking Heads would come along for the ride and is still with me today.