1. The Who, Odds & Sods
2. The Smiths, Louder Than Bombs
Over its short existence, The Smiths released several essential singles that didn’t make it onto proper albums, including “Sheila Take A Bow” and “Shakespeare’s Sister.” Those and many, many other songs are gathered on Louder Than Bombs, which also adds B-sides like “Stretch Out And Wait” and “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want.” (Hard to believe that song was a B-side, but that’s true of pretty much the entire Smiths catalog.) Only completists will want to pick up The World Won’t Listen, which is a slightly inferior version of Louder Than Bombs notable only because it includes a couple of exclusive takes.
3. Morrissey, Bona Drag
After jumping out of The Smiths with the excellent solo debut Viva Hate, Morrissey decided to release a string of singles instead of another album. Since most of the world wasn’t buying singles at that time, the best of those A- and B-sides were gathered as Bona Drag. The disc features two Viva Hate tracks (“Suedehead” and “Everyday Is Like Sunday”) and a bunch of other songs (“Lucky Lisp,” “Disappointed”) that remain among his best. Bona Drag also plays like an album rather than a collection of scattershot recordings.
4. Bob Dylan, The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare And Unreleased, 1961-1991)
5. Tom Waits, Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards
6. Tindersticks, Donkeys 92-97
Even the double-disc reissues of Tindersticks’ first five albums and a similarly enhanced best-of can’t encompass all the non-album goodness released by this orchestral-minded Nottingham, UK outfit during its most prolific phase. Concentrating on quality rather than quantity, this modest 12-track collection rounds up A-sides, alternate versions, and overlooked strays, producing a surprisingly cohesive disc that’s also less pricy than many of the group’s out-of-print albums. Tops are a version of Pavement’s “Here,” sung in Stuart Staples’ bass croak and taken from a Sub Pop single; a B-side cover of Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”; and “Marriage Made In Heaven,” which finds Staples dueting opposite the charmingly unsteady warble of Isabella Rossellini. Less essential is the French-language version of “No More Affairs,” retitled “Plus De Liaisons,” whose phonetic awkwardness must have made things uncomfortable when Staples relocated to Limousin in France.
7-8. The Walkabouts, Death Valley Days: Lost Songs And Rarities 1985 To 1995 and Drunken Soundtracks: Lost Songs And Rarities 1995-2001
9. Suede, Sci-Fi Lullabies
Like The Smiths, Suede seemed determined to carry on the great British tradition of releasing singles that worked like miniature albums, two- or three-track releases sporting B-sides as strong, or sometimes stronger, than the tracks they supported. As good as any of Suede’s proper albums, Sci-Fi Lullabies collects B-sides released between 1992 and 1997, a tumultuous, prolific period in which the band seemed on the verge of defining British music for the 1990s. That didn’t happen, but Suede’s pre-burnout legacy remains remarkably strong, and decidedly incomplete without such flipside classics as “My Insatiable One” and “The Living Dead.”
10. Archers Of Loaf, The Speed Of Cattle
Archers Of Loaf, the raucous, more straightforward cousin to Pavement in the ’90s indie-rock boom, released just four regular albums, but had enough great stray songs to pack The Speed Of Cattle. A Merge Records single (“What Did You Expect?” backed with “Ethel Merman”) is included alongside a pair of rare killer tracks of wildly varying length: the swift, poppy “Mutes In The Steeple” and the epic, lumbering “Bacteria.”
11. R.E.M., Dead Letter Office
There’s some pretty dreadful stuff on this R.E.M. rarities collection, a contract-obligation-filler that appeared toward the end of the band’s tenure on the indie label I.R.S. in 1987. (For starters, they should have stayed far away from the Aerosmith song catalog.) But it remains a worthwhile album both because it sent a new generation of fans out in search of the Velvet Underground and Pylon originals that inspired R.E.M.’s cover versions, and because of songs like “Ages Of You” and “Bandwagon,” which deserve a life beyond their stint in ’80s college-town jukeboxes. (The CD version also includes the masterful debut EP Chronic Town, which ups the collection from “pretty good” to “indispensable.”)
