Singles Going Steady

This week’s installment is the final in the current music trilogy – this time, a tribute to the humble 7″ vinyl record. Not only did the 1950s spawn rock’n’roll and teenage rebellion, it also gave us the 7″ 45rpm vinyl record. In his book, “iPod, Therefore I Am”, Dylan Jones mentions that the choice of size and speed for the vinyl single was an engineering calculation designed to  deliver the maximum audio fidelity.

60 years later, new music is still being released in this format, despite the decline in sales since its 1980s heyday. The 7″ single is the preferred format for many new bands who want to release their first record, such is its iconic status.

The 7″ single is a succinct statement, and a self-contained work of art that can act both as a statement of intent by a new artist, and as a key “out-of-series” release by mainstream or established artists. Not only that, the b-side allowed artists an opportunity for even further experimentation.

The accompanying record sleeves have also inspired artists to create memorable images and designs to wrap around these vinyl artifacts. In recent years, artists such as Yoko Ono and Sir Peter Blake have contributed works to an annual charity project.

The first 7″ record I can remember being aware of was “Telstar” by The Tornados, part of the record collection we had at home in the 1960s. Then it was probably a trio of Beatles releases, “Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields”, “Hello Goodbye/I Am The Walrus” and “Hey Jude/Revolution” that got constantly played on the old dansette. Next up, David Bowie’s run of 70s singles. Then punk and new wave came along, and revitalised the format. (For reference, take Wire’s first six singles for the Harvest label, or the late 70s singles output from artists like The Clash, The Jam, The Buzzcocks and Elvis Costello.)

In the 1960s and 1970s, record labels could take a punt on new artists by putting out relatively cheap 7″ records, knowing that maybe only 5% would become successful. This in turn inspired independent labels, and even fostered self-released records under a DIY ethos that continues today with Bandcamp and other artist-controlled platforms.

The most valuable 7″ record in my personal collection is probably The Game’s “Addicted Man/Help Me Mummy’s Gone”, its rarity due to the fact it was withdrawn before it was officially released. A friend bought it in an op shop for 15p, as a joke birthday present. Probably the best 15p investment ever….

Next week: Blockchain and Crypto Updates




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