The history of a 45-rpm record

In the late 1940s, record sales were great. The Depression and the war had passed and America was entering a new period of comfort and affluence. However, there was one little problem - the records themselves.

Recording technology had changed tremendously since Emile Berliner's first gramophone records in the 1890’s. The countries had gone from unresponsive acoustic recording horns and direct to disc master recording to full electrical recording and tape masters.
Nevertheless, very little had changed with the records themselves. They still rotated at 78 RPM, still were made of noisy shellac and were extremely fragile.

In 1948, Columbia Records unveiled the 33 1/3 RPM long playing record. It played for about 20 minutes per side and was made of thick and much quieter vinyl.

RCA Victor, Columbia's long time rival was also working on a newer and better record at the same time as Columbia. When Columbia came out with the LP record, RCA scrambled on it's own project and in 1949, unveiled the 45 RPM record.

The RCA 7 inch 45-RPM record was cute, very small, and RCA's colourful vinyl (each genre of music had its own colour of vinyl) made it an instant hit with younger people. Popular releases were on standard black vinyl. Country releases were on green vinyl, Children's records were on yellow vinyl, and Classical releases were on red vinyl, “Race” or R&B and Gospel records were on orange vinyl, Blue vinyl/blue label was used for semi-classical instrumental music and blue vinyl/black label for international recordings.

However, the 45 RPM record and RCA 45 players DID have a few problems. First, the players could only play 45-RPM records. Nothing else. Second, classical music fans still had to put up with the same mid-movement breaks that plagued symphonic fans since the dawn of classical recording. Something the 33 1/3 RPM record rarely had. This era in the turn of the 1950’s was called "The Battle of The Speeds".

Some people preferred the 33 1/3 RPM LP, others the new 45-RPM players and old timers who insisted on the 78 RPM speed. The other major labels mostly aligned with the 33 1/3 RPM LP for albums and 45 and 78 RPM for singles. The 78-RPM single began disappearing in the early 50’s and the 78-RPM speed regulated to children's records through hand-me-down phonographs from their parents. The last American commercially released 78 RPM singles appeared in 1959; however, they were still made for children's records and older jukeboxes until 1964.

Thus began the era of the 45s. An era that lasted 40 wonderful years. Before the cassette tape, CD and MP3 player, 45s were the perfect portable personal music medium.

Moreover, the 45s themselves were super cheap too, less than a dollar each. Fun to collect, share and trade with friends. Portable battery operated phonographs were also made for taking your music anywhere.
The very first Stereo 45 RPM record was introduced by BelCanto Records in June of 1958.

In the UK, Japan and some European countries the 45s were pressed with detachable centres. In other European countries, the 45s were pressed with a standard 45-spindle hole. The reason there were detachable centres was for compatibility with some foreign record changers (like the early RCA changer, which was extremely popular) and jukeboxes. The 45s also had the B-side. Most were a second, non-single track from the parent album. Nevertheless, sometimes, it would be a live track, an instrumental version of the A-Side song, an outtake from the parent album session. Alternatively, sometimes, a completely original song. Most of them are collector's items and many were never released to CD.

There's also been the question of how long can one side of a 45s play. Most 45s run from 2-5 minutes. John Lennon once asked this to George Martin in 1968, and George Martin, after some experimenting, found the answer - 7 minutes, 11 seconds. Thus the playing time of "Hey Jude". However, he was also taking into account standard groove width and the automatic record changer, which was very popular in those days. If it went any longer, it risked tripping the automatic changing mechanism of many of these record changers.

By the beginning of the 1980’s, sales of the 45s were beginning to gradually slip as sales of cassettes and blank tape began ushering the "mixtape" era. CBS noticed this and test marketed the one sided single. In 1987, A&M released the first cassette single and other record companies quickly followed suit. By 1990, however, record companies began discontinuing the 45s, except for jukebox releases and collector's items. Nevertheless, there is something about the 45 that an MP3 simply cannot mimic. It is real. Just the right size. Something you can hold.

And no matter what next big thing comes along, they will never go out of style.

Based on the text posted in the blog by Larry Waldbillig, August 24, 2012