12. Pete Townshend, Scoop
The Who practically invented the idea of the “odds and sods” collection with Odds & Sods, but Pete Townshend, the band’s chief songwriter-guitarist, took the B-sides/outtakes/ephemera concept one step further with Scoop, an eclectic collection of home recordings that cast the previous 20 years of his career in a different light. With The Who, Townshend frequently struggled to reconcile his deeply personal lyrics with his penchant for grandiose concepts, while on his solo albums, he frequently vomited the contents of his subconscious over state-of-the-art pop. Scoop shows a more relaxed Townshend, kicking around ideas without the sense of pomposity or commercial urgency that would kick in later. In addition to capturing some well-known Who songs in early forms, Scoop collects examples of Townshend toying with jazz-fusion, synth-pop, and folk-blues, and contains material intended for The Who’s problematic Lifehouse project, including the lovely ballad “Mary.” Scoop doesn’t top The Who at its best, but it’s arguably the best record Townshend ever released under his own name.
13. Bruce Springsteen, Tracks
For the first quarter-century of his career, Bruce Springsteen was as prolific as he was meticulous, which meant that for every one of his thoughtfully assembled albums, he would record hours of material just as good or better. Even when Springsteen finally opened his vaults for the four-CD Tracks box set, he under-filled the discs, leaving a lot of fan-favorite outtakes for the bootleg market. Nevertheless, Tracks holds a significant place in the Springsteen canon, documenting the progression of his style by collecting the songs he cast off. The E Street Shuffle outtakes alone are a treasure trove, with the jumped-up R&B workout “Thundercrack” and the organ-and-sax-driven rocker “Seaside Bar Song” sounding like a road map to Born To Run and beyond. And the River outtakes show how The E Street Band developed into an ace unit, capable of matching Springsteen as he generated one brisk, rockabilly-influenced song after another in the late ’70s. Tracks even illustrates how fallow Springsteen’s creativity became in the ’90s, when he was holed up with session musicians in Los Angeles. In short: the set tells a story, and though it might seem like it has an unhappy ending, Tracks eventually paved the way for Springsteen’s reunion with The E Street Band, and the late-career revival we’re all still enjoying.
14. Pavement, Westing (By Musket And Sextant)
There’s a lot of noise and half-song chaos on Westing (By Musket And Sextant), but the 23-track disc offers a clear snapshot of the path to Pavement’s classic debut full-length, Slanted And Enchanted. Many of the songs drift off into static-y nothingness, but enough are great—including “Box Elder,” the instrumental “Heckler Spray,” and the killer “Debris Slide”—to make the compilation stand up as something of a lost classic.
15. Jawbreaker, Etc.
16. Pet Shop Boys, Alternative
Like many B-sides collections, the Pet Shop Boys’ 1995 double-CD roundup Alternative has been rendered semi-redundant, since many of its selections eventually appeared on deluxe editions of the Boys’ albums early in the ’00s. Nevertheless, the fans who swear by Alternative not merely as a great album in itself, but as the London duo’s best full-length, have a point: in sheer numbers, it has more great Pet Shop Boys songs than any other album. Some of them rank with the Boys’ best: “Your Funny Uncle,” “I Get Excited (You Get Excited Too),” “We All Feel Better In The Dark,” “Too Many People,” and the immortal “Shameless,” Neil Tennant’s ultimate statement on one of his favorite topics, the lure of celebrity: “We will do anything to get our 15 minutes of fame/We have no integrity/We’re ready to crawl.”
