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Vinyl Confidential, 2.1 -- The Brief History of 45’s, Part One

Posted by Whitmore, May 28, 2009 08:42pm | Post a Comment

The whole brief history of 45’s comes down to about two and a half minutes of heartbreak and a music industry coked up on millions of nickels and dimes from ten year olds spending their allowance. Aaah! But the joy in the weird, seemingly up the arse, off-the-cuff business decisions arbitrarily slung together.  
Why seven inches, and not six… phallic compensation? Why a big whole instead of a small one … phallic compensation! There must be some kind of underlying order and logic to all this, I guess. Then again, I'm no expert on logic and order-- I spend most of my thinking time in the absurd, geeky universe of 45's.   
 
The 7” 45 rpm record was introduced in 1949 by RCA as a smaller, more durable and marketable way to sell records to teenagers. In between crashing jalopies and begetting the next generation at lover’s lanes across the nation, all the flattop cats and the dungaree dolls were done playing Dad’s deadsville 78 rpm shellac platters at sock-hops. The Second World War brought new technology into the marketplace, the unbreakable disc was born, changing and dominating the industry for the next 40 years.
 
The first 45 rpm records were monophonic...and probably should have stayed there in its sepia toned aural perfection. But a few years later technology once again wielded new brawn, cutting a swath through the new middle class’ piggy banks and their want for shiny new electric toys. In the 1950’s and 60’s stereophonic sound looked too fancy to ignore, capturing the imagination by way of graphic designs carving up the backs of entire album covers with a geometry textbook fill of charts, dials and numbers. To starry eyes, this was the conduit to the modern world, chock-full of jetpacks, personal robots, self guided automobiles and scrumptious TV dinners. Except for the occasional monophonic promo record pressed for AM radio play, by the early 1970s almost all 45 rpm records were produced in stereo, though coincidentally, we’re still waiting on everything else promised by those rosy sci-fi prognosticators. I suspect color TV was invented specifically to take the edge off all the disappointments.  
 
Records, like bodies, like the Earth, are not necessarily made to move smoothly on curved orbits by a force called commerce. The cheapest and quickest way for record companies to track the newest new thing in a curved space was always 7” singles. Etched into each side is the shortest distance to a musicians sound, the fastest way to contemplate their muse, value, and the least painful way to navigate the unknown until the slow fade at grooves end has left your head either bopping or shaking. But sometimes the manufactured pre-determined length of a 45 was woefully insufficient. Old school set of natural law insisted three minutes was more than adequate. (Though on occasion editing could be conspicuously delicious, slicing out the unnecessary crap to get to a song’s hook: for example, the original single versions of "American Pie," "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" and "Thong Song"...) Eventually 12” 45’s, unhampered by space and time, boogied down the pike and unhinged the pulse, setting off the ballroom floor, teaching matter how to dance and in particular small objects traveling along the straightest possible lines in curved space. Anyway, the cosmos continues to evolve in its typical way; Earth continues to revolve -- though not at 45 revolutions per minute -- and my blather continues to dissolve in its typical way ...

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History (52), Record Geeks (28), 45's (53), American Culture (94), Blather (58), Stephen Hawking (2), 1940's (17)