The 45 Is Introduced ► Monday Musical Appreciation
Hey Jude clocked in at 7:11, one of the longest singles to reach #1

It was 67 years ago today — in 1949 — that RCA Records introduced the 45, also known as The Single.  It was designed to replace the 78, which was made of shellac, as opposed to vinyl, and far less durable.

The 45 measured 7 inches and revolved at 45 Revolutions Per Minute (RPM), hence the name. The 45 also improved upon the sound quality of the 78. It became important to the spread of Rock and Roll, mostly because it was within the budget of most teenagers during the ’50 and ’60s. Adults tended to buy albums instead.

According to History’s Dumpster, the first 45 introduced to the public for sale was Eddy Arnold’s “Texarcana Baby.”

The History of The 45 RPM Record goes on to say:

The RCA 7″ inch 45 RPM record was cute, VERY small, and RCA’s very
colourful vinyl (each genre of music had it’s 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, 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 

In the beginning the 45 could only hold just over 3 minutes of music. As the WikiWackyWoo tells us:

The 3-minute single remained the standard into the 1960s, when the
availability of microgroove recording and improved mastering techniques
enabled recording artists to increase the duration of their recorded
songs. The breakthrough came with Bob Dylan‘s “Like a Rolling Stone“. Although CBS
tried to make the record more “radio friendly” by cutting the
performance in half and spreading it over both sides of the vinyl, both
Dylan and his fans demanded that the full six-minute take be placed on
one side and that radio stations play the song in its entirety.[2]
The subsequent success of “Like a Rolling Stone” played a big part in
changing the music business convention that single-song recordings had
to be under three minutes in length.

While we called the 45 a single, it would be a misnomer to believe that they were the only singles. Again, the Wiki knows all:

Singles have been issued in various formats, including 7-inch (18 cm), 10-inch (25 cm), and 12-inch (30 cm) vinyl discs (usually playing at 45 rpm); 10-inch (25-cm) shellac discs (playing at 78 rpm); cassette, 8 and 12 cm (3- and 5-inch) CD singles and 7-inch (18 cm) plastic flexi discs. Other, less common, formats include singles on digital compact cassette, DVD, and LD, as well as many non-standard sizes of vinyl disc (5-inch/12 cm, 8-inch/20 cm, etc.).

The first single I ever bought with my own money was The Beach Boys’ “I Get Around.” It cost 49 cents at Kresge’s, which was all the money I had left over after buying The Lovin’ Spoonful’s Greatest Hits.

The domination of the 45 continued until the album started to take over:

Perhaps the golden age of the single was on 45s in the 1950s to early 1960s in the early years of rock music.[3]
Starting in the mid-sixties, albums became a greater focus and more
important as artists created albums of uniformly high quality and
coherent themes, a trend which reached its apex in the development of
the concept album.
Over the 1990s and early 2000s, the single generally received less and
less attention in the United States as albums, which on compact disc
had virtually identical production and distribution costs but could be
sold at a higher price, became most retailers’ primary method of selling
music. Singles continued to be produced in the UK and Australia,
surviving the transition from compact disc to digital download.

Now that vinyl is making a comeback, so are 45s. All hail the single!!!

About Headly Westerfield

Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.