Friday, June 12, 2009

Happy Birthday to the 45 rpm Record

When I was a teen, back in the late 1960's, 45 rpm vinyl records were what we spent all our money on. There were no CD players or Ipods, we either played records on a record player (now an antique) or listened to our favorite radio station. When I first started collecting records, the singles (the 45 rpm records) were about 79 to 89 cents each. Later they went to about $1.99 each. I remember some weeks all my allowance and babysitting money went to purchase the latest top hit 45 rpm records. I probably had over 100 or more records at one point. I really should have held on to them through the years, today they are collectors items, and most sell for over $5.oo each. Some rare ones probably go for hundreds of dollars. Now that it's been about 40 years since I bought my last 45 record, I would once again like to start collecting my old favorites again. A friend I've just met online, has given me permission to publish an article he wrote recently, detailing the history of the 45 rpm record. Can you believe the 45 rpm is now 60 years old!!! Hope you enjoy this article , and please visit the author's website, you will learn alot about the history of vinyl records and how to begin collecting them.

Happy Birthday to the 45rpm Record

by Robert Benson

"Happy Birthday and welcome back to an old friend, the 45 rpm record officially turned 60 years old on March 31. British trade journals are reporting that single song 45rpm records are now outselling their CD counterparts and many American bands are now releasing music via this historic audio medium.

The 45rpm record was initially introduced in 1949 by RCA as a smaller, more durable replacement for the heavy 78rpm shellac-based records of the time. The 45 was created by RCA as a competitive move against one their rival record companies, Columbia, which had just introduced the new microgroove 33 1/3 rpm LP. The number 45 came from taking 78 and subtracting Columbia's new 33 to equal the 45. Record companies and consumers alike faced an uncertain future as to which format would survive the 78rpm or the 45rpm; in what was known as the “War of the Speeds.” In 1949Capitol and Decca started issuing the new LP format and RCA relented and issued its first LP in January 1950. But the 45 rpm was gaining in popularity and Columbia issued its first 45s in February 1951. Soon other record companies saw the mass consumer appeal the new format allowed and by 1954 more than 200 million 45s had been sold.

So On March 31, 1949, RCA Victor released "Texarkana Baby" b/w "Bouquet of Roses" by Eddy Arnold. The first 45 to hit the was "A -- You're Adorable" by Perry Como, listed on the charts on May 7, 1949. The next week, the year's biggest hit appeared on the Billboard charts -- "Riders In The Sky (A Cowboy Legend)” by Vaughn Monroe. The first 45rpm records were monaural and as stereo sound became more prevalent and popular in the 1960s, almost all 45rpm records were manufactured in stereo.

The historical and commercial significance of the 45rpm record has varied over time, the technological developments in recorded music and according to the audience of the particular artists and musical genres. In general, 45 records were more important to the music acts who sold music to the younger audiences (mostly teenagers) who tend to have limited financial resources and shorter attention spans. That said, the golden age for the 45 was in the 1950s and 1960s in early development of rock music. They were affordable and allowed artists the freedom of releasing a single song as opposed to a whole LP. Conversely, some singles helped to launch the sales of the albums that the musicians were promoting.

The length of the songs also evolved. In the 1950s, it was common for songs to be anywhere from two to two and a half minutes long and in the 1960s; the three minute single became the norm. This length was very convenient and fit the AM Radio format very well. Millions of demo records were sent out to radio stations with specific instructions as to which song was supposed to be the ‘hit single,’ although there were some DJs that played the ‘B’ sides and those songs became hits. Elvis Presley was one of the first artists to release the ‘double-sided single’, meaning that both songs would ultimately end up on the charts. The Beatles followed suit and were also one of the first recording artists to push the envelope, so to speak and commonly had songs over the three-minute norm. In fact, there are some singles that had to be edited by radio stations and shortened to fit their particular formats. Don McLean’s 1972 hit “American Pie” is an example, the single was split up into two parts on the 45. The Beatles broke new ground in 1968 with their over seven minute epic “Hey Jude.”

The sales of the 45s were recorded on the record charts in most countries in a Top 40 format and these charts were often published in magazines (Billboard), television shows (American Bandstand) and radio programs often had the Top 40 countdown shows (Casey Kasem).

Nowadays, they still manufacture 45 rpm records, but on a much smaller scale than decades ago. Indie bands, r&b artists and punk bands love the format; it makes the music affordable for their target audience and, after all these years, are still highly sought after by collectors. Happy Birthday to an old friend, here’s for many more! "
~ Robert Benson

Author Robert Benson writes about rock/pop music, vinyl record collecting and operates Collecting Vinyl Records, where you can pick up a copy of his FREE ebook called "The Fascinating Hobby Of Vinyl Record Collecting." You can also have your vinyl records appraised at Vinyl Record Appraisals

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