Often derided as a location for spiriting away unwanted tracks the humble b-side has thrown up numerous classics over the years. Inevitably there have been plenty of Christmas singles with more illustrious matter on their flipside and so what follows is a veritable packed sleigh full of songs that have become festive standards in their own right.
Frank Sinatra - The Christmas Waltz (1954)
With Sinatra giving Bing Crosby's White Christmas his own twist on a 1954 single he tasked composer friends Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn with coming up with an appropriate song for the flipside. The pair who had a decade earlier dreamed up the classic Let It Snow! showed they had lost none of their zeal for the season when they wrote The Christmas Waltz which has been covered many times since Sinatra's initial rendition.
Louis Armstrong and Velma Middleton - Baby, It's Cold Outside (1954)
While there are endless versions of Frank Loesser's cheeky winter song not many come close to capturing the chemistry that existed between Louis and Velma for the b-side to his That's My Desire single in 1954. There are also several live recordings of the pair singing Baby, It's Cold Outside in the early 1950's and the call and responses from both are something to behold.
Brenda Lee - Papa Noel (1958)
With her Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree entrancing everyone who heard it in 1958 it was probably no surprise that that song's b-side Papa Noel hardly got a look in. Listening back however there is so much to savour in the 13-year-old's swaggering rendition of a Santa who likes nothing better than to go dancing down the bayou. The music is almost vaudeville in its execution but that only adds to the magic of the piece.
Nat King Cole - The Happiest Christmas Tree (1959)
Although it ended up being lovingly recorded for the 1956 Christmas edition of The Nat King Cole Show not many would have figured that Nat's 1953 song Mrs Santa Claus was only the second choice for his The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot single. Even better however was the b-side to 1959's Buon Natale 7-inch with The Happiest Christmas Tree surely overshadowing its more heralded neighbour through sheer good time vibes.
Bing Crosby - The Secret of Christmas (1965)
With his old pal Fred Waring on orchestral arrangements and Sammy Cahn on lyrics is it any wonder that The Secret of Christmas sounded so wonderful? Appearing as the flipside to White World of Winter this is the perfect encapsulation of the way Christmas used to sound and who could resist lyrics such as "It's not the things you do at Christmas time but the Christmas things you do all year through"? Another joyful incentive for people to look beyond Bing's White Christmas.
Paul McCartney - Pipes of Peace (1983)
Hard to comprehend now but Paul McCartney's ode to the Christmas day truce of World War I was only released as a b-side in the United States with the forgettable So Bad rolled out as the main attraction. With its memorable video and paean to the troops forced to spend Christmas away from their family Pipes of Peace is the quintessential sound of Christmas and earned the ex-Beatle a nomination for an Ivor Novella award for best song in 1983.
Bruce Springsteen - Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (1985)
Who'd have thought that a live version of this traditional standard would have proven so popular but Springsteen's b-side to his My Hometown single remains the definitive take on Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie's gem. Much of that is down to the joyful and triumphant interaction between the Boss and his E Street band. Anyone who has gone to a Springsteen show can testify to the man's genius and this cover is a glorious illustration of the magic of that experience.
Whitney Houston - Do You Hear What I Hear? (1987)
Although she recorded a Christmas album in 2003 Whitney Houston's elegant and classy version of Do You Hear What I Hear? was mysteriously omitted. Instead it will forever be remembered as the unfortunate b-side to her most famous song I Will Always Love You. Had it featured on any other release Do You Hear What I Hear? would have stood imperious with Houston powerfully heralding the birth of Jesus as a mighty choir approximate the heavenly backdrop.
Enya - Oíche Chiún (1988)
Not many contemporary artists could have captured the essence of Silent Night as well as Enya. With her celestial voice appearing alongside a near deserted backing track this Irish language take of the old carol Oíche Chiún is simply breathtaking. The perfect soundtrack for a quiet Christmas Eve first arrived as a b-side on Enya's 1988 Evening Falls single.
Dido - Christmas Day (2001)
Given that she was born on Christmas Day Dido had more reason than anyone to sing about the 25th of December. That one of her most rounded and beautiful songs was tucked away on a b-side of a single of hers called All You Want is a shame given how much success it could have achieved in its own right. Thankfully the consistently brilliant Christmas compilation series A Very Special Christmas snapped it up and the world finally sat up and took note of Dido's greatest Christmas gift to us.
Kevin Hugger is chief writer for YulePlay, a website dedicated to Christmas music.
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