Remember B-sides? Back when you could still buy singles, it was always a treat to get an unreleased non-album track on the flip side of a 45. In the early 90’s, the 45 was reborn as the CD single, which often featured more than one B-side… sometimes even remixes or live tracks. As has always been the case, casual fans were satisfied to purchase a single for a few dollars rather than spring for the full length album. Die hard fans, however, were more than happy to double dip, buying both the album and any subsequent singles in order to obtain their coveted B-sides.
Today, singles have been replaced with digital downloads. Almost every song you could possibly want can be downloaded for about a buck from online services like iTunes. I’m all for the convenience of downloading, but as a music collector, I mourn for the loss of the physical disc. I doubt downloads will fully replace the CD anytime soon, but they have led to at least one form of musical extinction: the B-side is dead.
Thankfully, box sets like “A Piano: The Collection” from Tori Amos preserve the rare recorded output of artists who have taken the greatest advantage of B-side releases. Since her landmark debut with 1992’s “Little Earthquakes,” Amos has been an artist so prolific as to have released nearly as many B-sides as she has total album tracks. Her CD singles have enjoyed enormous popularity with her fans, often containing as many as four or five non-album tracks.
With 86 tracks spanning five discs, “A Piano: The Collection” is a comprehensive overview of Amos’ career so far. It features songs from nearly all of her albums, as well as the expected plethora of B-sides. Die hard fans, who may already own most of the albums and their singles, are also rewarded with nine previously unreleased songs, as well as alternate mixes and live versions of familiar songs.
While the musical contents of this set are excellent, special notice must also be made of two aspects of the packaging. First there is the 60 page hardcover booklet, featuring extensive track by track commentary by Amos herself as well as dozens of full color photographs. Then there is the box itself… topped with a molded plastic black and white piano keyboard. The side of the “Piano” box is even emblazoned with the Bosendorfer logo… Amos’ grand piano brand of choice. I’m typically not a fan of unusual packaging that won’t fit into my existing CD shelves, but the look of this set is so visually stunning I’m more than willing to forgive its unconventional shape.
Of course, the whole concept of the box set may also someday meet the same fate as the B-side. After all, you can’t download a box. And with millions of individual tracks available for purchase online, creating your own custom virtual box set takes only a few clicks of the mouse. For now, though, the choice is yours: “A Piano: The Collection” is physically available in stores, as well as being downloadable online… sans the cool keyboard box, of course.
This review originally appeared in the March 2007 issue of TC Style magazine