The only vinyl 45 rpm single that’s been stolen from me was my copy of The Beatles “Let It Be”. I’ve owned over 100 45s during my life, mostly as a youth. I wasn’t upset,so much, about the loss of the “Let It Be” song, after all I owned the LP album plus “Let It Be”, the song, received over exposure on the radio. It was the flip side that I really missed. “You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)” I was totally hooked on the little comedy ditty. I wondered why the record hadn’t become a two-sided hit.
I’d been buying 45s since 1962. It’s interesting that the first one I ever spent money on was released on my tenth birthday. I couldn’t get enough of The Tornados’ instrumental hit “Telstar”. It’s also the first record I ever wore out.
When you can only think part way out of the box, you come up with a scheme like the 45 rpm record. The earliest phonograph recordings, on disks, were the ten-inch platters that played back at 78 revolutions per minute (rpm). They contained, at most, about three minutes of audio content. In the mid 1940s, Radio Corporation of America (RCA) decided to research how to manufacture a smaller platter that played back at a slower speed, and also contained more room for audio content.
A new plastic, vinylite, was utilized. This meant that the record could be manufactured with narrower grooves, enabling more grooves in a smaller area. The vinylite also created much less surface noise than the old fashioned acetate or shellac 78s. The new discs were more rugged and created a high fidelity listening experience. The size and speed maintained the limited idea of one song per side of a record.
The first commercial release on a seven-inch 45 rpm platter was on February 2, 1949. A promotional packet of seven 45s were sent out to radio station disc jockeys and record stores. The platters were color coded for format classification. Pop music was on black, classical was red (hence RCA Red Label), light classics were on dark blue, juvenile on yellow, country/western on green, rhythm and blues on reddish pink, and international releases on light blue.
The first releases included “Because” by Dick Leibert, an unknown classical piece, “The French Marching Song” by Al Goodman was light classical, an unknown children’s ditty on yellow vinyl, C/W’s record was Spade Cooley with “Spanish Fandango, R&B was represented by Big Boy Crudup’s “That’s All Right”, The light blue record was “A Klein Melamedl” by Saul Meisels.
Almost simultaneously, CBS Records developed the twelve inch, 33.333 rpm long playing platter or LP. The original intent of the LP was to contain long form classical pieces. Previously, long classical music was broken up into 3 minute segments. The short pieces are annoying to play back, so the long playing disks were welcome. After awhile, most recording companies utilized both 45s and LPs to sell a variety of music.
45s retained their popularity for many reasons. First, they were a convenient product to deliver a popular song to kids with limited budgets. Secondly, they were very handy for radio station use. Promotional copies featured the same song on both sides of the platter, so that if one side wore out, the second side could be utilized. Third, was the instant availability of radio promoted music to the hands of the consumer.
The 45 was basically the main driver of hit song radio. Top-40 radio and charts quickly took off as a result of these convenient records. The 45 single was the “meat and potatoes” component of the music industry. The 45 rpm single was very convenient for us disc jockeys because we could just slap a single on the turntable and cue it up in a few seconds. Customers, mainly young people, could buy a favorite song or two without the need to purchase a much more expensive album on LP.
As Compact Discs took over the market, the vinyl 45 was phased out. The lack of a timely digital replacement for the platters was a major marketing error by record companies. In my opinion, this was a major factor in the decline of the recording companies’ dominance of music distribution.
Until digital music appeared in broadcast automation systems, compact discs were also more of a hassle to radio people than 45s simply because of their error prone playing quirks along with early playback machine complexity and breakdowns. 45s were the essence of efficiency and simplicity.
The Blue Jay of Happiness wonders if you now feel a bit nostalgic.