17. Jawbox, My Scrapbook Of Fatal Accidents
Until the 2009 reissue of 1994’s fantastic For Your Own Special Sweetheart, Jawbox’s My Scrapbook Of Fatal Accidents was the only easy place to find “68,” a B-side that eventually became a fan favorite—reason enough to buy the compilation. Scrapbook collects numerous live tracks (a Peel session, a festival) along with alternate versions of album tracks, unreleased songs, and a cluster of covers. Cover songs tend to occupy the least essential parts of a band’s catalog—along with that peak of artistic self-indulgence, the covers album—but Jawbox injects enough of its own personality into them, especially The Big Boys’ “Sound On Sound” and The Cure’s “Meathook,” to make the tracks compelling on their own.
18. Fucked Up, Couple Tracks: Singles 2002-2009
Any punk band that spent enough time in the underground has likely left a trail of compilation tracks, singles, and other miscellany in its wake. The phenomenon was especially pronounced in the ’80s and ’90s, though progressive hardcore band Fucked Up proves the tradition hasn’t disappeared in the digital age. The sprawling collection Couple Tracks: Singles 2002-2009 catalogs the band’s evolution from more straightforward hardcore to template-breaking punk phenomenon across 25 tracks, including demos, alternate versions, and live material. With Fucked Up’s future perennially in doubt, fans have no choice but to treat this as another full album, not an odds-and-ends compilation.
19. Prince, The B-Sides (from The Hits/The B-Sides box set)
Well of course: Prince was the greatest recording artist of the ’80s, with a simply daunting string of classic albums, singles, and B-sides. In a way, it’s too bad The B-Sides hasn’t been made available away from its parent three-CD box set of singles, because a generation of ’90s alternabrats who dismissed him out of hand as a cheesy relic would have a CD to guide them through his cooler secret history: early new-wave squawk like “Gotta Stop (Messin’ About)” and “Horny Toad,” the oddest holiday record in R&B (“Another Lonely Christmas,” about getting drunk on daiquiris when your loved one has died), weird proto-ambient (“God”), good jokes (“La, La, La, He, He, Hee”), and a handful of what-do-you-mean-these-weren’t-A-sides in the all-time dance bombs “Irresistible Bitch” (Ice Cube’s favorite Prince song, naturally) and “Erotic City,” and the brooding “17 Days,” the flip of “When Doves Cry,” and just a notch below its level. As a whole, The B-Sides is slightly messy, but still more consistent than almost any of Prince’s post-1993 albums.
20. Joan Jett And The Blackhearts, Flashback
21. Dinosaur Jr, Whatever’s Cool With Me
22. They Might Be Giants, Miscellaneous T
Before they became the geek-rock superstars they are today, John Flansburgh and John Linnell were one of the better singles bands of the alternative era. Drawing from four of their early singles, the B-sides collection Miscellaneous T actually outshines its origins more than once: the nasty payola anthem “Hey, Mr. DJ, I Thought You Said We Had A Deal,” the bitter-romance ode “I’ll Sink Manhattan,” and the goofy, likeable “The Famous Polka” are all A-list material. There album also contains some terrific new takes on previously issued material; the Josh Fried remix of “The World’s Address” is a winner, sounding for all the world like a future echo of Beck, and the alternate version of “Kiss Me, Son Of God”—a crazed bit of class warfare filtered through Frank Sinatra and chanson—is far superior to the original.
23. Iron Maiden, Best Of The B’Sides (from the Eddie’s Archive box)
A double-CD set released as part of the sprawling Eddie’s Archive box set, Best Of The B’Sides came out almost 30 years into the band’s career, but it was worth it for fans. Not only does it feature a handful of excellent original songs that could easily have made it onto their official studio releases (including “Invasion,” “Judgement Day,” and the killer lead-off song “Burning Ambition”), but it’s an absolute treasure trove of cover versions. A band with as many chops as Maiden can’t help but collect a bunch of swell covers over the years, and Best Of The B’Sides puts the best on display, including top-notch interpretations of Jethro Tull’s “Cross-Eyed Mary,” Free’s “I’m A Mover,” UFO’s “Doctor Doctor,” and Led Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown.” As if all that weren’t enough, there are also blistering live versions of “Remember Tomorrow” and “Wasted Years.” The set does exactly what such comps are supposed to do: show listeners what a band is capable of outside the confines of the album.
