Welcome back to another installment of B-Sides and Beyond, where we take an artist near and dear to our hearts and delve into some of their lesser-known works. The subject of this article? The one and only James Bay.
English artist James Bay’s ascent to music industry glory began in the early 2010s with the release of EPs like The Dark of the Morning (2013) and Let It Go (2014) before briefly touring with Hozier in 2014. He then released his debut studio album Chaos and the Calm that same year, which went on to become #1 in the UK as well as #15 in the USA. The single “Hold Back the River” also peaked at #2 in the UK and was certified double-platinum. In 2018, Bay released his second studio album Electric Light. Since then, the singer has released many singles and collaborations, and a third studio album is currently in the works.
Best known for songs like “Let It Go,” “Hold Back the River,” “Us,” and “Wild Love,” Bay has a variety of lesser-known songs from his studio albums as well as singles and collaborations that we will be showcasing today.
Straight off of his 2019 EP Oh My Messy Mind, which also gave us the popular duet “Peer Pressure” with Julia Michaels, is “Bad.” In general, I think Oh My Messy Mind is Bay’s least known EP, simply because a lot of the songs off of his early EPs ended up on his studio albums. Nevertheless, this heartbreaking song about hopelessly craving a love that has run its course is an amazing one, and shows off that classic James Bay falsetto. This song isn’t one commonly spoken of concerning Bay’s works, which I think should definitely change.
“I Found You”
Bay’s second album Electric Light released to mixed reviews. In trying to shake up his sound and image, it seems that Bay strayed away from the je ne sais quoi that drew his fanbase to him so strongly in the first place. However, despite the mixed reaction, there were a few standout songs on the album, such as “Pink Lemonade,” “Us,” and “Wild Love” — with “I Found You” being the least known and appreciated one in my humble opinion. This song felt like a link back to the deeper influences of R&B and Soul that we saw in Chaos and the Calm as opposed to the increased notes of pop that pervaded Bay’s second studio album. In my opinion, the combination of rock, indie, soul, R&B and influences (with a little pop thrown in) is one of the best parts of the artist’s unique genre-mixing sound.
“Chew On My Heart”
When Bay released the single “Chew On My Heart,” fans got a surprise when not one, not two, not even three, but four different versions were released: the regular version, acoustic version, the Madism remix, and my personal favorite (seen above), the piano and voice version. This beautiful song details longing for a love that one knows could destroy you. Despite this, you crave and invite it nonetheless because being without them is worse than the alternative.
Co-written by James Bay, this new single ended up in the lap of British singer-songwriter Calum Scott. Thankfully, we were still blessed by an acoustic duet between Scott and Bay in addition to Scott’s solo version. Scott and Bay’s vocals complement each other perfectly, with Bay serving as the accompanying low harmonies to Scott’s crystal-clear high melodies. As I’ve said before, Bay has a great range, and though he often dips into his higher register in his songs, it’s a refreshing reminder of just how versatile the vocalist is to see him in this less common role. And of course, we never pass up a chance to see Bay show off his guitar prowess.
Another underrated and underappreciated song from Electric Light, “Slide” is the closer for Bay’s second studio album. One of the heavier tracks on the album, “Slide” is an ode to losing someone you love and watching them, well, “slide into the arms of someone else.” While he has some beautiful and emotional ballads about the more joyous aspects of love, a number of songs in Bay’s repoitoire also focus on the flipside of those happy, bouyant aspects — in this case, things not working out. However, despite these bluer aspects, the song is still imbued with a message of hope and purpose despite things not working out, displayed by the outro: an excerpt of “Song” (one of Bay’s favorite Allen Ginsberg poems) read by musician David Ryan Harris.
BONUS – “If I Ain’t Got You” Cover
Fans of James Bay are familiar with his penchant for performing covers; this was showcased in depth during his YouTube mini-concerts during quarantine. In 2015, Bay recorded a cover of Alicia Keys’ classic “If I Ain’t Got You” for a Spotify Session. These Sessions featured “a collection of live, exclusive performances from the most exciting artists in the world.” Bay has been vocal about his love of soul and R&B, and it’s apparent through his music, whether they be originals or covers such as these.
James Bay has continuously displayed his talent with his unique sound influenced by a plethora of genres. There are so many tracks from Chaos and the Calm (especially the Deluxe version) that could have made it onto this list if we had the time.
With his uptick in new projects such as his stint on I’m With the Band, concerts at small venues, and the release of one of his newest collaborations “Chasing Stars” with Marshmello and Alesso, we’re sure we’ll continue to see more of him as time progresses — especially with that mysterious third studio album in the works. In the meantime, we’ll continue to blast our favorite tracks by the long-haired English musician on repeat.