There’s a new Stephin Merritt compilation out this week — it’s called Obscurities, and its contents are just that, a selection of non-album tracks and outtakes from the early years of the Magnetic Fields main man’s career. It’s interesting listening, and it also got us thinking that these sorts of collections are becoming rarer these days — B-sides are, of course, a dying breed for the simple reason that people don’t release 45s or CD singles any more, and in this age of file-sharing and album leaks, most tracks end up seeing the light of day one way or another. It’s a shame, because getting unreleased tracks used to be a reason to buy a single, and some bands used to specialize in putting out fantastic B-sides. Anyway, here’s our selection of B-sides/rarities/outtakes/otherwise unreleased-track compilations that actually deserve your attention. What did we miss?
The Smiths — Louder Than Bombs
The Smiths were rightly renowned for the quality of their B-sides, so much so that there’s no appreciable drop-off in quality between their studio albums and their rarities compilations — and, indeed, there’s an argument to be made that both Hatful of Hollow and Louder Than Bombs are actually better than any of their “proper” albums (with the possible exception of The Queen is Dead). Certainly, it’s the B-sides on Louder Than Bombs that shine brightest — songs like “Half a Person,” “Is It Really So Strange?” and “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” are good enough to warrant inclusion pretty much anywhere.