24. Oasis, The Masterplan
25. Smashing Pumpkins, Pisces Iscariot
26. Nirvana, Incesticide
27. Danko Jones, I’m Alive And On Fire
28. Modest Mouse, Building Nothing Out Of Something
29. Versus, Dead Leaves
One of the best indie-rock bands from the ’90s, Versus was also sorely underappreciated, to the point where not a lot of people seemed to notice when the group fizzled out around the turn of the millennium. Led by Richard Baluyut and Fontaine Toups, and featuring a couple of other Baluyut brothers, the New York outfit—which lost its steam when Richard moved to San Francisco—made several great records, not the least of which was Dead Leaves, a 1995 collection of 7-inches, compilation contributions, and unreleased material. Technically, the band’s second full-length, Dead Leaves, feels like a real record because the 12 tracks were recorded during two concentrated periods of time, and not a single track reeks of being a throwaway. So while some of early indie rock’s shining moments haven’t aged that well, Dead Leaves stands tall on a set highlighted by “Tin Foil Star,” “Crazy,” and the one-two punch of “Bright Light” and “Merry-Go-Round.” (That last is one of the band’s catchiest numbers, and is also a little silly: It’s an anti-office-drone song in which Baluyut declares that he doubts he could ever wear a business suit or “drive the company car and eat at the cafeteria.”) Baluyut moved back to New York a few years ago and has officially put the band back together with Toups, though due to the high bar they raised with Dead Leaves (and later, with Two Cents Plus Tax), it remains to be seen whether they can make good on the promise that their next record will be their best.
30. The Jam, Extras
As great as The Jam’s hybrid of punk, mod, and soul is, leader Paul Weller rarely wrote an album without a couple of clunkers. Singles were always The Jam’s stronger point—and that’s proved by Extras, a collection of B-sides and demos that in many ways eclipses about half the band’s full-length catalog. In particular, the latter-day B-side “The Great Depression” stands as one of the best, most bitterly catchy tracks the group ever recorded, and “Shopping” is a jazzy ballad that presaged Weller’s subsequent project, The Style Council. And while the staunchly traditionalist Weller was never shy about putting covers on The Jam’s albums, some of his greatest versions of other people’s songs—including gorgeous, often unexpected renditions of classics like Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up,” The Chi-Lites’ “Stoned Out Of My Mind,” and The Beatles’ “And Your Bird Can Sing”—can be found here.
31. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, B-Sides & Rarities
Consistency has never been a problem for Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Yet it’s still surprising how well the sprawling, 56-track B-Sides & Rarities holds up as a work of its own. Spanning 1984 to 2004, the set gathers hastily sketched outtakes and even studio improv, as well as the typical B-sides, acoustic versions, radio sessions, soundtrack contributions, and tribute-album throwaways. Only none of it sounds thrown away: The traditional song “The Willow Garden” is given fresh gravitas and deathly beauty, and the group’s rendition of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Helpless” is haunting enough to stop hearts. But the overlooked, off-the-cuff Cave originals, like the perversely upbeat “Good Good Day” and the Dirty 3-backed “Time Jesum Transeuntum Et Non Riverentum,” are what make B-Sides & Rarities the equal or better of just about any Bad Seeds full-length.
32-33. The Wedding Present, Tommy (1985-1987) and Singles 1989-1991
34. Belle & Sebastian, Push Barman To Open Old Wounds
Riches await those who can get past the confounding title of double-disc collection from 2005. Always as concerned with putting out quality singles and EPs during its prolific heyday, Belle & Sebastian released an embarrassment of great material between 1997 and 2001. There are some throwaway tracks here and there, but songs like "Dog On Wheels" and "Put The Book Back On The Shelf" have justifiably become as beloved by the band's fans as the material on their proper albums.
35. The Clash, Black Market Clash