Wednesday, October 12, 2011

In praise of the 45 RPM 7-inch single!

In the days before the mp3 download, the most popular format for people to have their favorite hit songs at their disposal was the 7” vinyl 45 RPM single. Well, at least from about 1955 to about 1999 or so. Many singles had unique information on them – often quite different from the same songs as they might appear on a 331/3 LP. Some of it had to do with timing (the radio edits would be shorter to accommodate the time constraints of AM radio play – something that wouldn’t really be challenged until the Beatles’ “Hey Jude”) – many times it had to do with mixing – especially in the MONO era. Until the 1970s, the mono single mix was the HIT mix. AM radio was mono – stereo 45s wouldn’t make sense until stereo FM radio broadcasts were more common by the early 1970s.

Singles were also a relatively inexpensive investment. I have some old 45s with stickers on the sleeves with price tags of 49 cents on them – not bad. However, depending on the record company – your 45 single might not last through repeated plays because – there was also a prevailing attitude towards popular music of the time – that it was * gasp * DISPOSABLE. Yes, folks – some record companies argued the point that since singles were a reflection of popular tastes which were bound to change – the fans would only play the songs so many times before getting sick of song A and moving onto song B for the next few weeks and so on. Because of this idea – some record labels pressed their singles not on nice durable vinyl compound, but on something much less durable called STYRENE. This material is very brittle and can only withstand so many plays before it starts decaying. And when that happens the sound gets all fuzzy and yucky and you gotta find another copy! Of course styrene was a much cheaper alternative for the record companies to expensive vinyl compound – you get the drift.

Unfortunately some pretty big companies used this trashy garbage to press their 45s on. Columbia, CBS, Epic, London are just a few that cut their costs using styrene. That means records by the Byrds, Simon and Garfunkle, the Dave Clark Five and The Rolling Stones are usually found in secondhand shops in totally burnt and useless condition. Even looking at them doesn’t always prove if they’re good or not. They might not be scratched, but if played with heavy stylus pressure a few good times – it’s a goner. This can make collecting 45s very frustrating indeed. Ah, but when the unthinkable happens and you score a good sounding copy of a hit record you love – it almost wipes out all the transgressions and headaches these little beasts can cause you.

It’s been a long time since I dragged out my 45s, but it happened again last night. I wish I could invite you all over to hear just how freakin’ amazing 45 rpm vinyl can sound when the planets align and you find a great specimen to illustrate the point. There’s almost no logic when it comes to 45s. I’ve purchased 45s that looked mint and played like poop and conversely some real shaggy dogs I’ve taken a chance on that can leave you sitting in front of the stereo with your mouth open and you’re thinking “How can this thing sound THAT GOOD?”. Yes – it took me three good attempts at buying different copies of original pressings of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Hot Fun in the Summertime” to finally find …THE ONE. And when it plays – look out! The great 45 RPM experience is, invariably, a MONO experience. Punchy, bassy, ballsy in-your-face goodness is what a sweet mono 45 disc can deliver as ONLY a mono 45 can deliver, people.

So here’s a list of some knee-kocking, socks-rocking, “Oh, Hare Krishna is this a GREAT sounding record!” 45s as you’re ever gonna hear:

1. Rolling Stones  - Tumbling Dice – 1st issue mono 45. There is only one way to feel the glory – LOUD!!

2. Tommy James and the Shondells – Crimson and Clover – mono 45.
You..have..not..lived…until…UNTIL…you..hear THIS MIX on the 45. Really….really.

3. Hot Fun in the Summertime – Sly. Why, for the love of God did they issue this on the Greatest Hits album in re-channeled fake stereo? The 45 is a religious experience.

4. The Beatles – She Loves You – on the SWAN label. No issue, analog, digital, British, Chinese, Japanese, I don’t care what it is – this track never sounded better than on this US pressing. Whoever cut this record from the master tape deserves a medal at least. Listening to any digital version of this song is like playing the game of “Lets count all the edits, kids!”. Not the 45. Why? I DON’T KNOW!!! AHHHHRRGGGH! Buy up every copy you find before they’re all GONE. Only pressed in 1964……if only the original Capitol 45s sounded this good. And, er….they didn’t – had to wait for the 70’s and 80s reissues for better Beatle sound.

5. I Can See For Miles / Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand – The Who – US Decca 45. The A-side is a stone groove in mono. The B-side has this unbelievably crisp and ringy finger-cymbal hit that comes smacking out of the grooves so hard you’d swear it was none other than Allen Ginsberg risen from the dead and playing (with unusual restraint) in your very living room! Its like outta NOWHERE and wham! Where’d that friggin’ thing come from? – wow! Ah, the song itself is kinda wimpy – ah well. Better head back to the A-side……..

6. (I Just Wanna) Testify – The Parliaments – mono 45 on Revilot (that would be the record label – never heard of it? Well, by the stamp in the deadwax it appears that the record was pressed by CBS and you guessed it – styrene! But for some dumb reason it’s not a problem on this record – NO LOGIC I tells ya!). My copy looks like hell and is sooooo sweet and PHAT sounding – oooh. This is the sound of the FUNKA…before the DELIC!

7. Pictures of Matchstick Men – Status Quo – the mono Cadet Concept 45. Lots of groovy phasing only on the mono 45. My copy looks even worse than my Parliaments 45 and is like Psychedelic GOD on record! Go figure.

8. I’ll Try Anything – Dusty Springfield – UK mono Philips 45. Wicked-deep bass. This record packs a whollop and, yes she may be long gone now, but Dusty’s voice still makes me swoon. Blimey!

9. Psychotic Reaction – The Count Five – I went out of my way to find a mint original copy on the Double Shot label for this. The best Yardbirds copy record ever. And a very hot-cut record it is too, but in a good way. The drums just gallop out of the speakers and knock you right over. Great psych-punk rave-up music!

10.  Where’s the Playground Susie – Glenn Campbell – ha ha, just kidding. Yes I own this record, but I think only Ceriello will get the joke here. I can note that my copy features the rare Capitol “target” label design with the ultra-rare Capitol dome-logo printed on it – a very rare combination that lasted for only a few months in the year 1969. If you have any Beatles 45s on this label variation you can send them to me since they’re not worth as much as Justin Bieber CDs……heh heh heh!

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