45 RPM
By Jim Dawson and Steve Propes

book cover

The History Of The 45 Record

45 RPM
By Jim Dawson and Steve Propes
Backbeat Books
175 pages, $19.95

by Phyllis Pollack

Filled with trivia and history about 45 records, this book is a gem. A story emerges of changing technology and formats, intertwined with corporate competition and marketing ploys of record companies that try to extract as much money from music fans as possible. It’s a fascinating account that includes the emergence of the 45 platter in 1948 to the download issues of today.

A tale unravels that surrounds developments made in electronics and technology, and how these changes effected the promotion, marketing and sale of music. The book traces the marketing wars between Columbia Records, which in 1948, was the first to introduce the revolutionary 33rpm twelve-inch LP, and its main competitor, RCA Victor, which had presented the groundbreaking seven-inch 45 disc in 1938. The respective companies also manufactured the players for these discs. At the time, 78 speed discs were the most common format. As there was not a machine in existence that played all three speeds yet, the competition between these formats and the music that was pressed for them was fierce. This was demonstrated by the advertising campaigns, press conferences and other efforts made to attract the public’s dollars.

The book also delves into payola in the record business, as well as those who literally took credit for writing songs that they had nothing to do with creating. When someone was given part of a song’s writing credits, they would then receive the resulting profits generated by the song’s publishing. These credits were often given as payola. The book discusses Dick Clark, who in addition to hosting “American Bandstand,” also owned a record distribution company, two record companies and other related businesses. When Clark was given part of a song’s publishing, the song would then be given heavier rotation on his television show.

Unearned writing credits were sometimes given to radio DJ’s for the 45’s B-side of a disc, in order to increase the likelihood of the A-side being played on the radio. Many B-side songwriting credits were doled out by record companies, and were given to influential radio station deejays, who had no part in the creative process, in order to influence radio airplay lists. As a result, many B-sides ended up being the hit song, rather than the A-side track. Such inverted hit songs include “Signs” by the Five Man Electrical Band, and “Na Na Na Na Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” by Steam.

With the introduction of the CD format in 1983, vinyl began to be phased out. The convenience of the CD made it unacceptable to deal with the hassle of re-winding and forwarding pre-recorded music cassette tapes, in order to listen to them, resulting in finale of the tale of the tape.

Record companies could obviously make more money per unit by selling an entire album, than it could by selling a disc that contained just one or two songs. Therefore, in the 1990’s, record companies began to phase out the sale of “singles,” in an effort to force the public to buy an entire album, even if there was just one song it wanted. Sometimes, a label would release a CD single for sale in the stores, but would soon withdraw it when the song began to get popular, in an effort to make the fans buy the entire album. The labels eventually discontinued the retail sales of discs that contained only one or two songs on them, and began to solely manufacture singles for promotional use, to be sent to radio stations for the purpose of airplay.

Record companies now face a new conundrum with digital downloading. The industry is forced to face the music that has resulted from the progress of its own technology that cannot be put back in the box.

© Copyright 2004 Phyllis Pollack. All Rights Reserved.
Originally published in Valley Scene, February 6-19, 2004
Used by permission of Phyllis Pollack.


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