The Week in Arts: The delights of a musical journey from A to B

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Dead, despised and downright expensive - and yet it's back. The pop single has had its share of obituaries over the past two decades. So there were big smiles in record company offices this week when it was announced there was a 15 per cent rise in singles sales compared with last year.

Dead, despised and downright expensive - and yet it's back. The pop single has had its share of obituaries over the past two decades. So there were big smiles in record company offices this week when it was announced there was a 15 per cent rise in singles sales compared with last year.

One or two high-profile singles helped, not least Eamon's debut single, an epistle of expletive-filled hate to his ex-girlfriend, which sold 500,000 copies. But I believe there is one outstanding reason for the singles revival.

It is the £1.99 two-track single, a throwback to the 1960s vinyl format, where you always got two songs for your money, not one song in a variety of remixes and radio edits, as in recent years.

This did occasionally mean a double A-side (no guarantee of success, as what must be the best double A-side ever released, The Beatles' "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" was kept off the number one spot by Engelbert Humperdinck). More usually, though, it meant an A-side and a B-side.

And what the two-track single of today has resurrected is one of the hidden glories of popular music, the B-side. The loss of the B-side was the one great shame of the switch from vinyl to compact disc. The B-side gave artists a chance to experiment beyond the confines of the need for a chart hit, and to make more personal statements. It gave record buyers the chance to discover.

The late comedian Marty Feldman even brought out a record called "The B-Side" in which, maintaining that no one ever listened to the B-side, he proceeded to insult all the big names of the day. "It's not true that Tony Blackburn has false teeth," he said. "His teeth are real - everything else about him is false."

But actually people did listen to B-sides. There was almost a covert thrill in so doing. On them could be found genuine classics such as John Lennon's iconic "I Am the Walrus (A-side, "Hello Goodbye") to cult favourites such as The Jam's "The Butterfly Collector" (A-side, "Strange Town").

The return of the B-side, less intriguingly named the second track, also does not bring with it the effort of turning over a disc. So some of its furtive pleasure is lost. Nevertheless, there is once more a secondary track, a chance for artists to flex their muscles and experiment on a single.

So maybe we can look forward to a romantic ballad about friendship from The Libertines, a meditation on celibacy from Kelis, and Eamon crooning "We Can Work It Out".

Material Girl does not come cheap

Every highly successful artist has his or her own dedicated audience, and Madonna's main constituency is women who were growing up when she was at her peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Certainly, this was the gender and age group most in evidence at the show which I attended at Wembley Arena in London this week, a memorable show that was brilliantly executed, choreographed and designed. And surely Madonna should win some award for singing while in the crab position. But these fans, who grew up with the singer, must have grown into very well-paid jobs. Price isn't everything, but £150 for the best seats and £90 for the "cheap" seats must be excluding an awful lot of the less affluent fans.

I'm used to high prices in the performing arts, but even I did a double take when I went to buy an official programme and found it priced at £25. Madonna knows how to put on a great show. But £25 for a programme! She makes West End theatre owners look like philanthropists.

¿ For all the talk of standing ovations and "spontaneous" encores, it's extremely rare for an audience to continue applauding after the house lights are switched on. In theatres, concert halls and at rock gigs, an audience can be in ecstasy one moment, and politely heading for the exit the next. Even Madonna's fans ceased clapping the moment the lights came up.

But this week I found an audience that refused to be silenced. It was at Glyndebourne for one of the last performances of its 15-year-old production of Janacek's opera Jenufa. It was a riveting production, and the lights failed to stop either the applause or the stamping of high-quality footwear. Unfortunately, Janacek did not write an encore.

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