Outside of the realm of vinyl records, what role does A/B track listing play? Is it in fact a less than useful throwback that the digital age does not need? Or a helpful reminder of the past? Get your geek hat on, we're going in!
Recently while talking to Detuned Transmissions' Jason oS of production duo Daat, I was asked my opinion about including A/B formatted track listing on the label's next 12” release. After initially receiving the artwork to look at with and without listing, the question was purely regarding aesthetic preference, what looked best. Anyone who has been involved in the design of record labels, or any other visual design will know that the process is a series of send and returns, making adjustments that the designer can perform until you get the correct balance, and in the case of Detuned Transmissions the latest label art has gone back and forth between them and their in-house designer 4EYES. The more I considered the effect of A/B track listing, the more factors came into play.
Does A/B listing create a bias in the listener's mind? Am I supposed to like the A side more because it has been given credence by the label over the B side? I know from experience that I will always gravitate towards the A side before even listening to either track as a listener. There is something in me that will assume priority to A over B. What’s more, when I find a B side I prefer to the A side, I get a geeky feeling of achievement as if I’ve solved some kind of record collectors riddle (I am ashamed to admit).
I don’t think the creators of the music necessarily want me to perceive their music in this way, rather each track as it’s own entity, winning favour by merit. So this creates a problem, but is there a solution? One option is to do away with the A/B labelling, but what other options are there?
First off there is the A/AA route, but to my mind, this raises the same issues after initial adjustment. It’s like saying “This is the main tune and this is the other one… Which is great too!”. So flawed again.
Drum & bass super label of yesteryear Moving Shadow opted for an X/Y system, which I actually prefer to A/B listing. In the context of everyone else A/B or A/AA listing it does break away from the usual mental brick walls created by the listing system and it also added a trait or characteristic to the label, which is a nice touch.
Another label that on occasion has done things a little differently is Suburban Base. Again defunct but recently resurrected for a “best of” album project, the label used the track names on some releases to label sides. For example, On Flex & Fats’ “Somebody”/ “Ya Buzzin’ Again” the respective sides were labelled Somebody Side and Buzzin’ side. Likewise for Boogie Times Tribes “Soulside”/ “Soulside (Roni Size & Krust Remix)” label boss Dan Donnelly settled on Soul Side and Roni Side, a neat play on the artist moniker. This is maybe the best option yet in my opinion.
Could we do away with labelling all together? In today’s digital age it seems less and less relevant. For good or bad, people can buy tracks independently of the full release, so any A/B formatting feels out of date. Is it even possible that it is completely meaningless to people under a certain age?